Web Site Marketing – Diffusing The Google Bomb

Each month, or thereabouts, as search positioning changes are noticed as a result of the latest Google algorithm updates, an analysis of what happened occurs. The analysis of the update ensues in many news groups and discussion groups and invariably, there never seem to be many people happy with the updates.

This month, the focus of attention is links, and the way Google uses them. I’ve noticed a lot of discussion in Search Engine Watch(1) about the fact that “out of touch executives” no longer displayed their link to #1 at Google. The discussion veered between almost paranoid sounding “Is Google censoring results it does not like?” to the more rational and scientific, “If Google changes X then Y is the result, therefore it is logical that the results would be affected in this way.” Invariably, there were holes in every argument except one, which although was not quite on the mark, at least pointed in the right direction.

The root of this issue is the so-called “Google Bombing.” There are two versions of Google-bombing, one run by web sites on their own behalf, and one that can be used either humorously or maliciously. In either case, it boils down to having a multitude of web pages all with the same links and with the same key phrase used within the text links, all pointing back at the same page within a web site.

These Google Bombs are incredibly effective at building traffic. One of the most famous examples was when people Google-bombed the phrase “miserable failure”, pointing all the links to George Bush’s web site. The web site shot up to #1 in Google for the term.

Companies do this on their own behalf as well. They have affiliates and other related companies all link to them with identical text within the links. If they get enough, Google is led to believe the company’s web site is among the most referenced on a particular subject and ranks it accordingly.

Used properly, this can help a truly relevant resource appear properly in the search engine results. Unfortunately, it is often used improperly to manipulate search results or promote irrelevant web pages, thus negatively affecting search results.

While Google, (or any other search engine whose results can be manipulated by this kind of loophole) would like to eliminate this practice, it’s never been clear how to go about fixing the problem. After all, a Google-bomb link looks to a search engine algorithm exactly like any other link, thus impossible to individually distinguish it from a genuine link. Impossible individually perhaps, but not impossible.

However, upon reading all the various musings, it occurred to me that realistically, Google may be able to stop Google-Bombing all together by simply deprecating the value of inbound links to a web page. I.E. When more than X number of links contained identical wording and the inbound link text did not appear contextually, on the web page being targeted.

In all cases, if the link text was not on the page, the rule would apply. Therefore “miserable failure” for George Bush’s web site would likely fail, as those words do not appear together at all, on the real web site. The value for X links could theoretically be either a percentage or a hard number. For example, if more than 50% of inbound links contain the identical link text, then depreciate their value by 90%.

More realistically you could choose an arbitrary number, such as 200 identical links gets a value depreciation of 90%. This would likely ward off the malicious, and the humorous Google bombing campaigns. They are mostly viral in nature and would quickly eclipse 200 in number. The text chosen rarely is extracted from the text on the page.

But 200 inbound links with identical text for a company web site, would not need to face a penalty. If Coca-Cola got all their distributors and retails to link to Coca-Cola.com(2), that would exceed 200 inbound links, but the links would all say, “The Coca-Cola Company” and thus be highly relevant and contextually correct with the content of the target web page. It would therefore not need to be penalized. This formula should also not penalize web sites for poorly formed links. e.g. Should an individual link to your web site using alternative terms, it should not trigger the filter. Unless of course 200 others did exactly the same thing.

It is possible that Google’s algorithmic understanding of phraseology is not yet advanced enough to make this possible. I don’t mean to suggest that Google’s technology is not advanced. Perhaps Google’s technologies are simply not yet able to properly analyze the phrases within link text, while contextually relating it to the text within the page targeted.

I would find this shocking, since our firm’s technology uses phraseology in this context on a daily basis. I would therefore surmise that Google is capable, but unwilling to do so. A rational explanation why they would not use this type of algorithm to improve search results is perplexing. If Google’s technology were able to perform this type of link analysis, “miserable failure” would never have worked. Ergo, Google, and every other engine that similarly values links, can solve the Google-bomb problem in a manner which rewards context and penalizes irrelevance.

I believe the search engines will eventually move in this direction, if they are not working on it already. I also believe that any search engine optimization work which includes linking strategies must take into account the context within the links. After all, when you receive a referral link from someone, you generally like to know the context of it too. Search engine algorithms should work the same way.