ADOTAS – TV pundit/pink-faced half-wit Glenn Beck is urging his viewers to boycott Google because the world’s biggest Internet company is apparently overthrowing governments and working with “hardcore leftists.” I’m sure his ultimate boss Rupert Murdoch is pleased as the curmudgeon in chief despises Google to no end — he should go on Beck’s show and accuse Google of raping the journalism industry as well (although Murdoch has arguably been doing that for a far longer time).
However, in a column inspired by the recent JC Penney black hat SEO expose by The New York Times, TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington has a far better reason to avoid Big G — it’s search has started to suck. The search world feels a lot like the pre-Google days as SEO-gamed content clogs search results — something we’ve been hollering about at Adotas for most of the year.
The numbers don’t show Google’s search is waning, but Arrington, like many frustrated searchers, is using “Google mostly for navigation, not discovery these days…. I know the document I’m trying to find and figure out the best search query to locate it. But pure discovery? It’s a shit show of layer upon layer of SEO madness vying for my click.”
On other blogs I’ve read that people are tired of hearing about JC Penney. Black hatters are always using such tactics, the argument goes, but not on the scale JC Penney got away with for months, appearing on the top of nearly every important retail query during the holiday season.
And this wasn’t a nobody company — it was one of the biggest U.S. retail outlets using techniques that were in no way coy. We should be asking: “How did they get away with such obvious black hat work for so long?”
Arrington argues Google knows something isn’t right by its heavy-handed defense, mainly led by Matt Cutts, head of Google’s anti-webspam team. Recently he appeared on a Farsight 2011 panel with Bing Corporate VP of Core Search Dr. Harry Shum and Blekko CEO Rich Skrenta — which could have been an interesting discussion about SEO, social search and content farms. Instead Cutts ambushed Shum with evidence that Bing was inputting data from Google search results collected through toolbars and browsers.
Adotas readers, like most of the Internet community, responded, “So what?” Lamest scandal ever — but Google got to avoid being taken to task for its slacking search.
Cutts’ quotes in the NYTimes report seem flippant and arrogant — he even asks and answers his own questions in a manner reminiscent of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“Do I wish our system had detected things sooner? I do,” Cutts says. “But given the one billion queries that Google handles each day, I think we do an amazing job.”
So was JC Penney’s black hat maneuvering a “known unknown” or an “unknown unknown”?
Cutts also delivered a testy message in a Google blog post responding to complaints about content farms: “The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception.”
I’m surprised he just didn’t write, “Why are you people still bothering us?”
Possibly the most amazing part of the NYTimes’ JC Penney report is Cutts’ conclusion that Google is only improving in fighting against spam — after Blue Fountain Media’s Doug Piece described JC Penney’s placing of thousands of crap links on hundreds of low-rated sites across the web as “the most ambitious attempt to game Google’s search results that he has ever seen.”
Disconnect? I can’t help thinking of the beginning of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” where after a reporters notes that a terrorist bombing campaign has been continuing for 13 years, the Ministry of Information chief replies (chirps, really), “Beginner’s luck.”
JC Penney has suffered Google’s “corrective action” and its search rating has plunged, but the damage is already done. JC Penney needed a boost during the holiday season and it got it — apparently the company can redeem itself through good behavior, but what’s to stop it from embarking on a fresher black hat scheme? Cutts admitted that this wasn’t the first time they’d caught JC Penney dabbling in unethical search behavior.
An acknowledged black hat professional tells NYTimes bluntly: “My own personal experience says that the guy with the biggest SEO budget always ranks the highest.” White hat, black hat — does it matter?
It’s become way too easy to manipulate Google’s results. And it doesn’t seem like companies are that scared of Google’s wrath. But Google is trying to keep up this iron front, because admitting you’re getting gamed left and right means acknowledging your core competency is slacking.
Something that all of us searchers have already realized. Perhaps the latest social injection will turn things around…
Interestingly, when I Google searched “jc penney black hat seo nytimes,” the New York Times story didn’t appear in the first page of the everything results or any of the news results. Also, search Google news for “wikileaks bank of america” and, as of press time, nothing shows up. If you do an everything search, a news subhead with a few articles appears but links to an empty page.