The recent New York Times article (The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, 2/12/11 by David Segal) is an entertaining, well-written exposé of the black-hat side of internet search. If the 160 comments are an accurate measure, then the topic is “au courant.” It is unfortunate, however, that important points were overlooked.
For those who have been involved in the internet since the inception of the World Wide Web, the act of manipulating search engine results is the foundation upon which all growth was built. The opportunity and the challenge of achieving a #1 placement in organic search results are the cornerstones of evolution in our industry. From our first crude attempts at keyword stuffing to these more sophisticated paid link techniques, the competition for top placement is responsible for a myriad of advances in website development. Initially, a tiny group of developers monitored each others’ work and shared successes/failures. Collaboration was the key. Our “team” had no quarterback, no leader.
The original search engines were the competition. As on any playing field, when one team found an advantage, the other team quickly developed a countermeasure. Through the ebb and flow, more sophisticated algorithms were created, and more advanced websites came into existence. Page Rank, Latent Semantic Indexing, and much more would not exist were it not for the constant battle to outsmart the competition.
Now, a new element has been added to the game: Punishment! Rather than focus on the flaw that allowed JC Penney’s brief flirt with search success, Google has laid claim to the role of referee. It is not only a competitor on the field of internet search. It is also the referee that selects the penalty when there is a perception of a misdeed having occurred. When was the last time you played in a game where the other team provided the referee? Who won that game?
Ram Samudrala of Seattle, WA, expressed it thus:
Something about this article is off, perhaps the part that Google “punishes” someone. They shouldn’t do that. If they find an offense, they should fix it and leave it at that instead of penalising people. It is THEIR fault for having an algorithm that isn’t perfect (yes, perhaps it will never be, but still, it’s their job to get it right). When they screw up, and then penalise someone else for their mistake, I think it reeks of despotism.
I couldn’t agree more. When Google takes on the mantle of “internet authority,” we all lose a little. Just how far will they/can they go? There is no authority that will determine when Google or any other entity has overstepped its bounds. Let us be diligent and monitor this latest step in the evolutionary process. There is a lot at stake.