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Wednesday, October 1st, 2003

PageRank is Sick… Is Google Broken?

 

For the past six months we have been telling clients that something very strange is happening with Google. From the way they have measured back links to the amount of SPAM that has appeared in the Top10, Google has not performed to its previous standard of excellence for almost a year. Now, with the intensity of public scrutiny surrounding Google heating up, folks are beginning to talk about Google’s problems as well as IPO rumours and its near monopolistic hold on the business of search.

Google has based its ranking formula on the logic of PageRank, the fundamental element in Google’s perceptions of the value of each site in its database. PageRank is elegant in its simplicity and has proven very easy for spammers to manipulate over the years. Herein lies the problem. In a nutshell, a website’s PageRank was determined by the number of incoming links from other relevant websites. The idea was that a researcher from MIT would publish links to similar research being conducted at other universities, thus recording a vote of confidence in the piece being linked to. The same concept of cross-linking would naturally happen in other social sectors, providing Google with a democratic means of determining what was and was not relevant to search engine users. The more “votes” for your site from similar relevant websites, the better your site would do at Google. While PageRank is only one of dozens of elements factoring into the way Google ranks websites, it is the bedrock upon which most other measurements are based. Over the years, SEOs have devised several successful methods of making sites appear in the Top10 at Google. Perhaps we’ve been a bit too successful for our own good though as techniques developed by the SEO community are being applied by major mass-marketers using legit tools to perform illegitimate manipulation of results. With the increase in popularity of Blogs (online journals), a heightened awareness of how Google ranks sites, and the pressing need to achieve Top10 placements, it was only a matter of time before the techno-chaff plugged up the search engine mill.

Google has tried to deal with this issue for almost a year now but has not succeeded in preventing spam from reaching the top of its rankings. In a move that may provide clues to their future intentions, Google has recently purchased Kaltix, another start up search tool from Stanford University. Kaltix specializes in personalization of search results and the provision of subject (or context) matching of documents in order to present search results to end users. Coupled with its earlier purchase of Applied Semantics, Google seems to be focusing a lot of well-educated mental bandwidth on providing a personalized base for paid-advertisments through its highly profitable AdWords and Froogle features.

Try to imagine a World Wide Web in which Google isn’t the dominant search player based on consumer confidence and relevant results. Microsoft and Yahoo would like you to. Google seems to be helping its competition more than driving forward with innovative ideas. Google cannot fall back on its reputation and expect that reputation to remain reputable if it doesn’t work to present the best possible results. One wonders how busy the PR folk at Teoma feel right now.


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