The Continued Viability of a Citation-Based System
When Google introduced the PageRank citation system for search it was a major breakthrough in technology, and consequently, a huge improvement over the search engines of the time. However, even in 1998, Page and Brin anticipated, if underestimated, the impact that commercial links might play in their ranking system.
At worst, you can have manipulation in the form of buying advertisements (links) on important sites. But, this seems well under control since it costs money. From, Bringing Order To The Web -1998
In 1998, the impact may have ‘well under control’, but it wasn’t long before huge amounts of money were being spent on links to manipulate search results. Google helped sellers determine the price of links by introducing a toolbar that showed the PageRank for any given page. Sites that sold links sprang up all over the web, link auctions came into being, with price based on, PageRank. Demand was so great that the ‘link economy’ experienced what can best be described as linkflation.
Google is almost singlehandedly responsible for blog spam, guestbook spam and link spam in general. Realizing that commercial interests were spoiling their results, Google changed the way they valued links and simply buying links to rank well became an endeavor that had to be undertaken carefully.
Realizing that links were largely responsible for how well sites ranked in Google, pranksters were quick to launch Google Bombs. Searching for ‘miserable failure’ would bring up the official George Bush page for example. While this may have been aggravating for Google’s search engineers, it was humorous, and not many people enter a serious search for ‘miserable failure’.
But what if entering ‘John Kerry’ for example, brought up the Swift Boat Veteran’s site? Or entering ‘Joe Lieberman’ returned Nazi hate sites? That’s exactly the type of Google bombs that the N.Y. Times is reporting on in Gaming the Search Engine, In A Political Season.
SEOs have long been accused of manipulating search engine results, and it’s true, the goal of SEOs is to bring their client’s sites to the top of the search results. However, good SEOs are only concerned with pushing relevant results to the top. But with a citation-based ranking system, gaming the engines simply becomes a matter of cash to buy links, or concerted enterprise. It’s when irrelevant results are returned that search engines become useless.
Google prides itself on constantly refining its algorithms, and by not relying on any one ranking variable, but if links can outweigh all other factors then the algorithm is suspect. Which is why contextual analysis must play a larger role in the development of search engine algorithms if search engines are going to improve.
With local search just coming to the forefront, how long before competitors or ‘pranksters’ begin manipulating local results with link bombs? It’s already happening and it will continue to get worse until the reliance on citation-based algorithms is reduced.