Google Bowling: Unethical SEO Harms Innocent Bystanders

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If you follow Web marketing at all, you are probably aware that Internet search engines such as Google consider more than just the content of a Web site in determining how highly to rank the site in search engine results. Search engines also consider off-page factors such as the number of links to a site (inbound links) and the site’s click density (i.e. the number of times that users actually click through to a given site from the search engines). The idea here is that Website owners can easily manipulate the content of their site to try to lure in the search engines, so other factors that cannot be easily manipulated should be given more weight in determining how sites rank for competitive terms.

Given that search engine optimization has always been a game in which some people continually try to come up with new tricks to game the engines, and the engines continually come up with ways to catch and punish those who try to fool them, you can probably guess what happened as off-page factors gained importance. Link farms sprang up, in which large numbers of bogus Websites were created, all of which would link --- for a fee --- to sites hoping to build incoming links. In response, Google and other engines adjusted their algorithms to try to determine not only the number of incoming links but also their quality, and the engines began to punish sites that used link farms by removing them from the search results altogether.

And Now: Google Bowling

You might think that the only ones at risk as engines like Google battle it out with those who try to manipulate search results would be the participants --- people actively trying to achieve high search engine rankings for competitive keywords. It has recently been reported, though, that bystanders have also been hurt by the evolution of link spam.

Just as unscrupulous people try to deceive search engines to get high rankings for their dubious content; these same folks will also try to hurt competitors by trying to make sure that competitors’ sites are not found --- even for their company names. As Google and other engines have begun to punish low-quality links, this has become easy --- unscrupulous people can simply buy links to their competitors on the spammiest link site they can find. This tactic is called Google Bowling, and it is getting a lot of attention lately.

What does it mean to you?

What does this mean to you? Google bowling will probably not directly affect you ---- unless you are in a highly competitive industry, you are a recognized leader, and you have unscrupulous competitors. In that case, you should proactively monitor where you show up in search engine positions for your company name and other key search terms. If you see a sudden, unexplained drop in rankings, you should investigate --- query the engine to find out who they see linking to your site and check out who shows up ahead of you on key terms.

In bigger picture terms, expect this latest development to lead to some reconsideration of the weighting of off-page factors. The engines will probably shift to working harder to evaluate on-page content to determine how useful and relevant it is. This means that having relevant, up to date and interesting content will continue to be one of your best strategies for ranking well in search engines. An added benefit is that rich, relevant content will attract inbound links, and this will help your off-page optimization as well.

Author Info:

Mark Reichard is the president of iData Technologies, a Cleveland-based firm specializing in Search Engine Optimization and Web Content Management. View their website at: http://www.idatatechnologies.com

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