Refining Google

Via Digg, I found an interesting article on Google’s attempts to prevent people from “gaming” its search results. Google’s PageRank algorithm, while secret, is known to consider the number and quality of incoming links to a site in its rankings. Therefore PageRank has working models of reputation, trust, etc.

In the article, Carsten Cumbrowski talks a lot of jargon and the writing becomes elliptical and dense at times, but the information he presents, and links to, comprises a very good background on issues with PageRank. He analyzes the NOFOLLOW attribute, an attempt to reduce the credence given to paid or otherwise less meaningful links. He also covers improvements to PageRank’s trust model:

It is like with people. You do not trust anybody you just have met. How quickly you trust somebody is less a time factor, but has to do with what the person is doing or is not doing and how much it does match what the person says about himself, his intentions and his plans.

Therefore the age of a site is a poor proxy for trustworthiness, and PageRank’s naive reliance on it was faulty. As I’ve posted before, an extreme amount of time and effort goes into reverse-engineering search algorithms, along a whole spectrum from benign “search engine optimization” to malicious exploitation of flaws. It’s an arms race in which the complexity of the system is determined as much by competitive pressure from its exploiters as by the desire for more useful search results.

Remember that the next time you rely on a search algorithm — or build a web service that relies on one.

4 replies on “Refining Google”

Interesting comments.

Search Engines are a huge traffic driver and thus important for anybody who does business online. It does not matter how big your brand, if you don’t do search organic seo or paid search, you miss out a big chunk of business.

For the most part are search engines and webmasters and SEO getting along together pretty well. A lot of goals are very similar. The nasty stuff e.g. “Black Hat” SEO is more the exception in SEO and nothing for anybody who has a serious intention to establish a long term business on the web. There are clashes from time to time though and that has in my opinion less to do with search engines wanting better search results for their users than their own financial interests, revenue generated from paid ads.

p.s. what is elliptical writing? Thanks.


Thanks Carsten. I think a lot of people take search for granted, and even if in most cases search engines and users want the same things, it’s those boundaries and exceptions that can get us in trouble.

By elliptical I meant, especially for a more general readership, you skip over some intermediate steps in your argument. Probably more knowledgeable readers just skip along with you.

I think my comment got lost. I responded over 2 days ago, but it is not showing up. Okay, here it is again.

Yep, you are right Eli. People also tend to be more sensitive in noticing bad stuff. Good things are often not noticed, but some would say that a good tool or service is good, because people don’t notice and everything happens and feels naturally.

Thanks for the clarification for “elliptical writing”. Some articles are meant for “insiders” and professional in the field, but that article was actually not. People, that includes me, forget sometimes that things that are obvious and clear to them is not necessarily clear to the average person that does not deal with this sort of things on a regular basis.

That fact was the core argument in the debate whether or not SEO is rocket science or not. I don’t know if you read about it.

Anyhow, for this reason are those things published at a blog where people can leave comments. Comments can of course include questions, like my question about the “elliptical writing”. I am always glad to answer those questions and clarify things for people that don’t know the sort of things I am talking about, but are interested in learning about them.

Coming from affiliate marketing, which is even less understood than search marketing is and also being an active Wikipedian, provided me with some experience in describing things differently to make them clear to other people :).


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