Experts at Wharton say it all highlights the cat-and-mouse game between the company and those who attempt to game its secret algorithm that determines the order in which search results are displayed.
The practice, known as search engine optimisation, or SEO, uses a range of techniques for creating web pages that increase the likelihood the site will appear among the top results displayed in response to search-engine queries. There are plenty of legitimate SEO techniques that adhere to Google’s best practices. There are also “black hat” techniques that aim to take advantage of quirks in the search rank algorithms to artificially gain a higher spot in the query results and garner more traffic (Get 10000 free hits) for a website.
According to Luke Beatty, a vice president at Yahoo’s Associated Content, one-third of the site’s content ranks higher on Google as a result of the change, but two-thirds has garnered a lower position. Jason Rapp, president of search engine Mahalo, said the company laid off 10 percent of its work force and changed its strategy after the algorithm adjustments.
“We had a body of general-interest content that was affected rather significantly,” Rapp noted. “When we see a hit like that, we react accordingly.”
According to Kartik Hosanagar, a Wharton operations and information management professor, the focus on Google’s search quality is a bit ironic considering how the company originally rose to prominence.
“If you look at how Google started out and became so successful, it was because of its PageRank algorithm,” says Hosanagar, referring to the analysis of links across the web the search giant uses to determine a site’s importance, and to decide where pages appear in search results. “PageRank allowed Google to improve search results. Previous search engines at Yahoo and elsewhere were easily littered with spam and low-quality content.”
Now Google may be facing the same issue that its predecessors grappled with more than a decade ago.
“Search quality is critical to Google’s reputation,” Hosanagar notes. “Quality is really fundamental to Google’s dominance in the market.”
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