Peter VanRysdam / Digital Marketing / September 25th, 2007

The Great Google Conspiracy Theory

PC Magazine’s John Dvorak posted an interesting article on the magazine’s site, here, about a unique anti-google conspiracy theory.  In it, he talks about certain pages he indentifies as possible attacks on the integrity of google.  I’ll let him explain:

“A reader, Courtney Cox (no relation to the actress), recently pointed out to me that the top results of recent complex Google searches turned out to be inane Chinese sites that were not even parking sites, just an assortment of keywords that somehow got indexed and brought to the top of the results list.”

But here’s the interesting part:

“On that note, I should add that entering [the same keyword string] on Yahoo! yielded worse returns, with all the results being weird Chinese sites—including one that tried to load a Trojan (caution!!) that AVG killed immediately. When the same search terms were used on MSN, there were no results at all.”

He’s right, that the worst way to hurt google would be to attack the quality of their search results.  People don’t go to google because of the name or some fancy advertising.  They flock there for the relevant results.  If that was compromised, people would move on to the next engine.

I wonder where the line is drawn here legally.  In the fight for the top spot on google, doing things with code to boost your own site’s rankings is not illegal (nor should it be).  Google polices itself by penalizing “offenders” and using algorithms to accurately determine the most relevant results to display for a specific query.  But that just relates to people fighting with each other on google.  What about fighting google? 

It can’t be illegal to create a page full of random erroneous keywords, can it?  No way.  Google is coming to your site to index it…all you did was put up a “harmless” page.  But technically it is as malicious as putting dozens of speedbumps in the competing store’s parking lot.  It’s a deterrent to patrons, and a boost for competitors. 

I should note that I’m not accusing live.com or any other engine of doing this.  I think the sites in question have other motives, like selling ads or boosting traffic for whatever reason.  But it does make you wonder how easy it would be to topple the giant legally, albeit despicably.