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Location: Montgomery Area, Alabama, United States

Former BUFF driver; self-styled military historian; paid (a lot) to write about beating plowshares into swords; NOT Foamy the Squirrel, contrary to all appearances. Wesleyan Jihadi Name: Sibling Railgun of Reasoned Discourse

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Word Up: Read Down

This is a very interesting article from the Annenburg Online Journalism Review. It tackles a subject that should be of interest to all who use the internet for research--especially those who use it relatively infrequently to glean info on companies, investments, and the like:

Companies subvert search results to squelch criticism

It's not illegal, but it's SEO gone bad. Companies such as Quixtar are using Google-bombing, link farms and Web spam pages to place positive sites in the top search results -- which pushes the negative ones down.

Every major company, non-profit and religious group now has to worry about their Web reputation and has to pay very close attention to that first page of search results.

"Managing brand credibility and press exposure is nothing new," said Nan Dawkins, co-founder of Red Boots Consulting, which focuses on SEO for non-profits. "The only new wrinkle here is the medium [Internet/search engines] and the tactics used to get visibility in that medium. The reality is that search engines are VERY IMPORTANT to an organization's brand. Search engines are where people look for answers to their questions, and there are a lot of different takes on those answers. Your side of the story may appear, but it is a certainty that it will appear alongside other, varying opinions. If you don't manage it, it may manage you."

The Google bomb has been around for years and has mainly been for jokes such as a search for "miserable failure" bringing up the White House bio for George W. Bush. Even the entry for Google bomb in Wikipedia -- which has a large section on Quixtar/Amway's tactics -- has been the target of tampering by a Quixtar marketing operative, according to one blogger's account.

These are not illegal tactics, but they raise the hackles of search engines, who stake their business on the quality of natural search results (we're not talking about paid search ads). Search engines are constantly changing their algorithms, making many of these tactics less successful.

Caveat emptor, my babies. Set your search engine to show 50 or 100 entries and read down the page a bit before making a judgement. Perhaps this correspondent has it right:

Sooner or later, the engines will have to be regulated, just like the credit agencies are regulated. They have too much concentrated power, and too little accountability to the rights of ordinary citizens.

I'd hate to see it happen--I'd rather see an engine's reputation and market share force natural regulation--but I can see the left using this to gain a government hand in controlling web content and access.


Chefjef writes that he has a paper on a related topic. I'll post it when I get a copy.


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