Mobsters and Spammers

22ndJan. × ’11

A couple of days ago, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the arrest of 125 crime family figures in what the FBI is calling the largest mob round up in history.  Every now and then, a major news story reminds us that often, law enforcement is working quietly for long periods of time, building up to a major disruption of criminal activities.  The announcement made me wonder if we won’t soon here a similar announcement heralding the curtailment of spam and near-spam web trickery.

For your consideration (as Rod Serling used to say), point one: Google has recently undertaken a manual audit of Google Place Page reviews.  Many speculate that the audits are a precursor to an algorithm change to recognize and clean up spam reviews.  Reviews, positive or negative, have been a big factor in Google’s local search algorithm.  Because of that, Place Page reviews have been targeted by spammers who post false reviews to influence search results, in violation of Google’s terms of use.  The large number of obviously fake reviews that have proliferated over the last few years has finally prompted Google to take action.  That first step is human review and a possible and likely outcome may be a blended machine algorithm and human audit process.

For your consideration, point two: Back in November, a new search engine launched named Blekko.  Blekko was built in response to the increasing amounts of spam showing up in Google search results.  We’ve all seen useless and unremarkable websites show up at the top of search, and searches related to insurance services are no exception.  Google is clear on their mission to promote sites with the most useful, relevant content.  But, through ignorance or willfulness, website owners still employ tricks to fool Google’s algorithm and gain search visibility.  When Google discovers spam SEO techniques, it levies severe penalties against offending websites.  But that doesn’t stop website owners from trying to out game Google’s algorithm – especially when spammy techniques work.  There is a growing consensus that Google is loosing the battle.  That’s why Blekko’s search results will depend on human input to determine search rank.

For your consideration, point three: Among the initial investors in Qwiki, another new search engine promising a ‘search experience’ are a co-founder of Facebook and a co-founder of YouTube.  Will Qwiki become a major search player?  It’s worth keeping an eye on, but take a look at the introduction video on their home page and notice the reference to curated information.  Yet another search service recognizes the short comings of purely algorithmic search results.

So are we on the cusp of an internet ‘mob’ round up?  I think so, although the bust may not be so sudden and dramatic as the January 20 AG announcement of the real mob round up.  But the trend seems set:  expect more human intervention in all search results.  The message for those of us that own websites?  Google’s mantra, that quality content counts, may actually become more true than ever.

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