Most Notorious Ways People Have Exploited Google’s Algorithm

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As we all know, Googles Panda and Penguin algorithm updates have thrown webmasters and search engine consultants for a loop, making the tried and tested methods they use to bump sites up the rankings ineffective, if not downright obsolete.

Of course, these updates are just the latest volley in the constant battle between Google " which tries to provide users with relevant results to searches " and those who seek to get their sites to the top by any means necessary.

So in the spirit of mischief, let's check out the most notorious ways in which people have exploited Googles algorithm.

10. George Bush Is A Miserable Failure

10. George Bush is a Miserable Failure

Depending on your politics, you may or may not agree with the sentiment, but a Google search for the term miserable failure would have returned George Bushs page as the first result for a significant portion of the early 2000s.

The prank was accomplished by Google bombing " a mass action by various webmasters who in this case linked to the page via the phrase miserable failure on their sites. When the prank was started in 2003 by the Old Fashioned Patriot blog, Google made a statement that they had no problem with the practice; however, come 2007 they decided to tweak their algorithm to minimize the effect of Google bombs. Why? Because people thought that these results were Googles opinion!

9. Quixtar Pushes Positivity

9. Quixtar Pushes Positivity


Google bombs are not just used for pranks and political commentary.

In 2004, reports emerged from a Quixtar talk alleging that a senior Quixtar (now Amway Global) representative had discussed the use of hired geekoids to post positive stories about them, so that negative websites would fall off the rankings.

The multi-level marketing company released a statement in which they maintained that they never knowingly violated search engine rules. However, online observers noticed that, soon after, Quixtars official site dropped to the third page of Google results.

As of May 2012, a search for Quixtar offers " in the top six " a result about how Quixtar sucks and a link to an NBC Dateline investigation into the company, so it seems that their efforts didn't completely pay off.

8. GoDaddy Gets Punished

8. GoDaddy Gets Punished

Back in December 2011, vast numbers of Internet users were up in arms about the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, so GoDaddys support for the bill was not looked upon with pleasure.

Happily sitting at number one for the Google query domain registration, GoDaddy were hit with a Google bomb whereby their ranking was targeted for replacement by an anti-SOPA domain registrar, NameCheap.

Like the miserable failure bomb, this was again caused by webmasters linking " in this case to NameCheap through the phrase domain registration.

Disseminated via social media and Hacker News, the initiative (along with a threatened boycott) caused GoDaddy to go back on its support for the initiative.

As of early May 2012, GoDaddy is ranked at number two for the search, right behind NameCheap " which just goes to show it doesn't pay to have unpopular opinions where the web's concerned.

7. DecorMyEyes Makes Lemonade Out Of Lemons

7. DecorMyEyes Makes Lemonade out of Lemons

Most business owners go out of their way to be nice to customers in order to avoid negative reviews. However, Vitaly Borker, the owner of eyewear store DecorMyEyes, noticed something interesting: the more reviews he got, the higher his search rankings, regardless of whether the reviews slammed his business or not.

In fact, he began to deliberately court bad publicity and upset customers in order to get even more negative reviews! It sounds crazy, as surely seeing these negative reviews will cause a searcher to move on, right? The thing is, though, searching for individual products that his site sold would still bring his site up prominently " as it had a high PageRank from all the angry link-filled reviews " but without the reviews themselves!

After a New York Times expos on the site, Google acted swiftly to institute an algorithm that tackled bad merchants. Borker pleaded guilty to threatening customers and fraud and in May 2012 was still awaiting his sentence.

6. Dan Thies Gets Google Bowled

6. Dan Thies Gets Google Bowled

Google bowling is one of the blackest tricks in the unethical, or black hat, search engine optimization toolkit.

Its a pretty simple idea. Google punishes websites that try to increase their ranking by breaking Googles rules; for example, by using splogs " fake blogs intended only to link to the target website " or the use of automatic commenting on blogs that push links.

It stands to reason, then, that setting up these tools for a competitors site can cause them to get a punishment they dont deserve, and make them fall down the rankings.

Dan Thies, SEO,  tweeted his pleasure that Google was tackling splogs, he became the subject of an experiment to prove that those being punished were not necessarily to blame. Just 10 days after he posted his tweet, his website had been flagged by Google for violations.

5. The Chocomize Story

5. The Chocomize Story

In July 2010, the word chocomize began to trend on Google " meaning, of course, that the number of people searching for it suddenly increased.

Chocomize itself is an inoffensive website where you can make your own customized chocolate bars. However, its trending status was a little stranger.

A CNN article was published about the company, leading to an initial spike in searches. Bloggers and website owners then discovered it was trending and took advantage of the opportunity for ad revenue by writing useless articles that would draw in traffic and give them sweet Adwords money.

All this activity led to a higher spike, causing the actual site and the original article on the company to slide down the rankings " in turn leading to useless results for searchers.

4. J.C. Penney Pays For Links

4. J.C. Penney Pays for Links

When you think of unethical web practices, you probably think of sleazy hackers or small companies trying to save a buck, not corporate giants like J.C. Penney.

However, in 2011 the department store was found to have been paying for links to its website, and Google gave it 90 days to sit in the corner and think about what it had done.

J.C. Penney denies knowledge of the scheme, blaming it on the SEO company they had hired, but the scandal brought the illegitimate technique into the limelight, and shows that nobody is above Googles wrath.

3. Forbes Sells Links

3. Forbes Sells Links

Of course, for sites to buy links, somebody has to be selling them, and it turns out that little blogs and websites aren't the only culprits.

Along with J.C. Penney, Google called out for selling text links that let other sites raise their Page Rankings. Even more shocking, 2011 wasnt the first time Forbes had been in trouble with Google. It was penalized back in 2007 for the same offense. And, it looks like they didnt learn their lesson, even going cap in hand to the Google webmaster help forum asking for clarification on which links were a problem.

2. Malware Targets High Rankings

2. Malware Targets High Rankings

For many people, Google is seen as the last bastion of objective, truthful information. Yet this trusting approach makes Google search results a tempting target for malware promoters.

A study of top search terms has shown that almost half of the top 20 search terms are constantly being targeted by malicious websites that try to get visitors to download malware such as fake antiviruses.

While Google strives to remove these sites as soon as possible, the numbers are staggering. Over just six days in March, for example, almost 300 top Google searches were targeted by around 6,500 malicious websites, and it's a continuing battle to take these sites down as soon as they pop up.

1. BuildMyRank

1. BuildMyRank

BuildMyRank and other link-building websites were a popular tool for webmasters and search engine consultants. However, from March 19, 2012, BuildMyRank is no more, with Google de-indexing almost the entire site.

Why? Because the links that the network provided, while great for website owners looking to rise up the ranks, gave no actual information about how relevant or useful the site was.

Links can be helpful for search results when they are genuine and when they are used because another site is considered relevant. However, these networks existed purely to abuse the system. BuildMyRank and similar sites were notorious as a cheap and easy way to rise up the rankings " its even in the name! Perhaps the only surprising issue is that it took Google so long to crack down on them.

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