Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Buying "Votes"

The "experiment" I participated in earlier today has taken on a whole different meaning for me this afternoon.

If links on the web are "votes", then is buying links for a website the same as buying votes in a political race? Or... Is it the same as buying advertising space in a newspaper?

I think it is neither, and both.

Case in point. I did a search on Google using the word "directory" and I came up with a surprising result. In the top ten returns for this word, Google gave me the link to this site (http://www.mckinley.com). Now, if you go look at this site, we can obviously see that it is not a directory of any sort. So, why should it come up as a directory in a Google search?

Well, after a little investigating, I found out that this url used to be used/owned by a now defunct search engine named Magellan. Magellan failed was shut down after it was purchased by another search engine, Excite. All the links to the Magellan website used to be redirected to Excite. But I guess this is no longer true.

So, what happened?

Did Excite forget to renew it's ownership of the domain? Is Excite "leasing" out the domain to this new company? I don't know.

But the question I have is, is it "fair" or "accurate" that this new company should recieve the benefit of thousands of links pointing to a url that used to be the home of a search engine? Is this spam? Spam in the search engine world are those practices that deceptively alter the results of searches.

Does the fact that this company has thousands of links that are supposedly linking to a search engine alter how it appears in the results of searches? Absolutely. Is it a deceptive practice? I don't know.

If it's "votes" that determine the relevance of the results of search engines, then money corrupts the system. Relevance is then determined by who has the most money, not by what is actually relevant.

Should search engines discount paid links? Yeah, they should. Determining which ones are paid and which ones are "natural" is certainly a search engine programmer's nightmare.

Although, I still hope I win the 5 bucks...

22 Comments:

At June 9, 2004 at 3:36 PM, Blogger Peter said...

This is the quandary:
If it's "votes" that determine the relevance of the results of search engines, then money corrupts the system. Relevance is then determined by who has the most money, not by what is actually relevant.

But, does money necesarily corrupt the system? Don't the people that have the most money have it because they've earned it and don't they usually re-invest it to get the best Return on the Investment: which would mean they only pay for "links" that are going to be worth the cost?

The reason I am giving away $25 is so that I can have this conversation with people. Otherwise, we wouldn't be having it. And then maybe I'd never have known whether people can be bought for $5. And then maybe I would have never decided to take on my next project.
It is $25 that is well spent in my book. And if my project takes off, it'll be really well worth the investment.

Who knows?

Long point, shorter: Don't assume that money corrupts search engines. Spammers, who are motivated by money, do corrupt. But, that doesn't mean all people trying to make a buck, will be deceitful, like spammers.

 
At June 10, 2004 at 1:29 PM, Blogger Mike Lauher said...

Peter,

Thanks for commenting. I'm as pragmatic as the next guy and if something works and it's not "against the rules" then I don't see any problem doing it.

I saw your experiment as an interesting concept and I linked mostly because I thought it was interesting rather than the incentive of money. If it works, great, more power to ya.

My comments are more on the general theory of search processes.

If this Real Estate company can "buy" thousands of links that rank well for the term "directory", then what's to stop Porn sites from buying links to rank for the term "healthcare". If what is on the site is not as important as the links that point to it, then the capacity is there to manipulate the results. Granted, it's more difficult to manipulate links on other websites, but as more domains expire, this type of manipulation will become easier.

Google, in my opinion, has swung the pendulum too far in favor of in bound links and I think that their search returns are showing the result of that. Magellan is just an extreme example.

Good luck with the project and thanks for commenting.

Mike

 
At June 10, 2004 at 5:56 PM, Blogger Peter said...

I get your drift. It is a valid point.

 
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