Does Text-Link-Ads destroy Google? (Is Google F’d?)

One of the best algorithms people have come up with for providing good search results is Google’s PageRank algorithm.  Simply put, the value of a specific page on a website is related to the value of the pages that link to the page.  So, if lots of people link to you, you get higher PageRank.  The key here is an actual, real, HTML anchor-text link.  No Javascript clicks, no banner ads, etc.  Those things don’t count.  The value of a page is related to how many REAL links there are to it.  Also important is the value of the pages that link to a specific page.  So, if a page gets linked to by a highly valued page, it gets ranked higher than a page that is linked to by a less valued site.  It’s pretty simple.  If a site is linked to a lot, it’s an authority.  If it’s an authority, and it links to you, well, you’re good too.  It’s fairly common knowledge that PageRank isn’t the ONLY thing that Google looks at, but, regardless of what anyone says, it is important.  Google conceived of the system, and they provide pretty good search results.  Everything’s great in the world.  Except… when it’s not.

Looking at web history, webmasters figured out the importance of links, and they did what they could to get them.  Link exchanges became common, and they still are.  Link spamming, especially on blogs, became common.  Google had to react, to make sure that their algorithms still worked.  If certain people are unscrupulously gathering links and are performing better in search results, Google ceases to become an independent provider of relevant search results.  If this happens too much, people stop using Google.  So, the point is that people have been trying to game Google, and Google has been reacting.  However, for the most part, Google’s been reacting to things like link spamming, blog spamming, and the like.  But now, things are changing.

Text Link Ads is a service that lets webmasters BUY links.  This is different.  Instead of swapping links or having a site’s content be editorially dictated, there’s now a market for buying links on sites with good PageRank.  Webmasters like it because it gives them another stream of revenue, people doing SEO like it because it gives them an easy way to build links.  Text Link Ads says that it’s not really about PageRank.  I disagree.  If it weren’t about PR, then why not build something resembling a banner ad system?  Why not value links based on clicks or impressions?  Because you want real anchor text links that translate into transferred PageRank, that’s why. (Note: I’m not saying there are not other reasons for buying TLA’s, such as traffic.  But If PR weren’t a large part of this equation, why not just have a more traditional ad system?)

Is this bad?  My guess would be that Google probably thinks so.  Google wants their search results to be good, and anything that potentially hurts that is a “bad” thing.  However, the case can be made that this actually isn’t so bad.  For one, another revenue source brings more revenue to websites, promoting better content.  Also, TLA has editorial approval of links (and sites displaying links), and for the most part, the links actually conform somewhat to the niche they’re being displayed in.  Here’s an analogy:  You can pay Yahoo to be in their commercial directory, and Google counts this as ok.  They even suggest it.  The idea is that if you pay Yahoo to list you, and they do list you, it’s approval that you’re good.  You’ve spent the money to prove that you’re not a fly-by-night scam or spam operation, and Yahoo has independently confirmed.  Google likes this.  Take this to the next level.  Would Google approve of other directories doing the same?  Why?  I think the same rules apply. Take it another step — to where Text Link Ads is.  They’re still like a directory in that they place links in niches.  There’s still editorial control, most of the links are in-genre, the real money exchanged is a barrier to uberspam.  It’s just … decentralized.

I think TLA itself isn’t enough really hurt Google.  However, there are networks out there that take this idea another step towards spamminess.  Here’s what they do:  You give up links on your sites for links on other sites.  It’s just like TLA, but you get “paid” in links which you can only “spend” on other links.  These sites generally skim off the top and actually sell some of their inventory.  Also, they’re fairly sophisticated about how much “currency” you get for displaying links on your site.  Here’s why they’re bad:  There’s much less of a barrier to spam and lack of editorial control.  Once systems like these become automated enough, they’ll degenerate into spam.  On the other hand, maybe they won’t.  Maybe there’s enough money to be made and enough focus on keeping everything legitimate that they won’t really hurt google that much.

However, can it be said that something that gives some sites an advantage over others in the SERPS is not basically bad for Google?  In the end, don’t these sites exist to game Google?  Isn’t anything that games Google bad for Google?

Time will tell whether these networks thrive or whether Google figures out how to do some fancy graph analysis that penalizes network participants, thus killing the networks.

What do you think?  Is Google screwed by such practices? Will they evolve? Is a solution possible?  Does it require more computing power than is possible (even for the Googleplex) to amass?

Time will tell.

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Google News to RSS Feed Converter

This afternoon, I was really frustrated. I found an article I liked while looking through some financial sites, and I realized, “hey, i want to SUBSCRIBE to this article”

Well, i went to google news, thinking, “of course, they probably already have rss feeds of news searches, just like technorati lets you have of blog space.” Well, I couldn’t find it, so I looked around and found a couple tools, including RSSgenr8 by Then, in an hour or so I cooked together a little tool for me to use to track some news stories via my bloglines account.

Anyway, if it’s useful to me, it’s probably useful to someone else. If others find it useful, I may make the code look nice and release it as GPL.

For now, you can try it out: rss-a-tron-o-matic

Edit: Removed Link, google news supports RSS now.

The even longer tail and the Adwords API

At first, the Google Adwords API doesn’t really seem like much, just a way to write simple programs to do some automating of tasks that are already pretty easy. I’ve bought ads on Google before, and it’s really fairly straightforward.

However, it’s really a MUCH bigger deal, in my opinion.

If you look back at posts like this one, you’ll see a nice discussion of how google is taking advantage of the whole long tail phenomenon by letting the massive amount of small guys with targeted keywords advertise to their respective markets. This is well and good, but there is something bigger that’s going on here. My speculation is that there is a much greater long tail than anyone has imagined, and that it can be served in a way that it can’t now — through creative use of the Adwords API.

The idea goes like this: There are lots of businesses out there that have a whole slew of products, services, and media to get to their respective consumers, but their focus is not targeted enough to make manually selecting keywords a viable option.

Take, for instance, a small business that sells a variety of, well, let’s just say ‘themed greeting cards.’ They’ve got their products available, but they have so many cards of various types that they don’t really have a good way of getting all their data into the adwords system.

Now, they can.

Anyone with a product catalog can do it. I’ll bet that in a year, good comercial ecommerce solutions will incorporate product catalog -> adwords (and the other guys) systems.

It’s going to get that easy to mass-micro advertise, and small businesses will benefit. So will Google.

Yes, there will be competition. I think Yahoo’s entry into this space will take a big dent out of Google, or at least it will put a little bit of pressure on bidding for keywords. Overall, however, growth in the market for keywords will outweigh any competition that comes online, at least for the forseeable future.

Web 3.0? — Rich Web Applications

I’ve added qooxdoo to the list of toolkits, and it got me thinking. With dojo, qooxdoo, all the ajax frameworks out there, etc., we’re really in the infancy of a new breed of web applications.

Yes, google’s got em already, but the average joe doesn’t have the manpower to put all the pieces together himself. These toolkits are still very rough around the edges, and it’s going to take some time and some painful development of applications, some aborted projects, some cross-flow of ideas between projects, but we’ll see the browser be what microsoft feared it would be from the beginning — the browser is going to become the platform.

Why is this happening? We’re at a point now where the tools for web development, your databases and your server side scripting languages / application servers are already written, and they’re pretty good. me, as a developer, I can’t go out and hack together a PHP/FI version 1.0 and have it be of any use to anyone. What I’m saying is that because the tools are there, we’re now able to build tools on top of our tools, to make what we build even better.

I’ll give the Ajax toolkits another 6-9 months before they’re really mature, and the javascript widget-based toolkits, well, my guess is they’ll need at least another 12-18 months before there’s anything that’s highly polished and usable to a wide array of people.

Now, i haven’t actually played with the likes of Backbase, and they might be closer than anyone, I just don’t know. I think a project for tomorrow is to go download the backbase community edition and see what i can do.

Google Movies

I just saw this on Slashdot. Wow. Google Movies.

What I find really cool about Google is that they integrate everything into one box. What do I mean? Well, for movie search, you use the same search box as for regular search — there’s no “extra steps” involved in getting the information. I mean, movie info on the web isn’t amazing or revolutionary. Having it one step easier is, well, nice.