The stakes are rising in the battle to remove irrelevant listings from high in search engine results, and Blekko’s fast footwork is seeing the young search tool get digital street-cred as well as extra clicks. Here’s why…
Three years back and if you owned a search engine the challenge was still finding the content and getting it indexed. The blogosphere was in the process of being tamed, and American social media site called Facebook was starting to generate some oddly structured content that could be useful, and a young presence-application upstart by the name of Twitter was starting to challenge the speed of updates.
Over the following few years software engineers solved the problems of social media and Twitter-style live content, but have become increasingly frustrated with the spamming of search engines as the very techniques that champion relevancy are used to pollute the search indexes with irrelevant content. Now there’s a war on against the search engine spammers and Blekko and Google are head to head in the war on spam.
First out of the gate was Google with a stepchange update in its ranking algorithm that saw spammers tumble. Google’s goal was simply to improve the relevancy of listings and introduce a well-researched change in ranking that would achieve this. Link farms tumbled in their ranking and the general quality of the results people see on the first 20 pages has clearly improved – and improved from what was already an impressive base. The definition of low quality sites may still be a little opaque, but the effectiveness of Google’s change is clear.
Google’s latest update has achieved a notable shift in results quality. Given the relationship between site quality and the quality score, this is likely to impact online advertising listings in search as well as the natural search results. It will also pressure SEO houses who have relied on link farms to push link equity of their clients.
Blekko is trying to propagate an alternative model in search that is based on slashtagss and using the social search of friends, experts and the wider community as the way of improving results. They led with the publication of a ‘web search bill of rights’ (below) that is clearly aimed at underscoring the differences with their somewhat larger competitor. They fought back quickly with similar determination to improve link quality, with a blanket ban of over a million sites. This more aggressive approach is similar to Google’s response to click-fraud in its publisher programme and suggests that engines are comfortable taking aggressive measures against those deliberately abusing the system. Interestingly they are using social tools to let users identify spam and in turn ban sites – a model potentially open to some abuse but presumably with its internal safeguards.
For brands playing by the rules this is all good news. For agencies on the edge of black-hat techniques there are bound to be many tumbles in the coming weeks. But for the future of search, the migration to social is a major step change. When Amazon unlocked the power of ‘people who like this also liked this’ they stepchanged online retailing. Social search may not have quite the same game-changing effect (Google’s rankings already take popularity into account in many ways), but it will have a stepchange in the relevancy of links that are displayed.
Blekko’s ‘bill of rights’
1. Search shall be open
2. Search results shall involve people
3. Ranking data shall not be kept secret
4. Web data shall be readily available
5. There is no one-size-fits-all for search
6. Advanced search shall be accessible
7. Search engine tools shall be open to all
8. Search & community go hand-in-hand
9. Spam does not belong in search results
10. Privacy of searchers shall not be violated