Something is wrong on the internet!

xkcd recently posted a webcomic that is quickly becoming a classic cartoon:

Comic: Something is wrong on the internet

That comic sums up the internet in one sentence: the scrum of jostling opinions on the web and the optimism that truth can still win out. I was reminded of that comic when someone asked me about a particular way that someone recently tried to get links. Jonathan Crossfield wrote up a good background summary of the situation.

Believe me, I have no particular desire or plans to charge out onto the internet looking for fake stories; Snopes and other people on the web do a fine job of that. But this was an interesting case, because the proof landed in everyone’s lap. Someone spoke up afterwards and essentially admitted “I made up a story and actively promoted it. The story is utterly fake. By the way, I think any tactic to get links is fair game. I only care about whether a tactic to get links works.” A little while later someone else asked me point-blank for my reaction. I pointed out that Google’s quality guidelines already cover deceptive or misleading ways of getting links. The first two sentences in our quality guidelines say

These quality guidelines cover the most common forms of deceptive or manipulative behavior, but Google may respond negatively to other misleading practices not listed here (e.g. tricking users by registering misspellings of well-known websites). It’s not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn’t included on this page, Google approves of it.

Google tries to return the most relevant, useful results to our users and protect them from deceptive or misleading tactics. For example, when someone spams a blog or a guestbook with a fake comment, we try to prevent that fake link from carrying weight in Google. If a spammer blitzes dozens of websites with fake referrers, we try to ignore those fake links. If a website claims to have high-quality information and then deceives the user and serves up malware or off-topic porn, Google considers that spam and takes action on it. Likewise, if a site says that they completely made up a story to get links, Google doesn’t have to trust the links to that site as much.

I really don’t view Google’s role as judging the truthiness of the web. That is, after all, what Stephen Colbert is for. :) But if someone is sloppy enough to get caught (or to admit!) making up a fake story, I don’t think Google has to blindly trust those links, either.

My takeaway from this brouhaha: There are plenty of ways to market a site creatively without deceiving anyone. Don’t burn your credibility by using fake stories. It’s a short-term tactic and makes people trust you less in the future.

74 Responses to Something is wrong on the internet! (Leave a comment)

  1. corey

    “For example, when someone spams a blog or a guestbook with a fake comment, we try to prevent that fake link from carrying weight in Google.”

    that’s fine. what i want to know is how you determine the fakeness of that comment.

    are comments about creationism fake?

  2. Harith

    “Don’t burn your credibility by using fake stories.”

    Well said, Matt!

  3. Note to self… Keep my “Hoax Marketing” initiatives on the down-low. ;^)

  4. Matt,

    It is a fine line to walk but I completely agree with you; people should not make practices like this a commonplace way to gain links. Good on for Google taking a proactive stance on this type of link-building. Surely there are better tactics…

  5. “are comments about creationism fake?”

    corey, I’m not talking about curating content of the internet based on value judgments. I’m talking about detecting people trying to game or spam the system and counteracting that.

    So: a comment about creationism? Not my business. However, a comment like

    “i like information,thank

    buy cheap viagra online”

    (to pick a random piece of comment spam out of my blog queue) is probably not something that should get much trust.

  6. (Excuse me while I put my tin-foil hat back on) Do crazy conspiracy theories count as fake news? Where do you draw the line?

  7. How about unsubstantiated rumors or gossip? Is that fair game. I hope so… I love that stuff.

  8. Great post Matt,

    I always advocat not to make false reviews, but what do you do when clients sends email out asking for feed back and they all start coming in at one time. That could be taken for spam no?

    -Kris

  9. I have to agree not to agree Matt. To draw a said fine line in the sand is downright dangerous.

    Where do you stand on the weapons of Mass destruction fib that the US government sold to its people in order to justify an illegal attack on Iraq and cause the needless deaths of thousands of innocent lives. that was fake news at its best : Google Results

    Now I am aware that that story was not fabricated for links but a far more heinous crime against humanity even after the facts became clear your country allowed the Bush administration a second chance at office — so much for harming ones reputation.

    I honestly feel you have to take a deep breath on this one Matt, draw back and gather your thoughts. Just because you have the keys to Pandora’s box in your possession is it such a wise choice to open it?

  10. ASM

    Matt;
    I think one of the reasons Google has started to take some criticisms like Corey’s is because it’s a very fine line between “curating content of the internet based on value judgments” and policing for spam. Corey’s point, while obviously wrong, isn’t too far off, either in some cases. Google is making value judgments. The very nature of showing search results is nothing but a value judgment.

    This statement is NOT true:
    “Google tries to return the most relevant, useful results to our users and protect them from deceptive or misleading tactics.”

    Google tries to do this MOST of the time, but certainly not all of the time.

    Suppose someone is looking for “malware or off-topic porn” – Google should probably show them precisely the sites that they have banned from their index. Maybe it’s a not a huge loss to Google or it’s end users if Google doesn’t give people “malware or off-topic porn” – but Google is no longer giving the “most relevant, useful results.”

    If you do a search for “John Chow” the first page of results doesn’t list http://www.johnchow.com – yet that’s probably the most relevant page. I’m not an expert on John Chow’s history – I think he was penalized for inbound link spam, but the point is Google has clearly made a decision in this case NOT to return the most relevant results. It’s a clear distinct decision on the part of Google to NOT give the most relevant results. Google has penalized his site and is therefore no longer giving the most relevant search results for the term “John Chow.” In fact http://www.notjohnchow.com actually comes up before the real site!

    It’s a free country (and internet) so I certainly think Google can ban any site it wants for any reason (it would make sense to me to ban Yahoo for instance, you’re not going to see CBS advertising for NBC anytime soon!). But if Google truly is trying to give the end users the best results I can’t see how any site should ever be banned, or even given some overall penalty – maybe a penalty on a per search phrase level, but not a general ban. Their site, no matter how terrible, might be just what someone is looking for.

    I find this moral high ground that Google likes to take ( “do no evil” and we’re just trying to give “the most relevant, useful results”) growing a little tired. When you become secretive about what and how you do things, and make value judgments some people are going to get a little skeptical.

    I think what some people fear is Google eventually telling us that all websites are created equally but some websites are more equal than others.

  11. Hawaii SEO, the reason that I added the xkcd cartoon is because I don’t want to take on the job of tackling everything that might be wrong according to someone on the internet. Then I’d never get any sleep! :) This was an exceptional case, in that the person came out and admitted the story was fake. Yet for weeks while the story was getting picked up in the news, the site didn’t add any sort of disclosure that it was a completely made-up story. Only in the last day or so has site added any disclosure that it was a fake story.

  12. Paul

    P.S. In case you delete my above comment as you have done before Matt, the content was created for social media sites such as Digg, Reddit, etc … – where sensationalist stories run rife.

    The offline media picked up on this and ran the story without checking the sources and hence the viral response in links.

    It is social media and in reflection of real life the truth is blurred for the sake of a good story!

  13. Paul, the main thing I wanted to communicate is that in general I don’t want Google to make these sort of judgments. At the same time, when you’ve got
    - a story that went live without any disclosure or correction for ~2 weeks, even after news sources picked it up as real news
    - someone that actively submitted the story to digg and encouraged people to vote for it on twitter
    - after all this happens, one of the people involved says “I have little interest in discussing the ethics of linkbait, as far as I am concerned if it works and results are achieved then do it.”

    That to me paints a picture of some pretty deliberate action trying to game the system and get links with the false story. At that point, I think it’s fair to warn people away from using this technique. If the people involved only care about “if it works and results are achieved” then Google doesn’t have to trust links to that site in this case. But again, this is an unusual instance, in that the person later revealed what they did.

    Responding to your postscript, I thought it was interesting how many people blamed news sources or social media for not fact checking. But this was an article written in journalistic/factual style and placed in the article section of the site.

  14. corey

    i was sure that creationism was pushing the line just a bit. that was my point.

    “buy cheap viagra online”

    no one agrees that those links should be valued. it’s easy to pick extreme cases that everyone agrees on.

  15. Paul

    I agree that disclosing how you made hundreds of people link to you by link bait measures was indeed short-sighted but the original author pulled the blog post. How do you react to those that re-posted his blog post on their own sites and heightened the awareness of this type of technique.

    Are you going to punish like for like? He had his post up for less than 24 hrs yet there were so-called respected members of the SEO community crying out for duplicates to be posted in order for them to blog about it and thus drive links to their site / blog. Hypocrisy or what?

  16. This statement is NOT true:
    “Google tries to return the most relevant, useful results to our users and protect them from deceptive or misleading tactics.”

    Google tries to do this MOST of the time, but certainly not all of the time.

    That’s why I used the word “tries,” ASM. I know our ranking algorithms aren’t perfect. But we do try to return relevant/useful results.

    You also asked what if someone were looking for malware or off-topic porn. With hacked sites, we often show an interstitial warning, so regular users don’t get infected but someone with special interest can still reach the page in question. And if someone is really interested in researching malware, we even provide tools to help with that too. As far as porn, notice that I said “off-topic.” If someone is just looking for porn, then porn is on-topic for them. But if I were searching for more information about assembly language, off-topic porn is unwelcome and we don’t show it.

    I do appreciate the feedback, though — both Paul and ASM. I wanted to do a blog post to clarify that Google doesn’t want to judge the truthiness of the web. But if someone is going to come hit people over the head with “Hey, look! I can make a fake story and trick lots of people into linking to me!” then I do believe it’s fair to react.

  17. “I agree that disclosing how you made hundreds of people link to you by link bait measures was indeed short-sighted but the original author pulled the blog post.”

    Paul, the original author defended his actions pretty hard on Sphinn, and even after pulling his post, he still left the comment “I have little interest in discussing the ethics of linkbait, as far as I am concerned if it works and results are achieved then do it” in its place. That sort of “I don’t care about right or wrong; I’m going to do anything that gets me links” is what I used to hear from blackhats when they spammed blogs or guestbooks. If someone wants to have that attitude, that’s their right, but that doesn’t mean that Google has to trust the links to their sites.

  18. This topic has had a really wild run during the past week and it’s nice seeing you weigh in on the topic with some greater clarification. For what it’s worth, I thought the original piece was funny and entertaining (I discovered it on Digg). When I found out it was a fake I laughed again since it now appeared obvious. I know theres been huge discussion of journalism, ethics, tactics, morals, and the like, but living here in Los Angeles (and working on many film studio lots) I may have a different perspective, as a result of stuff I see daily. I find this topic fascinating and I’m looking forward to more discussion.

  19. Michael D, one blog post that’s been rattling around in my brain is something along the lines of “What’s the difference between a blogger and a journalist?” Some bloggers are interested in links or money, but I was thinking about discussing how a blogger can take steps to reasonably be considered a journalist. Congress has taken up the issue a little bit too (e.g. shield laws) but I really feel like there’s a meaty topic there.

  20. Thanks for the link back Matt.

    I’ve been amazed at the number of excuses and straw-man arguments made in defense of this tactic over the last seven days. I had to address some of these rather bizarre points again yesterday.

    http://www.jonathancrossfield.com/blog/2008/05/linkbaitgate-examining-the-fal.html

    People are very keen to cling onto the freedom and open ‘anything goes’ nature of the internet, without most of the regulation and codes that restrict offline media (so far). I believe this privilege comes at the cost of taking responsibility for what we do with it..

    “With great power comes great responsibility” as a superhero’s uncle once said.

  21. Newsflash: “Internet Users Read with a Grain of Salt”
    http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?id=1006301&src=article6_newsltr

    In my opinion… If most people don’t believe most of what they read on the internet, I would assume that fake news, crazy conspiracy theories, unsubstantiated rumors, gossip, etc… might be some of the most popular content out there. I know I enjoy reading it.

    Just look at Google Trends…
    http://www.google.com/trends/hottrends

    I would assume that many of the people making those queries are searching for fake news, crazy conspiracy theories, unsubstantiated rumors, gossip, etc… Or… That’s what a lot of the results look like to me when I click on the links.

    Are most people searching for “Britney Spears” or “Parris Hilton” looking for verifiable facts? I know I’m not.

    So… I see a large audience of people searching for fake news & a large base of fake-content producers who make a living entertaining those people.

    Now… I can understand how Google might want to punish people for telling the truth about how their fake news went popular, but… Give the guy a break. He’s just giving his audience what they wanted.

    And… This is nothing new.
    http://seoblackhat.com/2006/04/22/hoax-marketing-seo-in-an-attention-ecconomy/

    Those stories were reported on a Black-Hat SEO website a long time ago and the perpetrators of the “Still Free” hoax admitted it was a hoax in a story in Wired Magazine and other places on the internet but I don’t believe anyone has given the “Still Free” hoax any kind of penalty.

    They didn’t come right out and say that they did it for traffic & links, but that is obviously the means they were using to help them to accomplish their end goals.

    My opinion is that Google should not make an example out of this recent case. Google has not taken that kind of action in the past and I doubt that Google will in the future. The only thing different in this case is the hoax & the truthful article about the hoax was done by a well known internet marketer.

  22. By the way, I just saw that the site in question responded today with pretty much the textbook-perfect way to handle this:

    We published an article on 9th May 2008, 13 Year Old Steals Dad’s Credit Card to Buy Hookers. We posted the story as if it were real and did not disclose that the story was a hoax until 12 days later, and this was a mistake.

    money.co.uk considers itself a trustworthy and reputable source of information on financial news and information. The contractors responsible for this mistake are no longer associated with money.co.uk in any way. We have also updated our policy at http://www.money.co.uk/about.htm which confirms that fake stories will be clearly labeled as such, and we have put measures in place to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

    Money.co.uk values the trust of our readers, and we never want to violate that trust.

    The statement comes a few days later than some might like, but otherwise it’s exactly what you’d want to see from a site that wants to maintain credibility and trust with readers. Kudos to money.co.uk for a good move that their readers will appreciate.

  23. Matt,

    I want to thank you for taking so much time to explain your/Google’s position on this recent dust-up. I agree with you about 80% of the way on this one. It still would have been a successful piece of link bait if someone had posted a funny, Onion-like story about a 13-year old hiring some hookers and playing Guitar Hero or whatever. And in that case it would have been a semi-legitimate means (although I’m still not a fan of off-topic linkbait in general) for money.co.uk to rank better.

    It wouldn’t have been AS successful as playing it off as real, but still mildly successful. So in my view, there was no reason NOT to put a disclaimer on there, particularly once the story DID hit the national news.

    ——-
    Re: “I was thinking about discussing how a blogger can take steps to reasonably be considered a journalist”

    That’s where the 20% comes in, for me. This article was posted on a BLOG, and not on a mainstream media outlet like the AP/CNN/CBS/FOX, etc. The fact is that it never should have gotten as big as it did.

    If those organizations want to continue to elevate themselves above the blogosphere, then I think it would behoove them to report proper news and confirm their sources. In this case, FOX and The Sun did not. Were any names of law enforcement officials used in that story? If not, doesn’t it seem a little suspicious? If so, wouldn’t you want to contact them for comment? That is what should separate journalists from bloggers, IMHO.

    Anyway, thank you again for weighing in so thoughtfully. Have a great Memorial Day.

  24. I feel this is a key problem with the internet today. I have stated for about a year now that the internet desperately needs some type of source citing system.

    Many people believe what is on the internet just as much as they believe what is in print today. The difference is that the internet is very new, growing at an incredible rate, has low barriers to entry, doesn’t have the journalistic responsibility requirements of print and thus it is difficult to sort out the high trust sites and the low trust sites. We, as humans, rely on sources such as Google to do that for us currently. In this case it is a matter of a ‘tabloid story’ making it to legitimacy.

    Imagine if the Chicago Tribune or L.A. Times ran an article that can be found in a grocery store tabloid? While we may laugh at a story about yet another UFO story in the Star, National Inquirer, etc. . . . if it were on the front page of CT or LAT . . . whoa, that’d be a different story.

    The internet needs to evolve. It has needed it for some time now and this is a classic example of that need. We need to have a more responsible internet.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: The opinions expressed here are my own and may or may not be the opinions of the company that I may work for currently or previously.

    IMPORTANT HISTORY: Pot calling the kettle black . . . several years ago I’d ‘game’ the Amazon review system by writing thousands of reviews in a matter of minutes. But to clarify, I always stated my name and title so others could see the bias and some AMZN execs supported my actions. Black hat tactics are addicting (and admittedly fun) but in the long run they do more damage than they’re worth, IMHO.

    Brent D. Payne

  25. David Mihm, it is an interesting topic. I think the fact that money.co.uk has disavowed the hoax marketing shows that they want to be taken seriously and maintain their readers’ trust.

    Jonathan, very nice follow-up piece to answer why this instance was different than (say) an April Fools prank.

    By the way, I promised my wife a date tonight; we’re going into San Francisco to see AXIS Dance Company. My wife suggested it, but I think it will be fun. That’s my gentle way of saying that I will be out tonight and not replying to comments. :)

  26. Paul

    Matt, one last question before I hide under the duvet and bring this day to a close. I’m interested in how you view those that republished the original authors post – word-for-word after he pulled it.

    What right have these individuals to gain links for their piece from another persons post after they have deemed it wasn’t right to show this in the public eye without his / her right of reproduction.

    Can I also highlight certain individuals whom looked to replicate the original posters comments for their own means to help not only to create a creative blog post for their own self-promotion on social media sites but to act as a magnet to gain links to their site. How do you address these upstanding ethical individuals!

    .

  27. Grant

    “off-topic porn” is the funniest thing I have read all day, thanks.

  28. corey

    matt that’s an interesting course. you could then prepare for

    what is a blog
    what is a news outlet
    what is a source

    lots of corporate news outlets use type pad, and google news has varying criteria for inclusion.

  29. it’s nice to hear someone write with more tact than i use when i refer to the ‘fake’ thing. this just taught me how to be more balanced with my choice of words in the future. thanks for that. :-)

    let me get this straight, if google finds that we have used a ‘fake’ as marketing strategy (e.g. linkbait) then we are aware of the risk to reputation as well as how we can be penalized, so google is not to be considered the bad guy when they sink us for it.

    and rightly so i might add.

  30. Good you open up the conversation here…

    > I really don’t view Google’s role as judging the truthiness
    > of the web. That is, after all, what Stephen Colbert is for.
    > :) But if someone is sloppy enough to get caught (or to admit!)
    > making up a fake story, I don’t think Google has to blindly
    > trust those links, either.

    What constitutes getting caught, would a scientific and logical debunking of a theory be enough?

    > This was an exceptional case, in that the person came out and admitted the story was fake.

    So if the spammer wants to be safe, they just need to avoid admitting in a public place that their story was fake?

    > Responding to your postscript, I thought it was interesting how
    > many people blamed news sources or social media for not fact
    > checking. But this was an article written in journalistic/factual
    > style and placed in the article section of the site.

    Just because something is written in journalistic style or placed in an article section of a site does not and should not make it a good source to another considerate news source — many more things are involved in checking that (not to say that that’s easy, it’s perhaps the toughest job for any reporter… but that’s still their job, and if something turns out to be a hoax, then the news site should issue a correction later on).

  31. Dave (Original)

    Matt, the most disturbing thing about the fake news story was the frequent posts of praise on the liars Blog by the “SEO Proffesionals”.

    What also irked me was that these lies end-up getting people, with families to support, sacked and companies have their credibitly shot to pieces.

    Typical blackhat. Who cares who gets hurt, just so long as I make an extra $200 or so.

  32. Dave (Original)

    would a scientific and logical debunking of a theory be enough?

    Good grief, you are serious. The fact you asked that question means you would never understand the answer.

    give the guy a breakAgree.,……………..both legs and his neck!

  33. Agreed. it takes more work to create valid links, and it takes longer, but it’s the only way to go.

  34. Hi Matt,

    I’m confused… I just did a quick search for Britney Spears in Google News just now…

    The top story in Google News: “Mel Gibson reaches out to Britney Spears”.
    It’s a speculation article in the LA Times about why they might be on the beach together. Here is a quote: But what are these two really doing together? According to those who know (who declined to be named for fear of angering the actor)…

    The second article: “Will Britney Spears Really Be Going Under the Knife?” That one is nothing more than an unsubstantiated rumor that she might have cosmetic surgery in the near future to help her get rid of some baby fat left over from having two kids.

    It’s only a matter of time before someone reports that Mel Gibson & Britney Spears are lovers. As soon as they do, I’m sure it will be at the top of Google News for a relevant query, as it should be.

    I assume the authors at the LA Times and elsewhere know that they are publishing unsubstantiated rumors and pure speculation. I also assume that they are doing that sort of thing deliberately in an effort to generate links & traffic and generate revenue that comes with the traffic, etc… (It’s a business)

    So… How is that sort of thing not fake news? … But… How does removing that sort of thing benefit people like me who are actively searching for the latest fake news about Britney?

  35. Ian Collier

    Same as to be said for the domain channel if you believe the stats regarding search algos and what this blogger has to say http://isitmeoriseveryoneelsestupid.com

  36. Hi Matt; Considering all the comments out there from SEO blogger types, etc, like all of these:
    cornwallseo.com/search/index.php/2008/05/17/those-who-never-do-anything-never-make-mistakes/

    Google should sit back and really think about how they are going to handle links from blogs and social sites in the future. Either that; or stop giving the big boost for incoming links.

    I’m wondering if this is a generational thing? I know that ethics and morals are really not taught these days like they were when I was in my teens and 20′s……30+ years ago. The internet has produced lots of kids who don’t seem to know what right and wrong is, and even means. The reaction of many in that thread is appalling. It should be noted that many of the same people will do anything for a client in order to trick a major search engine to achieve good organic positions. … erm, I guess that’s also called blackhat huh? :-)

  37. This all seems to be shaking out as it should, Matt. It raised one question in my mind. You did say I don’t think Google has to blindly trust those links, either. I believe Google’s policy is to try to do everything in its search process by computer algorithms since this is scalable. Human intervention should therefore be very limited.

    Your spam group does that human intervention with an on/off button, I presume, as it applies to clear spam content. I’m sure many would be interested to know how you treat websites you are no longer blindly trusting. Do you apply the off button for these with a reminder to check again in say six months? Or is it more like a volume control where you apply a down weighting factor? Or again, is it one of those minus X penalties in the SERPs that some talk about?

  38. Matt -

    “I wanted to do a blog post to clarify that Google doesn’t want to judge the truthiness of the web”

    |Doesn’t want to and doesn’t| or |Doesn’t want to but does anyway| which is it?

    - Michael

  39. Jon

    Google tries to return the most relevant, useful results to our users and protect them from deceptive or misleading tactics.

    Does this apply to Google ads, too? It seems like a lot of the ads – if you google, for example, cancer-related topics – are misleading, in potentially very harmful ways (“you can Beat Stage IV Cancer w/out Chemotherapy or Radiation”, for example). Advertising this type of cancer ‘cure’ seems very much in conflict with Google’s “do no evil” policy :(

  40. Likewise, if a site says that they completely made up a story to get links, Google doesn’t have to trust the links to that site as much.
    I really don’t view Google’s role as judging the truthiness of the web. That is, after all, what Stephen Colbert is for. :) But if someone is sloppy enough to get caught (or to admit!) making up a fake story, I don’t think Google has to blindly trust those links, either.

    Are you saying that if the story were true, or at least nobody did prove it wasn’t, Google should have counted all those links?

    If so, the choice between giving credit or not to that site for “credit card”-related stuff (because the point is all there), depends on the truthiness of what’s on it?

    And what sould be done with the links, now that the page clearly admits that the story is a “parody”? You count only ones that cite the page as a parody – and how?

    Uhm……

    Anyway, I of course agree with your last sentence.

  41. Glenn Nicholas

    Hey Matt, since Google is taking an interest in made up stuff, time for you to tackle … Astrology columns! Totally made up, and published in mainstream places Real Journalists also write. Astrology is very popular so making things up like predictions is big business. Therefore unlikely to ever be treated like less profitable stuff that is made up. Big media are not as clueless as some – no need to admit they know it is made up, particularly while there is so much money to be had.

    But that has changed, now that Astrology columns have been outed on your blog! All Google has to do now is track down those media outlets who attract readers by making up stuff in astrology columns. Like this one. They publish a full retraction or you ping their link authority! Can’t wait.

    “There are plenty of ways to market a site creatively without deceiving anyone.” True. But making stuff up has worked pretty well for some.

  42. To prevent further falsehoods…

    Could you please release full technical details regrading all current and planned search algorithms.

    I am sure there are a lot of SEOs who have gained links to articles about SEO which are clearly portraying false information.
    Who knows, I might be one of them :)

    Google should also do the honest thing and when they see an article with something that is incorrect, they should issue an official statement.

  43. Hmm, there’s a very deep issue here – Matt, when you say “This was an exceptional case, in that the person came out and admitted the story was fake.” – would it have been different if he had brazened it out? (maybe said something like he was protecting his sources?) Doesn’t that create a perverse incentive – admit it’s false, risk Google-punishment, keep lying, Google won’t do anything?

    Of course you’re trying to avoid making political judgments, but really, how is this different from the political demagogues who post stuff false stuff for the attention value? Again, if the answer is, in *this* case there was a confession – what happens when the next marketer decides not to confess?

    There might be a good column in this – see my earlier piece on blogger link-selling

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/feb/15/media.comment

  44. Great response Matt. I wish others in this comment stream would stop referring to this as “SEO” because it had nothing to do with SEO. It was a marketer going after a viral response…sometimes called Social media Marketing or whatever, but not SEO. It is tabloid press, which as you noted is a part of the world. The public claims of having gamed the system (and Google, as it applies to backlinks) is cause for action e.g. Google giving the site less trust for its inlinks. End of story.

    I just wish Google would look at more than just self-confession when assigning trust to backlinks. A search for chiropractor still shows quackwatch in the top 3, despite legal decisions regrading the veracity of that site and its mission. Quackwatch ranks top 3 for “vitamin C and colds” and “naturopathy” as well… Google is helping to educate society, eh?

  45. Seth Finkelstein, I don’t think it’s Google’s job to judge in most situations. But again, this is not about curating the web in some way; it’s about protecting our users by preventing someone from gaming or spamming the system. This situation was unusual in that the marketer was trying to get links and admitted that the story was fake. I think most people take their critical thinking skills with them on the web. Plus lots of different people debunk inaccurate information on the web. And many rules about deception or fraud that apply offline also work well online.

  46. So Matt, this might be an interesting sub topic for my research … you think? :) There is still tons to be said here and discussed and I am happy to see that you wrote about it personally. This is something that I think needs to be flushed out in the minds of SEMs and the Search Engines. The better we work together, the better results for the end users will be. Nice post.

  47. Dave (Original)

    Could you please release full technical details regrading all current and planned search algorithms.

    Google’s algorithms are based on common sense and what HUMANS would consider relevant to their search term. That rules out 95% of the SEO “professionals” from being able to comprehend and decipher them.

  48. So I guess we can count on google not doing any April Fools Hoaxes next year? I guess you are going to devalue all of links techcrunch go for fake suing facebook, since that carried over to mainstream? or maybe all the links problogger got for creating the fake paypertweet service? or all of the links to Aqua Teen that they got when there hoax shut down half of boston as well …

    Or are you only going to do it when internet marketers are involved?

    slippery slope meet google … google meet slippery slope …

  49. Sam Daams

    “Kimota (Jonathan Crossfield) Said: People are very keen to cling onto the freedom and open ‘anything goes’ nature of the internet, without most of the regulation and codes that restrict offline media (so far). I believe this privilege comes at the cost of taking responsibility for what we do with it..”

    I agree with your statement in principle, yet you are clearly getting yourself into a mess here since this story only ever made this blog (as well as Wired etc.) because of offline media NOT following any of that regulation and codes. Indeed, if they followed those regulations you talk about this story wouldn’t have been mentioned anywhere as the ‘linkbaiter’ in question never would have written about it.

    “Brent D. Payne Said: Imagine if the Chicago Tribune or L.A. Times ran an article that can be found in a grocery store tabloid? While we may laugh at a story about yet another UFO story in the Star, National Inquirer, etc. . . . if it were on the front page of CT or LAT . . . whoa, that’d be a different story.”

    What, you mean like something about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq? Talk about a hoax! Does Google all of a sudden devalue all links to the CIA/White House website? I know both have gotten a bigger dent in public opinion than money.co.uk ever will (because lets face it, this is not an issue outside of SEO/SEM spheres right now). This sentence by Matt does sum up the world’s opinion of GWB though :) “Don’t burn your credibility by using fake stories. It’s a short-term tactic and makes people trust you less in the future”. I’m guessing Matt doesn’t vote as according to this sentence you really couldn’t vote for anyone now could you?!

    The bottom line here is that if you have a highly successful piece of linkbait that is fake, don’t tell anyone about it. Interestingly enough, that means that Matt’s posting about this topic will actually mean Google will be able to find less of these cases and therefore devalue even less of these fake stories going forward, making Google less relevant rather than more relevant. Kind of counter-productive if you ask me, but I understand Matt couldn’t sit by and make it look like G was getting tricked without commenting on the issue :)

    Personally I’m of the opinion that Google has been devaluing links originating from linkbait sources (digg/reddit etc.) for a while already (it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out some way of measuring increased linkage tied in with a listing on these sites) or will be doing so very shortly. It’s no secret that it’s NOT the best content that wins out there, but Google is still saying quality content is the best way to get back links. So why would they fully value links where they know that it’s not the best quality content? Yes, realistically we ALL know that it’s NOT the best content that gets the links, but there’s no way you’ll ever see Google admit that!

    I don’t think this means you shouldn’t engage in writing articles for sites like this, although preferably stick to true stuff :) The traffic they send is great. In the case of a lot of blogs, much better than anything else. Just don’t expect the links you win through them to be valued the same way as others, whether your story is real or not. Maybe the index will change in such a way that links to deeper pages go to ranking for that specific term, but don’t help overall site trust rank or some such. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

    Bottom line the way I see it is that you can’t expect Matt to view this case any other way, just as you can’t expect a whole lot of webmasters trying to drive traffic to view this any other way either. So no surprises here at all really; what’s the fuss?? :)

  50. [blockquote][i]The bottom line here is that if you have a highly successful piece of linkbait that is fake, don’t tell anyone about it.[/i][/blockquote]

    It’s just so sad that that’s the bottom line for so many people who hear about this.

    [HUGE SIGH]

  51. “It’s just so sad that that’s the bottom line for so many people who hear about this.”

    It is sad, but many of them are just sheep worshipping the golden cow.

  52. Sam Daams

    Nice to quote that out of context and not mention how it means less G relevance, but that’s fine. Some others might actually read the entire comment and see the ‘second’ bottom line (*yes, need edit button*).

  53. This whole thing has gotten completely surreal, and just goes to show how incredibly stupid most so-called SEOs are. The biggest reason I say that isn’t even the ethical issue (which is a complete no-brainer and doesn’t even deserve discussion), but the financial one. By firing Lyndon, money.co.uk also sent a very clear message that almost no one seems to have gotten:

    Irrelevant and/or fake content generated for linkbait purposes is not a profitable tactic, nor should it be.

    You lie, you get caught (in this case, because of the liar’s brash arrogance and incredibly high level of stupidity), you lose. It’s pretty simple, really. How did most people manage to miss this? “Because it got lots of links and publicity.” So did Super Greg. Anyone remember Super Greg? Ask Buddy Lee Jeans how well Super Greg did for them. Better yet, if you’re wearing denim right now, turn and look on the label. I’m willing to bet none of you are wearing your official Super Greg co-branded Buddy Lees.

    If money.co.uk found that what Lyndon had done had made them enough money, they wouldn’t have cared…they would have kept him on board. They might have still warned that it was a spoof, but they would have kept him.

    The arguments in favor of Lyndon are pretty stupid as well, particularly Michael Gray’s (go figure). April Fool’s is designated for practical jokes…this clearly wasn’t an April Fool’s joke.

    Could you please release full technical details regrading all current and planned search algorithms.

    Oh yeah, there’s a great idea. Open everything up so that blackhats can screw with it. Why don’t we just hand out loaded guns to prisoners so that the criminals can be better educated on how to use them and hopefully nobody will get shot?

  54. 2 comments:

    First, since a major goal of a marketer is to build trust, acting in a manner that knowingly betrays trust is just stupid, everything else aside.

    Second, in response to the people who are nitpicking about what “truthiness” is, exactly (ie conspiracy theories, etc):

    I used to work for a great company. During the interview, every candidate was told that the company did not tolerate “office politics”. Most people nodded and understood right away.

    Some, however, demanded to know the definition of “office politics”. These people were not hired, on the assumption (which I agree with 100%) that anyone who thinks like that is trouble and extremely likely to engage in office politics, by virtue of the fact that trying to figure out exactly where that boundry is, IS office politics.

    Ian

  55. Hmmm

    “Google’s algorithms are based on common sense and what HUMANS would consider relevant to their search term. That rules out 95% of the SEO “professionals” from being able to comprehend and decipher them.” — “give the guy a breakAgree.,……………..both legs and his neck!”

    Looks like Dave the Good is in a fine mood today. :-D

    Anyway, Mashable brings up an interesting problem with this: “Google Declares War on April 1″ ( http://mashable.com/2008/05/26/google-death-2/ )

  56. LOL Ian; that is brilliant. It’s too bad that most SEO’s in this industry will not get it at all. :D

    It’s a very sad state of affairs when it’s painfully obvious that many in this thread are praising this lyndon guy and his tactic at many places, and even going so far as to compare it to an April’s fools joke. Are you serious?

    Reading the latest from Lyndon, etc, and his buddies, etc, it’s also painfully obvious that the major search engines do not have any real incentive for blackhats to stop being blackhats. The major engines do not have very strict penalities for this kind of stuff. They just do not. If the actual SEO/social media firms were de-indexed for let’s say about two years or so, then this kind of thing just might stop as the profit would not be worth it then. Give them ONE warning only and after that a ban. I really believe Google is just too nice.

    Lyndon stated just yesterday that he was not trying to deceive anyone. Huh? How can some of you continue to praise him about this? How? The guy submitted his fake story to Digg as NEWS.

    Matt and Google have been very clear about this. You all trying to get them to tell you about april fools, etc, are being just silly.

    Come on people.

    Someone above stated something about this not being SEO? You also must be joking. The guy did this to game Google with getting incoming links. His firm states on his site that he offers SEO and social media. He flat out admitted he did this for the links. Tell me again how this isn’t about SEO? The industry is on the verge of being the most laughed at industry in history. I’m ashamed to be a part of it for so long. If marketing/SEO/social media is all about how well you can deceive your readers and the search engines, I want no part of it at all. Words cannot describe some of you accurately. Your display of no regard to ethics or morals is frightening.

  57. Oh; before I’m called out yet again for being too harsh or holier than thou or whatever; just look at the state of affairs right now. Being nice is just not working for the industry. Only a scant few of us have never been known for our diplomacy with blackhat stuff, etc. If more of this industry stopped being nice, including the major search engines, we may not have stooped to this low level. I think many just don’t get the fact that the total majority of internet users out there have almost nothing to do with SEO, design, or search engines, aside for the looking for information. If you stopped to think about that, you would know that using deception in any way is not a long term strategy for a useful WWW.

  58. Thank you, Matt for the brilliant revelation! Though something still remains covered with mystery, I mean a lot of links to the website for a short period of time. If this is still considered as SPAM, so how to be on a safe side and NOT allow others to spam my website? In other words no one prohibits the competitors to generate thousands of blogs with links to my website and being not a “strong” one, let’s say it is a newly designed site it may be affected? So the tactic of spammers-competitors is reached? But in such a case do you think that my site is the one that should suffer?

  59. I used to work for a great company. During the interview, every candidate was told that the company did not tolerate “office politics”. Most people nodded and understood right away.

    Mmmm…ooooh…yyyyyyyyeah…Ian, I’m afraid I’m going to have go ahead and…disagree with you on this. You seem to be forgetting the most important message here:

    IS THIS GOOD FOR THE COMPANY?

    What’s sad about the post is that 1) I know of at least one of my clients who thinks like this and 2) I suspect Doug’s right, and that most SEO wannabes would think the same way. Office politics should be nothing more than trying to decide which middle finger to throw in the air when someone’s acting stupid.

  60. Hmmm

    “The industry is on the verge of being the most laughed at industry in history.”

    LOL As the rider said when his horse got outta hand “Woah boy! … Woah …”
    I know you’re probably just engaging in hyperbole there, but dude. :-) There are many more professions & industries with a good deal less respect. Car salesmen and lawyers come to mind…

    MWA’s simple mantra really says it all: “IS THIS GOOD FOR THE COMPANY?”

    Most everything under discussion here can be boiled down to that. Good (i.e. whitehat) SEO is perfectly acceptable and in fact, much of it is actually NECESSARY (and if you don’t do many of these things such as relevant alt tags for images, etc. you could be SUED … just ask Target http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20071003-lawsuit-over-website-accessibility-for-the-blind-becomes-class-action.html “The case focuses on the alleged lack of descriptive “alt” tags in Target’s HTML, making the site difficult to navigate with screen reading software. The use of image maps is also claimed to make the site inaccessible.”)

    If Target had a good SEO team, this would never have been a problem because they would have known that image maps are dumb, and not using alt tags is just as bad.

    The browser software for people with disabilities works much the same way as SE crawlers do. The textual content is crawled, and translated back to the user. Therefore, optimizing a site for the crawlers will also optimize it for people with disabilities. (And the disabled will take you to court if you don’t do it well, which, IMHO, is even worse than getting blacklisted.)

    Target, and many others, are finding out that ignoring proper SEO/Accessibility can be a VERY costly mistake.

  61. Hmmm

    BTW, Matt, you may want to do a post about the relationship between Accessibility and SEO sometime. Might be helpful (I know I’d like to hear more about it from someone in the “know” like yourself).

  62. MWA’s simple mantra really says it all: “IS THIS GOOD FOR THE COMPANY?”

    That’s not my mantra. I channeled the movie Office Space. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a classic.

  63. Matt, thanks for the cartoon. I thought that only took place at my house :-)

  64. Hi Mmmm; I’m not so sure about that. Anytime one gets into trouble with the law or with anyone who they are suing or being sued, who do they call?

    A lawyer.

    I doubt people think of lawyers as an industry to laugh at. I do think this SEO industry is certainly being laughed at from the outside. At least anyone who has read any of the many, many blogs out there about SEO’s praising deception. Especially when the SEO’s are deceiving those same people…….. people who just may search on Google for information and wonder if that info is total rubbish and fake.

  65. Hmmm

    Hello Doug: Yes, I suppose lawyers aren’t laughed at, per se. Just broadly hated & feared. Hated with a passion that has been unmatched except by certain dictators and despots. Though I suppose fear is a form of respect? And when you’re sued, who prepares, serves, and prosecutes you?

    When you call a lawyer to defend you, you’re simply fighting fire with fire, and hoping that your evil warlord will be able to slay the other. A lawyer is a foul weather friend at best.

    The car salesmen are spot on though.

    Anyway, regarding the rest:
    The rubbish available online is the same for most any other industry as well — Colbert is famous for pointing out the idiocy that is always only a hair’s breadth away on Wikipedia too. Nothing is safe or truly trustworthy (truthy) online. Period. (Except information from organizations and the like with offline street cred and reputations they’re willing to protect — i.e. colleges & universities, publications which practice a traditional PhD peer review process, etc.).

    When you search for almost anything online, you’ll find that the majority of what you’ll encounter is bunk (just plain wrong; outdated info; conspiracy theories and fake news… or worse).

    After running a motorcycle industry website & blog for the past few years, where I offer safe riding tips, highlight useful sites, and report on industry news, etc. I can certainly vouch for the mountains of motorcyclist garbage online. And that’s in an industry with about a century of history behind it. Whereas SEO (heck, even the Internet as we know it) has been around for just over a decade — many kinks are left to be worked out.

    But Google saw this lack of trustworthy information online as a business opportunity, and they did all they could to build a quest for truthiness into their algorithms from the get-go. And we’re better off for it, to be sure. Once that quest proved to be profitable, it was imitated by the rest of the search industry (of which SEO is simply a branch — with those who are ethical, and those who are not…same as any other industry on earth really).

    It’s like an extreme version of walking into a Barnes & Noble. Next time you go there, take a moment and really consider how much of that enormous pile of books is really just junk…. And then consider that what you call junk might be mother’s milk to the person beside you… Now multiply that by a crazy number of terabytes of information….

    The Internet is full of junk. No news there. It’s also full of great stuff. Again, no news there. :-)

    The only way to find what is truly good in any industry is to read, read, read, and learn, learn, learn. Check for trustworthy sources and relevant affiliations with the authors of said info (which is the reason we all read Matt’s blog, no doubt). And enter into an ongoing cycle of Test, Fail, Revise, Learn. There’s no shortcut for a real education… even if you use Google.

  66. Hmmm

    OMG! I just wasted 20 minutes writing you a thoughtful response, Doug… It was a lovely multi-paragraph bit (nearly as long as Matt’s own post here)…

    I though I posted it, but apparently, it didn’t work. (I seriously doubt that Matt removed it post facto, since there was nothing in it that could warrant that — especially considering what Dave (the Angry) gets away with on an almost daily basis — except maybe to save space, since it was so long).

    Sigh…

    Well, I’m too disheartened to bother to redo my work & writing on it. :-(

  67. Okay…so what did that long and borderline incoherent rant have to do with Doug’s comment, again? I seriously don’t get it.

  68. I don’t get it either.

    I think hmmm is confusing satire type sites and just other websites and not knowing if the content is bunk or crap or not. That is not the same thing at all that I’m talking about.

    A SEO writes a totally false/fake article. That SEO submits it to Digg as News… not satire, but news. The SEO puts it on a page on a otherwise trusted financial website with no disclaimer saying it was false. The SEO is also saying how great the linkbait was and saying he will do it again and again and again.

    SEO’s from all over the internet praise the guy for how great this is.

    That’s the issue. Anything else people write to the contrary is only taking away from the real issue.

  69. The moment YOU (as employee off Google) said that linkbaiting was the future on the internet i knew that those things would happen.
    (and i don’t mention all the crapp i readed since that time)

    Funny that you now start weening about it.

    Just my 2 cents.

    If you say tomorrow that bombing your stephmother will bring you on top off Google( or some people might understand it out off your words) then people will bomb their stephmother.

    Very simple but seems like not everyone realises that.

  70. I recently got duped by a fake story that Bill Clinton made a public endorsement for Barack stating that Hillary was never going to win. I spent half an hour scouring the news sites and TV looking to see if this was true till my son said – Mom get real, it’s a fake! Needless to say this was NOT my finest moment, but I still blame that STUPID site!

  71. I totally agree that Google can’t police for false content, the comments about creationism etc, and every blog post ever written which are ‘a point of veiw’ not an absolutes. Where does Link baiting sit in this, i think Lydon does a great job and support his work whole heartedly as he adds fresh interesting funny content to otherwise static sites.

    The reason i have mentioned this .. a little late in the game is that a client of ours has said he’s worried about Link bait because of this ONE post from matt.

  72. Money.co.uk really has been pushing the limit with it linkbaits tactics. Thanks for setting them straight Google.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

If you have a question about your site specifically or a general question about search, your best bet is to post in our Webmaster Help Forum linked from http://google.com/webmasters

If you comment, please use your personal name, not your business name. Business names can sound salesy or spammy, and I would like to try people leaving their actual name instead.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

css.php