Anyone who's ever watched the 70s television show "The Brady Bunch" knows that eldest daughter Marcia was the star of the family. At least, this was the view of middle daughter Jan, who complained once that everyone was always talking about "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"
Jan's words have echoing through my head for the past few months, because in matters of search, I've been hearing a crescendo of "Google, Google, Google!"
In the "Search Engine Bunch," Google is Marcia Brady, the family member who seemingly gets more attention than the others. But while the Jans of the bunch might be envious of Google's popularity, there are also serious downsides to being at the top.
In particular, Google's biggest challenge may be that so many people now see it as the only search engine that "matters," a marketplace dominance in search that seems akin to that which Microsoft has with operating systems, office software and web browsers.
Microsoft's supremacy as a company has caused it to be widely loathed. Does search dominance by Google mean that the company is destined to face general hatred, as well? Such a fate is not preordained, as we shall see. But first, let's review just a few examples of how people have viewed Google as all powerful.
How Do You Seem To Dominate? Let Me Count The Ways...
Just this week, China apparently deemed Google so potentially subversive that it blocked access to the search engine. Other crawler-based search engines such as AllTheWeb.com and Teoma.com have not been blocked, even though they provide much the same information that Google itself lists. For example, both list the "Friends of Falun Gong" site in their top results, just as Google does. Nevertheless, it's Google that gets singled out.
In fairness to the misguided Chinese authorities, they did apparently deem AltaVista subversive enough to block as well. However, no one in China seems to be complaining about that. The stories coming out are all only about how access to Google has been denied, further supporting the impression that it is the only search engine that matters.
In July, "Net Users Try to Elude the Google Grasp" was the headline of a New York Times article that discussed the growing availability of personal information that can be found via search engines. While any of the major search engines may provide access to such data, it was only Google that was named in the article and indeed used as a synonym for all search engines in the headline.
A headline of "Net Users Try To Elude The Search Engine Grasp" would have been more correct to write, except that the headline does reflect the view that for many searchers -- including those cited in the article -- there seems to be only one search engine, Google.
In March, controversy broke out when Google dropped pages from an anti-Scientology web site in response to a legal action by the Church of Scientology. Critics cried censorship, and the site's home page was restored after Google said it had been removed by mistake. Similar actions may have caused pages from the site to be removed at other search engines also, but the publicity and concern was firmly focused on Google, as if what happened elsewhere was of no consequence.
In February, the Seattle Times ran an article called, "Web will lose if Google hunts for big bucks." It suggested that before Google, we simply didn't find information on the web -- a popular, growing myth.
"Early search engines from AltaVista, Yahoo and others returned every imaginable citation except the one you wanted," the article said. This was absolutely not the case. Google definitely raised the relevancy bar, but search engines were far from useless.
In fact, the "Search Success" rate as measured by NPD was always above 75 percent, as measured on a quarterly basis between Spring 1997 and Winter 2000. This means more than three-quarters of the time, people reported to NPD that they found what they wanted every time or most of the time. In addition, Google's spell check feature deserves the praise given to it by the Seattle Times article -- but AltaVista was the first major search engine to debut spell checking.
In January, influential technology columnist Dan Gillmor positioned Google almost as a replacement for the domain name system, pointing out that the "Google effect" means that you can more easily navigate to the web site you want via search engines than by guessing at domain names.
Search engines are certainly great navigational tools, but this has also been something they've done for years. Moreover, even Gillmor acknowledges that this is not a unique Google experience.
"I trust Google and several other excellent search engines, such as AllTheWeb to save me the trouble," he writes.
Nevertheless, it is Google that gets all the credit in his "Google effect" label and Google that gets singled out for his worry that it might become a "too-powerful gatekeeper."
How Do You Spell Search Engine? G-O-O-G-L-E
Indeed, one of the phenomena about Google is how its name has almost turned into a replacement for all search engines. "I Googled him," some people now say, when they look up information on someone. While they probably did search via Google, it wouldn't be surprising to see if they used the same term for actions on another search engine. Could we see in a few years that Google becomes a generic term for searching in the way that the trademark Kleenex is sometimes used in place of tissue, or Xerox for copiers or Rollerblades for inline skates?
We've also had "Googlewacking," a game to find unique words that could easily be played on other search engines. Then there is the concept of "Google Bombing," creating links in an attempt to drive a particular site up in the rankings for a term. The technique isn't guaranteed to work, and neither is it Google specific. Every major crawler makes use of links. Google may be the explicit target of Google Bombers, but all crawlers face the onslaught.
Further evidence of Google's seemingly monolithic stature in the search engine world comes from webmasters and web marketers. These days, no one seems to worry much about being listed in any search engine's editorial listings but Google's. This is understandable, given the sheer amount of traffic that Google can drive to a site. It's not the only search engine on the web, but it is almost certainly the most heavily used one.
Herein lies a major problem for Google. When webmasters find themselves not ranking well, they immediately assume the worst. Have they been banned by Google for spamming? Is Google censoring them? Is Google actively depressing their rankings in an effort to get them to purchase advertising?
In my opinion, few site owners are likely to have spamming problems with Google, just as this is true with most search engines. It's something Google itself says is unlikely.
"It's a little frustrating to hear people worried about penalties when the vast majority of time, they have nothing to worry about," said Matt Cutts, a software engineer at Google who deals with webmaster issues. "Maybe we can do a better job of getting the word out."
One suggestion I had was to allow the Google Toolbar to report a page's spam status. Why not make it an advanced feature where, if the user chooses, the toolbar might display "spam" or a red bar in the PageRank area if a page has been blacklisted for some reason. Certainly that could help relieve the vast majority who think they've spammed Google but who would quickly learn they hadn't.
"We probably will not be able to offer that option because of the potential of abuse," said Cutts. The fear is that by telling site owners what is spam, a few might try to engineer new ways to spam Google and remain undetected.
As for being censored or suppressed by Google to build advertising, it could happen, but I find it extremely doubtful. It's not Google's style and carries too many risks with it. Nevertheless, the specter of these issues has been raised and will probably continue to be raised in the future.
Bilderberg.org is a case in point. The site is devoted to exposing what it calls the "secretive" Bilderberg conferences apparently held in Europe. When the site was dropped from Google in April, site owner Tony Gosling assumed this was US government pressure being brought to bear on Google.
Google's response, which is published on Gosling's site, was that his server was inaccessible and so dropped for that reason. Give it up to a month, and you'll be back, Gosling was told. Not satisfied, he kept emailing. Six days later, his site was restored.
Do I think this was a conspiracy that was caught? No. Sites do get accidentally dropped. If anything, the most unusual thing was that Google clearly seems to have taken faster-than-normal action to rectify the situation. I can also suspect why. Gosling was emailing a contact in the PR department, who probably kept telling the engineering department that they needed to solve this problem so he'd stop getting email.
Ad Rep, Can You Help?
I can hear web site owners across the internet seeing an instant solution to their listing woes. Ah ha! Message the PR department at Google! I wouldn't recommend it. Chances are, they probably won't deal with your concern unless they perceive some real PR problem related to it. Instead, web site owners wondering why their sites may not be listed are instead supposed to use the email@example.com address.
The problem here is that Google does not respond to all the mail it receives. There isn't time. Consequently, people may seek out help on public forums or they may email anyone they think may help, which may include their Google's ad reps.
During the Search Engine Strategies conference last month, in a couple of different sessions it came out that people found they could get action on their editorial problems by asking their ad reps for help. No one suggested that the ad reps could get someone an improved ranking, but there were plenty of anecdotes where people found missing pages finally got included or that spam penalties imposed ages ago on a site might get removed.
This came in the wake of an anonymous post to the alt.internet.search-engines newsgroup by a supposed Google insider alleging that Google's results are "100 percent manipulated" by engineers to get number one positions in return for kickbacks. Other sites are "intentionally penalized or moved down in ranking" to get them to buy advertising, the post claimed. Cutts got singled out as the chief cause of these alleged abuses. For the record, he denies them.
I personally doubt the allegations, though there were a few disturbing anecdotes shared by attendees at the Search Engine Strategies conference about ad reps seeming to know that sites had been banned by Google, thus making the pitch to take out ads more attractive. It's an issue that I plan to explore more, but it is also an issue that again is not Google-specific. The same type of allegations were made for crawlers that have paid inclusion programs, where companies found they'd get a pitch to take out paid inclusion listings after having all of their pages suddenly dropped for "spam" reasons.
One thing I don't doubt is that going to an ad rep might get a problem with your editorial listings resolved. Body Shop founder Anita Roddick found this to be the case, ironically when one of her ads was pulled by Google last May.
Roddick was running ads because her site was ranked so poorly for a search on "anita roddick." She wanted better visibility for her name. However, her ads got pulled because of a brief comment on her web site against the actor John Malkovich. That violated Google's policy of taking ads from "anti-anything" web sites. While the ad was pulled, the discussion over removing it and Roddick's poor visibility in Google's editorial results revealed a problem with how it was indexing Roddick's site. That was corrected, improving her placement.
Is it corruption that ad reps get involved this way? No, not as long as they really aren't influencing rankings. But is it fair that those with ad accounts might get faster responses about editorial listings than those using Google's "free" email form? Probably not, but it's understandable -- nor is it Google-specific.
The ad rep "backdoor" was a popular means of finally getting listed with Yahoo, back before company opened a paid submission program in 1999. In those "bad old days," people could go months until they were listed and many never got a response at all.
This happened to both small and big sites. However, big sites running banners at least had an "in" to Yahoo -- their ad reps. And while Yahoo has the same ad-editorial separation that Google does, that doesn't mean the two sides cannot talk. A suggestion from the ad side that an important site may have been overlooked was an effective way to get Yahoo's editorial side to take another look.
The same is true today at Google. A suggestion from Google's ad side about an editorial problem may lead to that problem being solved, just as it might if someone from Google's user support team sees an email and passes it on.
"I dont think there's any preference between whether you talk to your AdWords rep or a user support person. It's just that there's so many of those emails," Cutts said.
Of course, it's far from optimal to have your ad staff almost co-opted as editorial listing troubleshooters. Instead, Google might ideally have a service where site owners could get their web sites reviewed for potential problems, such as the one that caused Roddick's issues. Users would benefit from this, as well. But how to cover the cost of creating such a service, especially given the demand that clearly will be placed on it? Google might have to charge, and that's a route it wants to avoid.
"Theres a fundamental conflict of interest," Cutts said. "That's the slippery slope that leads to paid inclusion."
Ironically, this means that in order to keep its hands clean on the paid inclusion front, Google's ad reps will likely continue to be some of the key players used to get editorial problems rectified.
Oh, My Nose! Oh, My Links!
I started out this article with a famous Brady Bunch quote and a suggestion that Google was like Marcia Brady. There's another famous quote, this time from Marcia herself, which is applicable to Google: "Oh, my nose!"
This, of course, comes from the episode where a football hits Marcia in the nose, causing her nose to swell to gigantic proportions. The Google connection? Links. Google uses links as part of its ranking algorithms, and they've always been a great asset. However, over the past few months, the popular impression of how important links are to Google has grown to such a size that other factors are being forgotten. Like Marcia's injured nose, everyone pounding on about Google's link use is obscuring the other features of its face.
In particular, the popularity of the Google Toolbar has made it easy for people to measure the "importance" Google places on their page. Google gives every page a "PageRank" score, a measure of how important the page is deemed to be based on links that are pointing to it. The term is named after Google cofounder Larry Page.
The PageRank display is significant in that no crawler-based search engine has ever before allowed web site owners such direct feedback about the quality of their web pages. You can immediately see if your page has a good or bad score, in clear numerical format. As a consequence, people are growing more and more obsessed with pushing their scores higher, as well as panicking if they get a dreaded no score or "gray toolbar" display.
PageRank is like Google Viagra, people believe. Just get some, and you'll (ahem) rise in the rankings magically.
PageRank For Sale! Anyone Want Some PageRank?
The Google Watch site provides one example of PageRank obsession, where the argument is made that only pages with high PageRank will ever rank well at Google. That's not true, because PageRank -- the importance of a page -- is only one part of many factors that Google uses to rank pages.
What else is there? The context of links is extremely important. The words used in or near the links that point at a page help define that page for Google and play a critical role in helping determine what the page will rank well for. Traditional on-the-page factors also remain important. Does a page use the terms that were searched for? Do the words appear "high" in the document? Are the terms in the document's title tag? These are all taken into account.
"We do have over 100 factors, and that is something that people gloss over," Cutts said. "We get queries all the time where people say I have a PR5 and someone has a PR3 and their site is above me."
Quantifying these other factors easily is difficult, hence the ease in obsessing just with PageRank. It's something you can see and touch, or at least you think you can. It's important to note that the Google Toolbar only shows an estimation of a particular page's PageRank. For instance, try going to this page:
That page doesn't exist. No one links to it. It's simply a bunch of characters I typed at random after the amazon.com domain, in order to reach a dynamically-generated error page. Nevertheless, the page has a reported PageRank of 8, an extremely high score. It's getting that because the Amazon.com site itself has a high score, so Google is simply giving the toolbar users a guess as to how important this page -- which Google has never seen before -- might be. In reality, it actually has no score at all.
Obsession over PageRank hit a new high last month with the first overt attempt to cash in on PageRank by a third party, when the PR Ad Network debuted. The network sells text links from pages with high PageRank to advertisers looking to build traffic presumably by getting PageRank transmitted to them.
Is this network a threat to Google's relevancy? Probably not. As said earlier, just getting a link from a high ranking page isn't enough. There are many other factors that influence whether a page will rank well.
Nevertheless, it sure sounds bad. It makes it seem as if Google can be easily controlled via links, just in the same way that some bloggers earlier this year asserted that they could push any site up in the rankings at Google by Google Bombing.
While neither bloggers or the PR Ad Network individually represent a particular threat to Google, the emphasis on building links solely for search engine ranking purposes across the web overall could ultimately have an impact -- and not just on Google but any of the crawler-based search engines that rely on link analysis. But in the near term, link analysis will likely continue as the main way crawler-based results have been saved from being drowned out by spam.
As has been seen, Google's dominant popularity is many ways its greatest weakness. It's facing increasing pressure from webmasters desperate to be listed well in its editorial results, and given that other search engines don't seem to matter, these site owners and marketers may begin trying to hold Google up to a higher standard. That's what happened to AltaVista in the past.
In 1997, AltaVista came under fire for listing only 600 of the 6,000 pages available at the Federation of American Scientists' web site. Ironically, this was also far more than any of AltaVista's competitors listed. However, AltaVista was seen as one of the search engines that "mattered," and so it faced greater pressure by searchers and site owners.
Google's deemed importance also caused the Google Watch site last month to suggest that it might need to be regulated similar to a public utility. While few might feel things need to go to this extreme, there's no doubt many do have worries about the power Google seemingly is able to exercise. As reassurance, we should remember Google is not the first to have this much power.
"Yahoo holds the power to so many Internet businesses," a reader wrote in response to a survey about Yahoo listing problems that Search Engine Watch conducted back in 1997. At the time, people were in dismay that there was no organized, guaranteed way to get listed with Yahoo. A Chicago-based online mall, denied a listing in Yahoo, also cried foul, saying that Yahoo "acts as a public enterprise on the Internet" and so faced special responsibilities.
Today, no one is worried that Yahoo needs to be regulated. It remains an important search engine, but clearly it does not control what people go to on the web. And if Yahoo doesn't, then neither does Google. Indeed, the fact that Google has competition is the key reason that the company currently does not face the anger and concern that many hold for Microsoft.
People are freely able to choose where they want to search, and lots of them love Google. They seek it out. Moreover, Google's not seen as having gained its marketshare by cutting deals to unfairly push out competitors, which Microsoft has been accused of doing. If Google's "crushing" the competition, that's simply because word of mouth about Google's quality is driving people to the site.
In addition, while webmasters may have concerns about being listed with Google, I would say the vast majority of them are appreciative of the traffic they receive -- and they do feel they are getting that traffic because Google's system works. A recent posted initiated by Google on the WebmasterWorld.com forum about Google Watch's charges found more than ample support of Google.
As long as we continue to have a number of good search engines, there's little reason for anyone to "fear" Google. While it may seem like a "Google, Google, Google" world, there's no guarantee that it will always be this way, as history has shown with AltaVista and Yahoo. If Google seriously fails its audience or truly misuses its potential power, its users will impose the ultimate penalty of abandoning it for something else.
"We have very poor lock in. Microsoft has very high lock in," said Google CEO Eric Schmidt, when we spoke at Google's offices last month. "The switchover cost for you to move to one of our competitors is none. As long as the switchover costs are so low, we run scared. Everyday I wonder if there are very smart people at Berkeley coming up with a new algorithm," Schmidt adds -- but in a way that clearly suggests that he wants Google to run scared, in order to keep the company smart and honest.
Do you really have no idea what the Brady Bunch was about? OK, here's a place to start.
China 'blocking Google'
BBC, Sept. 2, 2002
Covers details of Google being blocked and has analyst claims that this is the first time China's blocked a search engine.
I can't reach Google from China
WebmasterWorld.com, Aug. 31, 2002
People in China raise the alarm that they can't reach Google. Good suggestion that Google's cache feature may be part of the reason it has been banned, given that it might make banned sites accessible to those in China.
Real-Time Testing of Internet Filtering in China
Allows you to test whether a site is blocked in China. Along with Google, I found AltaVista was also blocked, but AllTheWeb.com and Teoma.com were not.
Yahoo Criticized for Curtailing Freedom Online
IDG, Aug. 12, 2002
Yahoo apparently has agreed with China to filter or restrict access to banned sites from its Yahoo China site, but such filtering is not taking place on its other editions.
The second article suggests that Google's use of "PageRank" to help rank web pages needs to be regulated, claiming that it is discriminatory against new sites and produces the same inequities that some see in paid placement. The article has some serious flaws. First and foremost is the common mistake that the PageRank is the most important factor to how a page scores at Google.
Google rates the popularity of every page on the web based on the links leading to those pages. This produces a standalone link popularity score called "PageRank," named after Google cofounder Larry Page.
There are formulas followed to weight how various links are calculated, but it should be noted that the exact methods in use are not the same as shown on a much cited research paper (http://www7.scu.edu.au/programme/fullpapers/1921/com1921.htm) that Larry Page and Sergey Brin published back in 1998 when they were developing Google at Stanford. Years have passed; the web has changed and Google has had to grow much more sophisticated about how it calculates scores, especially given that its popularity makes it a magnet for those trying to manipulate its rankings.
Of course, PageRank still exists -- but pages are also selected for ranking based on the context of the links pointing at them, as well as the content of the actual page itself. When Brandt writes, "There are several search engines that have made interesting advances in content analysis and even visualization, but Google is not one of them," he unfairly glosses over the fact that Google does substantial content analysis of pages.
There are many other broad and unsupported comments like this that make PageRank sound super-powerful. "It's much more common for a low PageRank to completely bury a page that has perfect on-page relevance by every conceivable measure," Brandt writes. I don't know that this is true. I know it is commonly believed, but running through Google's results can often show that there are indeed pages with "high" PageRank coming behind "low" PageRank pages.
More importantly, anyone experienced in search engine marketing knows that for some, "perfect on-page relevance" simply means having come up with the right gibberish to fool a search engine. The use of link analysis by Google and other search engines has largely saved and revived crawlers as useful web search tools. Back in 1999, it seemed they were simply going to drown under the weight of spam.
Here's another worrying comment: "Those who launch new websites in 2002 have a much more difficult time getting traffic to their sites than they did before Google became dominant. The first step for a new site is to get listed in the Open Directory Project. This is used by Google to seed the crawl every month. But even after a year of trying to coax links to your new site from other established sites, the new webmaster can expect fewer than 30 visitors per day."
I don't think that's true at all. Webmasters will experience all types of traffic levels, and a good new site will likely get plenty of traffic from Google. Certainly I get plenty of reports from people who feel Google is serving their new sites well.
Google is also the search engine that Search Engine Watch readers have voted twice as most "webmaster friendly" (http://searchenginewatch.com/awards/2001-winners.html#webmaster). The many comments associated with those votes weren't from those happy that they could spam Google. Instead, they were from site owners large and small, new and old, that felt the search engine had given them access to an audience based on their merits.
Brandt is absolutely correct in one of his closing statements: "Overall, linking patterns have changed significantly because of Google," he writes, suggesting these changes aren't for the best. He's right. Cross linking for purely promotional purposes has gone haywire, and as the obsession grows -- and the industrial attempts to build link popularity rise -- Google and all the crawlers will be under increasing pressure to add something new to their mix to keep search results useful.
As for regulating PageRank, that's not worth the time. Instead, one thing that came out clearly from many webmasters at the recent Search Engine Strategies conference is the concern that Google and other search engines might fail to crawl sites, ban web sites or drop web sites as a means of pushing these sites into paid placement and paid inclusion programs. If anything will deserve monitoring, it is this issue.
Meet Mr. Anti-Google
Salon, Aug. 29, 2002
Long article on the Google Watch web site and issues it raises about Google.
WebmasterWorld.com, Aug. 29, 2002
Responses at WebmasterWorld.com from the community there about the Google Watch site.
Net Users Try to Elude the Google Grasp
New York Times, July 25, 2002
Search engines have been making it possible to find personal information on the web for years, so the privacy problems described here aren't new. What is different is that even more people have access to the web and much more information has now been indexed.
Google Embroiled In Scientology Debate
The Search Engine Report, April 2, 2002
Google found itself accused of censorship, after it removed some pages from an anti-Scientology web site in response to a legal request made by the Church of Scientology. This article examines how the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act was involved and its implications for web searching.
Web will lose if Google hunts for big bucks
Seattle Times, Feb. 25, 2002
Behind the praise for Google is the worry that money could corrupt Google: "As the court of first resort for finding information on the Web, Google could exert untold influence over how we think," writes Paul Andrews.
NPD Search and Portal Site Study
SearchEngineWatch.com July 6, 2000
NPD no longer publishes this data, but you can see on a quarter-by-quarter basis over several years how search engines as a whole were rated by users.
"Google effect" reduces need for many domains
San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 12, 2002
Dan Gillmor explains how search engines have become more effective navigational tools than the domain name system.
DNS as a Search Engine: A Quantitative Evaluation
Ben Edelman, July 2002
So how well does Google do when pitted against DNS? Nearly twice as good, though not perfect -- finding sites in this test correctly 72 percent of the time.
Company Names Test
SearchEngineWatch.com, Feb. 29, 2000
I used to test how well search engines performed on common navigational activities. I no longer do this, as they've generally gotten much better over the years. This page shows some of the past tests that were run.
Dont Be Shy, LadiesGoogle Him!
New York Observer, Jan. 15, 2001
Forget "Do You Yahoo?" The question on the dating scene is, "Have you been Googled?" In what sounds like it should be an episode of "Sex And The City," Deborah Schoeneman of the New York Observer explains how checking up on potential dating partners using Google is all the rage. What's your search appeal?
Got nothing better to do? Then try Googlewacking!
Google Bombs Aren't So Scary
SearchEngineWatch.com, March 18, 2002
It sounds frightening. Google "Bombs" are now going off, where web sites are influencing Google's search results by controlling where they link to and what they say in their links. For some unusual queries, how you link and what you say in your links may have a big impact on Google. But "bombing" Google in this way is unlikely to have a big impact on more popular searches. More about the concept.
Google removes bilderberg.org from its listings
Bilderberg.org, April 14, 2002
Correspondence between Google and Bilderberg.org. FYI, Google only "caches" copies of pages listed in its index. If the spider comes by and a site is not accessible, then that site may be dropped from the index. If so dropped, then there will be no "cached" page available. Typically, Google would not drop a site unless it couldn't reach it several times. For the record, Gosling said his ISP reported no outages.
Google rankings- untouched by human hands?
alt.internet.search-engines, Aug.5, 2002
Anonymous allegations of corruption at Google by a supposed employee.
The Tyranny of the Unimaginative (Anita Roddick Vs. Google)
AnitaRoddick.com, May 23, 2002
Anita Roddick, founder of the well-known Body Shop chain, was upset to see Google pull an ad for her advocacy web site. Google does not allow "anti-anything" ads, and Roddick had called actor John Malkovich a "vomitous worm" on her site (though not in the ad, apparently). Pulling the ads was probably a step too far for Google, given that topic of Roddick's site is hardly focused on Malkovich, nor does she appear to be running an ongoing campaign against him.
This is a commentary on the affair from Roddick herself, who found that without the ads, her site was "virtually invisible" on Google for "anita roddick," buried on the ninth or tenth page of search results. Even today, a search on "anita roddick" only brings up AnitaRoddick.com on the second page of results, spot 13 -- definitely not what you'd expect from Google. In fact, MSN Search's Inktomi & LookSmart powered results get the site into the first page, as does Yahoo's own editor-compiled information. Meanwhile, AllTheWeb.com and AltaVista makes the home page for the site number one.
Why is Google falling down so badly on this? A complete conspiracy against Roddick, perhaps? My bet is that there is still a technical problem between Google's spider and Roddick's site (as discussed further in the "I Still Love Google" article below).
This search: http://www.google.com/search?q=site:www.anitaroddick.com+anita+roddick, which brings up all the pages on Roddick's site that say "anita roddick" on them. The exact same matches come up for this: http://www.google.com/search?q=site:www.bodyshop.com+anita+roddick, which is a search on the BodyShop.com site. Google seems to think that www.anitaroddick.com is the same as www.bodyshop.com and bodyshop.com -- and it is gathering pages only from the BodyShop.com site. I'd be willing to bet both sites are virtually hosted by the same server, and that's causing Google problems -- though other crawlers seem to be OK.
Roddick is indeed invisible, at least for the www.anitaroddick.com address to her site. Drop the www prefix, and Google does see anitaroddick.com as an independent web site, but one with only two links pointing at it, http://www.google.com/search?q=link:anitaroddick.com. In contrast, the www version has over 1,500 links aimed at it, http://www.google.com/search?q=link:www.anitaroddick.com. If Google treated the site properly, uniting the www and non-www versions and separating them from the BodyShop.com site, I've no doubt all the extra links would move Roddick right up.
Of course, one last thing that Roddick could do to help would be to actually say her full name at least once in the HTML body copy of her home page. She does say "Anita" once but never actually says "Roddick."
An Olive Branch for Google
AnitaRoddick.com, May 24, 2002
A day after Roddick's initial article, she praised Google being "the only major search engine which hasn't completely sold out to corporate interests. Without it, a vibrant, mostly non-commercial commons such as the weblog community would be impossible. For that, Google has my utmost respect." Pretty harsh words against Google competitors such as FAST, which not only would I not describe as having "completely sold out" but which also outperformed Google on a search for Roddick's own name.
I Still Love Google
Brooke Biggs Web Log, May 24, 2002
There was a technical problem with how Google was crawling Roddick's site, which was discovered as part of the ad dispute. "In coming days, we are told, AnitaRoddick.com will jump to the first page of results," her editor writes of Google's response. Looks like Google partially solved the problem, but trouble remains.
GlobeAndMail.com, May 31, 2002
With all this talk of Anita Roddick, I can't help but share my own personal experience with the Body Shop. My aftershave lotion comes from Body Time, a very small, socially conscious cosmetics chain based in Northern California. The chain was originally called The Body Shop. When I first lived in the United Kingdom in 1989, I ran out of lotion and so went to one of the Body Shop stores that were everywhere. I then learned for the first time that these were completely different chains, though seemingly identical in the underlying philosophies of capitalism with a conscience. After my return home to the US, I watched the UK-based Body Shop jump across the Atlantic and show up everywhere. The California-based Body Shop eventually entered into an agreement to change its name. Roddick gets the fame for creating the Body Shop concept, but as this article explains, it was a concept in operation years before.
Google: Search Contact Addresses
Just wondering if there's something wrong with how Google is interacting with your site, but you don't think it has anything to do with spam? That probably the case for most people. Use the firstname.lastname@example.org address listed.
Google Information for Webmasters
Google hitting your server too fast? Want to know the best way to get listed. Can a competitor hurt your rankings? Answer to these and more can be found in this area at Google.
Coping With Listing Problems At Google
The Search Engine Update, July 15, 2002
For Search Engine Watch members, an in-depth look at reasons why people might not get listed with Google and the challenges the company faces in terms of a potential PR backlash, given that it has no guaranteed support mechanism.
If you download this with advanced features, you'll have a "PageRank" display that shows you the score for any page you view. The best score is a full green bar, a 10 out of 10. The lowest score is a pure gray bar, a 0 out of 10. You can hover your mouse over the pointer to get an exact score displayed in numeric format.
PR Ad Network
More about the system to sell links on high PageRank pages, direct from the source. Should you go for this? As far as I can tell, there's no easy way for Google to detect that a link was "sold." In other words, if it is a straight link from the site you "buy" to your site, with no redirection codes, then there should be no way that Google or another search engines could downgrade or penalize the link simply. It will be the same as any other link on the page.
Great, sign me up! Well, you also have to remember that just getting a link from a high "PageRank" page is no guarantee of any boost for you. In Google's case, the number of "outbound" links on the page is supposed to share in the total amount of PageRank that can be given out. In other words, get yourself on a PR8 page with only five outbound links, and you'd supposedly get 1/5 of the ranking that there is to transmit. If there were 100 outbound links, then you'd get 1/100th of the ranking. From what I've seen, nothing on the ad network site addresses this.
In addition, the size of the link, font color and location may also have an impact. A link placed at the bottom of a page might be discounted by Google and other search engines, for example. Or maybe not -- there's no way for anyone to know, including PR Ad Network.
Personally, I'm put off by the conflicting claims. "We make no guarantee whatsoever, either explicit or implied, of any increase in traffic, sales, income and especially link popularity," PR Ad Network says at the bottom of the page aimed at advertisers, though one of the benefits listed at the top is, "Increased Link Popularity from just $19." That seems pretty much like at least an implied guarantee of increased link popularity, to me.
If you are going to try it, spend the money if you think the link will bring you traffic from the site you advertise on independently of what might happen with Google. Measure that traffic. If it's worth what you paid, great. If not, then don't continue the program.
One last caveat. While I said the links shouldn't appear "abnormal" to Google, PR Ad Network is run by the same company that runs SearchKing.com, which in turn operates a network of mini-portals. These can all be readily identified by having making use of the name searchking.com as part of their domain, such as "drugstore-pharmacy.searchking.com." It would be much easier for Google to decide to discount links from these sites, since they are easy to identify.
And the official word from Google? The company wouldn't comment specifically about PR Ad Network, but Cutts did say, "In general, webmasters should stay away from schemes that are designed to improve PageRank."
PageRank For Sale
Pandia, Aug. 24, 2002
Long interview with Robert Massa, who runs the PR Ad Network.
Google Search Engine Ranking Algorithm Analysis
Pwqsoft, June 2002
You always have to take relevancy "studies" with a grain of salt, if only because Google is not above sending out fake data if it detects someone trying to reverse engineer its algorithms. However, the conclusions here aren't too surprising. PageRank is good, but the context of links pointing at you may be far more important.
The AltaVista Size Controversy
The Search Engine Report July 2, 1997
More about how AltaVista got singled out for not crawling enough of the Federation of American Scientists' web site.
Yahoo: Delays Expected
The Search Engine Report, Sept. 3, 1997
Refresh your memory of the power Yahoo once commanded.
Web mall blasts Yahoo over listing
News.com, May 24, 1997
Yahoo didn't list a Chicago-based virtual mall where its owner wanted, making him complain that the private company acts as a public enterprise and thus could unfairly restrict free trade by its policies.
Over 1250 Google pirates game for typo's
www.voelspriet.nl, June 7, 2002
Short look at the many domain names that have been registered with the word Google in them, many no doubt by those hoping to cash in on Google's popularity.
Microsoft Exec Yusuf Mehdi on Microsoft Versus Google
Goldman Sachs Internet New Media & E-commerce Event, May 22, 2002
Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of Microsoft's MSN portal, defines Google as a "competitor" to MSN's own plans to be a starting point to the web.
Yahoo To Go With Google?
The Search Engine Update, Sept. 3, 2002
Will Yahoo stick with Google as a provider of its fall through results? The decision comes sometime this month, and recent changes to Google's results may provide clues to which way Yahoo will jump. A analysis for Search Engine Watch members.