Google Ranking Itself Tops For Britney Spears & The Need For Better Categorization

Spotted via InsideGoogle, Stephan Spencer argues in Does Google deserve a top 10 spot for “britney spears”? that Google is borderline spamming to come up in the top results for britney spears on its own site. I disagree. The content is relevant, nor are the changes suggested necessarily a solution to this "problem." C'mon along for a journey into the issues at hand.

One solution Spencer suggests is that Google should tweak its algorithm to favor pages with more "topical relevance" about Britney? Sounds reasonable, but in practice, not so clear cut.

What's Relevant For Britney

The fact that so many people don't know how to spell Britney's name IS relevant to the topic of her. In fact, it's long been a talking point that MSN Search used to use to highlight its relevancy.

By the same argument, the Britney Spears Guide To Semiconductor Physics should be dropped from the top results. Believe me, having watched this query over the years, that site is a long time rank holder on Google and elsewhere that has nothing to do with Britney other to use her as part of an educational parody for explaining semiconductors.

When the physics site first started ranking well, I felt the same way as Spencer. What's the deal with this non-Britney page being there? But it is sort of related, in that her fame has extended into people using her for parodies.

Similarly, I don't see that Spencer's installed any type of meta robots tag or robots.txt file to prevent his article about the Google-Britney situation from itself ranking well on Google. So when he says:

In the meantime, I think it would be in good form for Google to add a rel="nofollow" href attribute to the Britney Spears link on their Job Opportunities page and let some other, more relevant Britney fan site have that #7 slot.

Then the same should apply to his article. Shouldn't he be blocking his content from being indexed, to ensure some more relevant Britney fan site isn't bumped out if you somehow start ranking well?

How About Showing Some Topics, Not Pages

The reality is every search on any search engine will have some irrelevant results. Ideally, what you'd want for a popular and broad query on Britney is to get a better classification of types of results you can see: official sites, fan sites, sites about her film career, Britney as a part of popular society and so on. Since everything has some relevancy, such groupings help ensure you get into a particular area related to Britney that you're interested in.

For example, consider if you searched on Yahoo Directory, where you could see all directory categories like this:

  • Rock and Pop > Britney Spears
  • Rock and Pop > Anti-Britney Spears
  • Britney Spears Concert Tickets
  • Britney Spears > Lyrics
  • See how the "topical relevancy" of all things Britney is divided into four major areas? How about the 208 topics that Clusty finds, which include:

    Sadly, the demise of human-powered directories on major search engines has all but killed such categorization from really being show to searchers. But what about Ask! It clusters! It groups. Yeah, but sometimes not very well. Here's what we get for Britney:

    Sure, everything may be related to Britney in some way, but that's a far cry from actually grouping and refining topics that are specifically about her.

    Did Google Really Make This Happen

    How about Spencer's claim that "the sheer weight" of Google's own link from its job page to its page about Britney misspellings gave that page a top ranking. Hard to say.

    Google lists over 100 pages that are linking to that page, such as The Guardian mentioning the page about Britney or this site commenting on the page back in 2003. Google, of course, doesn't show all the links it knows about. So heading over to Yahoo, we see there are nearly 2,000 pages linking to that page, such as this one from Wired back in 2002. Google has certainly indexed some of those links that Yahoo has also found, even if it doesn't show them.

    I have no doubt Google's own link helped. But it also links on that same page to its Google AdWords page with the words "advertising products." But when I search for that on Google, I don't get the AdWords page. Why not? Because the sheer weight of that link on that page doesn't appear to be weighty enough.

    As for the page being a "dead-end" for users, I agree with Spencer here, in as much that given that the page is obviously getting visitors, it could be made more useful to those interested in Britney but who don't want to work at Google. And sure, maybe Google should add a nofollow link for the PR value in saying it's trying to minimize its own impact on search rankings. However, I think that's a difficult path to follow.

    Overall, I'm going to end up hoping that if a page is deemed so irrelevant by Google searchers, they'll tell Google directly via the "Dissatisfied? Help us improve" link at the bottom of every search result page.

    Disagree and perhaps think Google is indeed spamming itself? Well heck, they've banned themselves from cloaking before: Google Admits To Cloaking; Bans Itself. You can use the Report a Spam Result page at Google to report the page.

    Of course, the page might easily return at any point, if Google feels whatever was in error has been fixed. Google released WordPress's home page from its penalty after less than a day. But from what I can tell, Google's own page that was banned remains so nearly a month after it was penalized.