BIASED

28 comments

If Big Brands Spam is it still Spam ?

For many years a bug bear of our industry has been the way that larger brand names are able to undertake techniques that smaller brands are punished but yet still avoid punishment by the search engines.

One constant performer in this area of "Brands In Assault on SERPs, Excluding Demotion" (hereinafter known as BIASED) is a well known online Hotels group.

This (and to be fair many others) have constantly undertaken techniques in the open (visible algorithmically and manually by the search engines) that when undertaken by a smaller business will lead to demotion in the SERPs.

Is this a BIASED algorithm?
Is a BIASED system right and proper?
Should bias be stopped?

What do you think ?

Comments

Of course its biased. We

Of course its biased.

We figured this out a long time ago. We can whine about it, or accept it and move on.

"a well known online Hotels group."

Bastards!

Well spam is spam so all

Well spam is spam so all things being equal, then even big brands should face the same consequences. But all things aren't equal and at the end of the day, big brands probably also spend a fortune in PPC as well as questionable organic SEO activities.

Also, the issue remains - aren't big brands offering more relevant results than random one man band sites? Using the hotels industry as an example, a search for a top level keyphrase returning a big brand result is arguably more relevant than some local hotel who just happens to have a better SEO.

Branding is a central part of a lot of businesses. If you ask random punters on the street to name a "London hotel", then more often than not you will get the same range of big brand answers. Why shouldn't search engines return the same results?

That said, there's no excuse for stupidity. Big brands are all more than capable of ranking well for competitive terms using purely "ethical" techniques - there should be no need to spam in the first place, and any big brands caught spamming should (IMO) be bitch slapped for being so bloody careless. If they are dumb enough to hire some half bit agency without carrying out due diligence, then they should be burned right along side the little guy who (for example) relies entirely on Google for a living, without considering the (almost) inevitable consequences.

The difference is that most big brands that are spamming aren't doing it intentionally - just pure lack of knowledge about the industry and undue acceptance of glossy agency pitches are their biggest mistakes.

Should they be banned for spamming? Sure - it would be a good lesson for them and others to learn. Would the SERPs be better off without them listed though? Spam or not, I don't think so tbh.

MG

In fact I changed my mind -

In fact I changed my mind - the big brands shouldn't be banned. Google should have a word with them, find out who their SEO agency is and ban them. That's fairer IMO. :)

I think it is a case of

I think it is a case of dollars talk, etc.

Bet those large hotel groups spend 10s of millions of dollars on AdWords.

But, what is spam...

Just to be clear, what do you mean when you refer to "spam"?

(disclosure: I can be accused of being the SEO for a Big Brand)

My understanding is that in SERPs, "spam" is defined as content pages of low quality and generally of low-to-no relevancy to the search term.

Someone recently made the claim that a set of pages from one of my sites was "spam", though I couldn't figure out why, because all the pages contained content appropriate to the search terms. They were valid, and we don't use black-hat.

It could be they accused us because that particular set of pages had machine-generated meta descriptions that were pretty stilted speach, though still accurate. Of course, those meta descriptions wouldn't appear for the keyword search -- they only appeared for site: searches.

"Hotels" is one of the most hotly-contested of keyword verticals in the SERPs. It's not surprising to me that well-established hotel industry sites may rank best therein. To an SEO that's essentially a johnny-come-lately, it may seem unfair that it's hard to gain traction against those industry behemoths. But, they likely have long-running domains, lots of high-quality inbound links, and fairly well-formed pages. Until you can duplicate those elements, you're not really comparing apples with apples.

It's not necessarily that they've been given preferential treatment, except that algorithms will prefer sites with super-abundance of positive ranking elements.

Funny you say that Jason as

Funny you say that Jason as I saw a well know PLC group cross linking all their sites as well last week on 100k's of pages. I personally have had a cross linking network taken out by G and never recovered, I can only expect the opposite for brands if they get caught. To be fair to all I think we all deserve a second chance, and as maketing guy says the brands probably do offer a better choice than their affiliates who just churn out the same content that they have downloaded anyway. I still believe there should be some recourse paid or otherwise for people who have a genuinely good unique site but were drawn to the dark side.

For my BIASED Acronym and

For my BIASED Acronym and this discussion, I feel that spam is something that a big brand can do without penalty but a smaller business can not.

I purposely didn't mention

I purposely didn't mention names and hoped for a general discussion on BIASED. Oh well!

what spam?!?

MaxD, I clicked on each of the natural search result listings on the "hotels chicago" links on the above SERP link, and found either info on chicago hotels directly on the page, or the page contained links to pages about chicago hotels.

How is that "spam"?

As a user, how would I be disappointed with those search results for that query?

In fact, six out of ten of the links on that page were from hotel chain sites which have hotels in that city.

I didn't bother to analyze the other two example searches, on the expectation that the SERPs would be similar.

I guess what I am saying is

I guess what I am saying is that is does not really matter. Spam or no spam, they should rank anyway. Even though Joe and his hotel site for new york may have better deals these guys have the name and authority so you can sort of see why google have their algo this way.

How much tax do big brands

How much tax do big brands pay - after you deduct the Government Grants etc? How much tax does everyone else pay?

As Midnight Oil said "the rich get richer, the poor get the picture..."

Not too long ago

Was there not a story not too long ago about how some major brands were taking hits from Google for SEO techniques that were not so hot. BMW I think was one of them - http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ramping-up-on-international-webspam/ - and then there was wordpress and syndic8 that both got blown out of the water. I don't think anybody is immune from harsh treatment, but maybe some of the bigger brands can probably get out of hot water faster.

two way street

google needs the big brands in its serps. Immunity by default.

In fairness even the train

In fairness even the train wreck that was Inktomi had an instruction in their spam database along the lines of;

"If the information is useful and can be found nowhere else on the web do not ever ban the site".

At least Google take them out for a day or two every now and again.

"Hotels"

A market I play! SEs have struggled for years to deliver "relevant" results to the punter wanting information on (say) accommodation in Chicago

1. The results returned for "hotel chicago" search is usually very clean now, and is actually confined to individual hotels.

2. The results returned for "hotels chicago" tend to be much "spammier". And this is the one that SEs have still much to work on.

3. I am unlikely to be writing on how to get round the problem for either individual hotels, or for hotel booking sites on the pages of TW!

4. There is a lot of money involved in this market and the dividing line between sucess and failure is very narrow. An algo change can knock you right back, and another one restore you to an even better position.

5. Yes, I obviously would like to see a level playing field, but realistically (say) InterContinental Hotels are going to be given more leeway than (say) that poor sod with a guest house that Matt Cutts outed in his blog some months ago.

6. So I shrug my shoulders, mouth "life is terribly unfair" and get on with earning my living from this market :-)

Google (at least) has

Google (at least) has "special relationships"; we know this (Read the independant invalid clicks report for some names).

The New York Times has had similar "BIASED"-related press recently. Google often uses them in various examples when explaining SEO, particularly in presentations regarding PR... IMO the bonds of that "special relationship" is tied to its "reliance" on the little number in the green bar that acts as a baseline of "trust-measurement" for the rest of the web.

I'm only using NYT as one example as clearly there are other PR10 sites out there but it's clear G holds them in high regard...

... well, you would if perhaps your multi-billion $ algo rested upon accessing it.

ThePost

Let's look at the BMW example

The best way to phrase this is look at the BMW example:

They were removed from the SERPS for what.. 72 hours... on using all sorts of keyword stuffing and primitive cloaking techniques.

Now if this was a site that was not a multi-billion dollar company.. would they get re-indexed in 72 hours?

The answer is simple and the same as the answer to this thread.

What Amazes Me

Jason,
when I see it I am always amazed because the people that do it don't need to. In my area, a major publishing company is using CSS hidden text. The site is so strong they can rank for their things without even trying so why bother?

I don't complain or report, I spam so how can I?

PS: "I spam therefore I am" comes to mind
Who said that Descartes or Lord Naylor of Ripon ?

Descartes or Lord Naylor

actually it was Lord Hormel ;)
http://www.spamgift.com/ProductDetails.aspx?productID=1301

older versions of the shirt didn't have the little heart on them.

on topic:
Big brands *can* get away with more. The search engines must have those brands listed and ranking. True relevancy isn't the question...it's about perceived relevancy.

Ping me when we have this conversation again in 3 months...

no matter what is is, when everybody does it bid farewell

Quote:
Branding is a central part of a lot of businesses. If you ask random punters on the street to name a "London hotel", then more often than not you will get the same range of big brand answers. Why shouldn't search engines return the same results?

SE's should not serve those same results, because people in the streets of London are not travelers, and so their own opinion of "hotels in London" is baised towards branding (and away from performance). If a big hotel has 200 years history of supporting charity in the community, but is a lousy hotel, the people on the street will still name it when you ask them about "hotel in London".

I think these days clients are hiring SEOs when what they really need are good SEOs.

This is a clue to what works today in Google, BTW. If you search "hotels in Chicago" a perfect SE would give you Hyatt and Hilton, beause they have so many high-profile hotels in "Chicago" (exactly what you asked for- the best representation of Hotels in Chicago"). But if you search "Hotels near south side chicago" what do you get? Or even better "hotels near Chicago convention center", because you didn't know it was called McCormick Place? Exactly.

Its a shame really

as the search engines are better suited to encouraging competition rather than to put it in its place. Its not always the case that a big brand will produce a better service and to have predictable SERPS stands to serve as just another place to find the same services as you can everywhere else. Im not saying that brands shouldnt be up there but if you look at recent quality score changes in adwords the future might move even further in the big brand direction all in the name of user experience of course.

I don't think big brands

I don't think big brands should be able to get away with it but - is it more that those sites are so strong in other ways that they would rank well anyway even without the spam?

is it more that those sites

Quote:
is it more that those sites are so strong in other ways that they would rank well anyway even without the spam?

On a personal basis that is what annoys me. Great offline businesses that undertake techniques that are not needed, that when undertaken by others (and caught) will lead to automatic penalty of the harshest kind.

I think it may have been Sir Tim of Yahoo that said, "Don't take a sword to a gun fight" but if you are a nuclear powerhouse do you really need to (ab)use those particular warheads?

all things being equal

Well, they're not :)

I doubt very much that the senior management knows much, if anything about SEO, spam or otherwise. For that, the responsiblity lies at the feet of the agencies which they engage. The typical denizens here.

From a contrarian point of view, it might be said that whether a brand spams or not is irrelevant, what matters is that their site shows when a search for their brand or business line is performed. Therefore, spam is the engines problem, and whether the business employs it or not is irrelevant.

From a users perspective, if he searches for Intercontinental Hotel, it had better damn well show up, or the engine is irrelevant. If the engine is irrelevant, then their employees are redundant. Hasta La Alta Vista anyone?

I'd be inclined to allow a

I'd be inclined to allow a more level playing field, if I were Google (which, clearly, I'm not). Whilst big-ass multinational chains have the authority in the domains, they tend to have no real SEO ability - I don't see autogenning 20k pages and hanging it on a subdomain for a big time root domain as SEO, really, just exploiting some weaknesses in the current algo (yes, I know that's an endlessly debatable point - I just don't)

Why not let a smaller, more clued in competitor outrank them? And why not get the hell out of the way, and let "the market" decide what ranks? Sure, you can buy your way to the #1 spot, but if you have to pay too much, and can't make any money there, you'll drop away. After all, if it's an adequate solution to click fraud....

I don't see autogenning 20k

Quote:
I don't see autogenning 20k pages and hanging it on a subdomain for a big time root domain as SEO, really, just exploiting some weaknesses in the current algo...

But isnt that what makes (made) Google different? I completely agree suboptimal yet excessive subdomain hanging to win "seattle lawyer" is not worldclass seo, yet it ranks. Just as a Pepsi SuperBowl ad trumps all of the small bottlers efforts. It used to be Google returned relevant results, not just the biggest spender's results.

Quote:
Why not let a smaller, more clued in competitor outrank them? And why not get the hell out of the way, and let "the market" decide what ranks? Sure, you can buy your way to the #1 spot, but if you have to pay too much, and can't make any money there, you'll drop away. After all, if it's an adequate solution to click fraud....

But the momentum from those big brand ads carries forward to *influence* the market. Doesn't distribution channel control outrank consumer appeal and even demand in many cases? And how much of the total profits are taken from that channel, as opposed to the end purchaser? I think it can be very cost effective to over spend for the top spots, since you recover the costs with your monopoly control of much of the market.

How long before people start accepting the seattle lawyer page as a reference page, especially if it's sitting there easy and convenient at the top of the SERPs. And once it's accepted, the market is speaking, no? Backlinks, bookmarking, etc. It was worth the price for sure.

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