Google Rumors That Need To Be Stopped

    January 8, 2004

There are a lot of theories and rumors floating around. Most of them involve some sort of “filter” or penalty being applied to certain types of sites. Filtering out extreme spam is nothing new for Google. Among other things, they’ve been trying to catch hidden text for several months. I just don’t see how a filter, or any combination of filters and penalties, could explain the current search results.

If Google were filtering out some sites, you’d expect to see them drop out of the top 100, and be replaced by sites that were ranking somewhere close to the top 100. That’s just not what we see, though. We see sites that weren’t in the top 1000, jumping into the top 10. It’s not a filter, folks – it’s a whole new way of ranking web pages.

Rumor 1: Google Is Using A Dictionary

This rumor was born about five minutes after the November 15 update began, and was the first attempt at explaining the new search results. The idea is that Google has a master list of search terms, for which they “penalize” commercial sites or something like that.

There are far too many search terms affected, for it to be as simple as a “dictionary” of commercial search terms. Google might have a list of topics, for which they have computed a topic-sensitive PageRank score, but they aren’t trying to penalize anyone, they’re trying to deliver better search results.

Rumor 2: Google wants to force commercial sites to use Adwords

This rumor is a variation of rumor #1. It was the first “conspiracy theory” to arise. I believe this rumor was born about 12 minutes after the November update started. The idea is that Google has dropped sites that weren’t paying for Adwords listings. The other rumor was that sites that did pay for Adwords were getting dropped.

The fact that there are two conflicting and equally implausible conspiracy theories should tell you all you need to know. In reality, Google has deliberately kept the “paid advertising” and “free search results” separate, and there’s no reason why they would do something like this. Google doesn’t need to “force” anyone to buy advertising.

The folks who believe in this rumor may not have a whole lot of business experience. For a business, the decision to purchase advertising is based on the ability to make a profit from that spending. If it is profitable to use Adwords, businesses will use Adwords. This decision has nothing to do with whether that business’s web site appears in the free search results.

I wouldn’t stop using Adwords just because Google was listing my site in the free search results, nor would I start using it because my site wasn’t showing up in the free results. I’m not going to stop using Adwords if my site gets dropped from the free listings, for that matter. I am in business to make a profit. I advertise because the advertising pays for itself.

Rumor 3: Google is using “Bayesian Spam Filters”

I am not trying to trash Seth Finkelstein, because he’s done a lot of good for humanity. In this case, though, I just don’t understand what the heck he’s talking about. You can read this for yourself ( so I don’t have to explain what the guy’s saying.

Bayesian filtering is a great way to deal with email spam. I use a program called K9 ( that does a great job of identifying junk emails and keeping them out of my face. It’s a fabulous technology, but it needs to be trained for every user – my personal Bayesian spam filter is very different from yours.

There is no conceivable way Google could implement a “Bayesian” filter to recognize “search engine spam,” and I can’t believe that hundreds of very intelligent engineers would attempt to do so.

Google isn’t trying to “penalize” or “filter out” anything. The people at Google are trying to build a system that identifies the most relevant web pages. Where they use filtering, it’s to avoid being tricked by hidden text and that sort of thing. Bayesian filtering is very different.

Rumor 4: Google is punishing reciprocal links

The theory here is that Google is punishing web sites that trade links with other web sites. Maybe, if that’s all you do, but that’s probably been the case for some time. The original PageRank paper, titled “The PageRank Citation: Bringing Order To The Web” (, anticipates some of these types of issues.

Leslie Rohde has published a nice analysis, showing why this rumor and several of the others just don’t hold water ( Even when using the Scroogle hit list to look for “penalized” pages, Leslie was unable to find any new correlation between reciprocal linking and Google rankings.

Rumor 5: Google is punishing “optimized” pages

The rumor here is that Google is trying to drop “optimized” pages. Not only does this not hold up under close scrutiny, it doesn’t make any sense to begin with. Another way to describe an “optimized” web page would be “a well structured page that clearly indicates the relevant topics.”

Does Google penalize dirty tricks like hidden text, over-stuffing HTML tags, etc.? Of course they do, but that’s not optimizing, folks, that’s spamming. Penalties for spamming are nothing new.

Rumor 6: Google is punishing “link text”

Nope, not true. If it were possible to create a penalty for another site by linking to them with the wrong words, you’d have complete chaos in a very short time.

Creating networks of web sites just so that they can link to each other with your keywords might trip a filter, but that’s spamming, and penalties for this are nothing new.

Rumor 7: Google Is Out To Get You, And It’s Personal

I haven’t done a whole lot of detailed research to substantiate my beliefs on this, but trust me, it’s not personal. The search engines are all trying to deliver quality search results, and maybe you aren’t giving them what they’re looking for. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a good web site. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Maybe you just need to do some things differently.

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Dan Thies is a well-known writer and teacher on search engine marketing. He offers consulting, training, and coaching for webmasters, business owners, SEO/SEM consultants, and other marketing professionals through his company, SEO Research Labs. His next online class will be a link building clinic beginning March 22