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Google Makes Whitelist Admission

"We . . . use exception lists when specific algorithms inadvertently impact websites"

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Google’s often made a big deal about using automated solutions to handle problems.  The search giant hasn’t tried to address every single Google bomb individually, for example; it’s preferred to make algorithm changes that can tackle lots of weaknesses at once.  Only now an admission related to whitelists is getting some attention.

At SMX West, Danny Sullivan put a question to Google’s Matt Cutts: “So Google might decide there’s some particular signal within the overall ranking algorithm that works for say 99% of the sites as Google hopes, but maybe that also hits a few outlying sites in a way they wouldn’t expect – in a way they feel harms the search results – then Google might except those sites?”

Cutts indicated that Google might indeed (no exact quote’s available).

That admission’s earning Google some negative attention, given the company’s traditional claims.  Cade Metz pointed out that, if Google has been giving some sites special attention, European antitrust regulators might now want to revisit old decisions.

Lots of small business owners and site administrators may have new – and not so polite – questions and/or accusations for Google, as well.

Google has tried to address the matter, though.  The company said in a statement:

“Our goal is to provide people with the most relevant answers as quickly as possible, and we do that primarily with computer algorithms.  In our experience, algorithms generate much better results than humans ranking websites page by page.  And given the hundreds of millions of queries we get every day, it wouldn’t be feasible to handle them manually anyway.

That said, we do sometimes take manual action to deal with problems like malware and copyright infringement.  Like other search engines (including Microsoft’s Bing), we also use exception lists when specific algorithms inadvertently impact websites, and when we believe an exception list will significantly improve search quality.  We don’t keep a master list protecting certain sites from all changes to our algorithms.

The most common manual exceptions we make are for sites that get caught by SafeSearch-a tool that gives people a way to filter adult content from their results.  For example, “essex.edu” was incorrectly flagged by our SafeSearch algorithms because it contains the word “sex.”  On the rare occasions we make manual exceptions, we go to great lengths to apply our quality standards and guidelines fairly to all websites.

Of course, we would much prefer not to make any manual changes and not to maintain any exception lists.  But search is still in its infancy, and our algorithms can’t answer all questions.”

Google Makes Whitelist Admission
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  • El Salvador

    WOW! That’s big! It’s similar to a person dancing with two decapitated heads in front of a police station and yelling at the cops, “Look at what I did. It’s just two heads!” and the police does nothing. WOW, just WOW. It is not the first time they have, maybe “naively”, admitted to wrong doing. Are these coders so smart that are so stupid at the same time? No common sense at all. Wonder what the DOJ thinks about this.

  • King

    That’s evidence right there that they are unfair and can’t be trusted. Their algo. needs to be examined fully and that will probably open a can of whup ass. The US government MUST regulate them, there is no doubt about it.

  • http://www.greatlegalmarketing.co.uk/google_magic Boyd Butler

    Probably explains why I can never find “hotels essex” when I search. I guess I’ll have to stay in Sussex instead…oh blast, can’t find them either. Oh well, I’ll try Middlesex…same bloody problem. I’ve always said we’re two countries separated by the same language. Boyd from London…

  • Adsense Publisher

    I’m not saying that Google should make their system public, but somebody from the DOJ does need to take a look at it and determine if such behavior is going on where Google isn’t making the playing field level for all website publishers, except those that are doing deceptive or illegal things.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    This issue came to light because I made a big enough fuss about it that Barry Schwartz got involved. Thanks to his submitting the question at SMX West, Danny Sullivan put it squarely to Google, Bing, and Blekko (Blekko does not use whitelists).

    Last year a company in the UK told the media that Google had whitelisted them. I pointed out that this would be unfair if true.

    What Google and Bing disclosed last week is that such exception lists are temporary and they are not system-wide. I feel they should have disclosed this information much sooner but I am satisfied by their explanations.