Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Jay Rockefeller, sent letters to Google's Matt Cutts, Yahoo's Shashi Seth and Microsoft's Qi Lu about moving company scammers using paid links to game search results.
The committee is conducting an investigation into the scammers, and found paid links appearing to give them better rankings in the search engines.
In the letter to Cutts, Rockefeller says, "My staff has conducted a number of test searches using your company's search engine. Frequently, Internet moving brokers identified in the investigation, which received high numbers of consumer complaints, ranked highly in the search results. Based upon evidence obtained through the investigation, it appears that some of these companies may be "gaming the system" in order to boost their search rankings. These companies appear to be using paid links to inflate their popularity. For example, one company had tens of thousands of external links to its website and, upon closer review, these links proved to be largely irrelevant. They included abandoned blogs, link directories for unrelated topics, and college student groups and organizations, such as the Cornell Gymnastics Club."
"Because I know that our company devotes significant time and resources to improving the quality of your users' searches, I am sharing the results of my Committee's investigation with you and asking you to review them," he continues. "Internet search is a powerful tool for consumers. It helps them learn more about products and services they are interested in purchasing, and it helps them find the best price and value when they decide to buy. Unfortunately, the Committee's investigation shows that a number of moving companies are using Internet-based commerce to take advantage of consumers."
TechCrunch has provided the letter to Cutts in full:
They also share a statement from Google, saying, "We make more than 500 improvements to our search algorithms every year to make them more useful, including a significant update this past April to combat practices like link schemes. We’re always looking for ways to make it harder for scammers to trick consumers, so we appreciate the specifics the Committee provided. Senator Rockefeller’s concerns point out how important it is that search engines continue to have the ability to constantly and quickly improve our results for our users.”
You may know that April update as Penguin.
This letter shows that Google is still vulnerable to paid links schemes, despite all the work it has done to combat them. I certainly wouldn't recommend trying to "game the system" in this way, but it's quite interesting to see a government committee uncover such a scheme before Google.