Sullivan Calls Out Google’s Favorite Sons

    March 25, 2009
    WebProNews Staff

During a discussion on Sphinn, SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan poses an interesting question: Does Google give automatic credit to A-list ventures in the search results?

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan

Earlier this week, big media (New York Times, Disney, BusinessWeek, Hearst) lodged a bit of a tantrum because they felt Google wasn’t treating them special enough and was giving too much credit to scrapers and aggregators. Sullivan strides to the other, more populist side, saying Google seems to dote on Web-celebs like Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, and Jason Calacanis.
Sullivan’s main target was Kawasaki’s new Alltop venture, which is essentially a categorized news aggregator. (Kawasaki calls it an “online magazine rack.”) Users can select categories of interest that lead to lists of subdomains where articles on those topics are brought together. It’s not exactly a new idea, but it does have Kawasaki’s former Apple evangelist weight behind it.

We were unable to duplicate what Sullivan was seeing in his Google search results for keywords like “economic news,” “food news,” etc., but Sullivan’s good reputation precedes him, and we have no reason to doubt what he saw. Google may have corrected, or it could be a regional result variance—from here, older, with subfolders instead of subdomains, appears high up the list. (Subfolders, unless I’m mistaken, have been traditionally more SEO friendly.)

We know that in its effort to produce fresher results, a slight tweak to the algorithm was allowing cybercrooks to follow Google Trends, parasite host on trusted sites, and gain high rankings redirecting to scareware (bogus alerts warning a user’s computer is infected to scare them into buying fake anti-virus phishing programs). That glitch appears to have been addressed, and it may have affected Alltop. 

But it still leaves the question about whether in Google’s pursuit of fast, relevant, recent, and trustworthy search results they company has unduly weighted new ventures of star players. Sullivan presents the classic class struggle flipside:

“If Joe Schmoe SEO dude came along and rolled out hundreds of domains like this, worked it on Twitter, who wants to say Google wouldn’t be down on them like a ton of bricks?”

Chris Pirillo
Chris Pirillo

He then brings up Chris Pirillo’s ill-fated, whose subdomains got the site banned in Google. The site was eventually unbanned. Meanwhile, Sullivan suggests Godin’s Squidoo received a spam-pass from Google until Calacanis torpedoed it. To top it off, Calacanis’ Mahalo, despite Google’s decree it would drop search engine results from other search engines in its index, still gets quite a bit of Google love.

“You kind of feel sorry for Joe Schmoe,” writes Sullivan. “Build a name by once having worked for Apple or by having written a few marketing books, and you seem to get much better treatment than Joe would get if he pulled the same SEO play stunts.

”Alltop, Mahalo, Squidoo — none of them dominate Google. But seriously, Squidoo has a PR8 home page? Alltop has a PR7? Search Engine Land, which actually produces original content, sits with a PR6 — but these guys that simply compile content from others get a big fat PR kiss on the lips?”

It seems likely those who’ve been used as examples already know the online marketing game very well and also carry with them loyal armies willing to link to any new venture they launch, which gives them an automatic advantage over Joe Schmoe. But it could also be that Google’s constant struggle to balance trust and relevance could also be a player.