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What to expect in SEO in the coming months [video] (mattcutts.com)
117 points by fryed7 740 days ago | 89 comments



Black hatters these days don't really even care about long-term rankings, they're more about exploiting the inadequacies in the algorithm in the first month or so of a site's live. Build it, rank it, bank cash, and burn it out. That's the modus operandi right now...I don't see this update changing much of that.

It's going to be great for those of us building out quality sites though!

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Exactly. If you really want to know what black-hatters do and how they get around Google's filters, here it is:

1. Buy a ton of domains 2. Put up picture-based landing pages on those domains. The user only really sees pictures. 3. Put up or spin content with relevant keywords, put it underneath the images. Google only sees a couple pictures (it doesn't know what they are) and a bunch of really relevant content. 4. Build a shiz-ton of links. This is where black hatters really make their money. I usually build about 125,000 links/day from completely legit sites, and to Google it pretty much looks like it's going viral. If you know where to get the links, know how to generate the content, and can make them seem human, Google has a really hard time finding you. 5. Link the landing pages to your money site using affiliate links. 6. Wait until your site gets manually reviewed and pulled down.

So any somewhat decent black-hatter will have hundreds of sites in the works at any given time. The worry of taking a site down isn't a big one, even though if you take down one site a black-hatter's traffic could drop 3,000 visits/day. The sites I work on usually remain up for an average of 6 months at a time, and the only way for them to be caught is a manual review. Some only stay up for a couple weeks, but some stay up for years. There have been times when landing pages are getting a couple thousand visits a day but I haven't had time to go back through and redirect the traffic to the money site or update them from the generic landing page.

Since all of the actions taken mimic closely enough what humans would do, it's really difficult to be caught by webspam teams.

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While I appreciate you sharing this, I'm shocked that you would do it from your real account. Don't you feel any shame for your actions?

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Eh, a little bit. I'm not in the black-hat world anymore, and I'm pretty sick of people pretending like they're magicians or rocket scientists because they can rank something. Google has a system, you beat the system, that's it.

In my mind it's really difficult to differentiate between what most people call "white-hat" SEO and what I used to do ("black-hat"). White hat SEO (which is basically posting links in forums, blog comments, etc.) is trying to manipulate Google's search engine manually, black-hat is automating it and doing it at scale.

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Eh, I disagree with your definition of "white hat SEO".

White hat is about earning links. A arms length third party has to give you a link for it to count.

That means it has a lot more to do with Public Relations than Page Rank.

If you drop a link yourself in a forum or blog comment, that's fundamentally NOT white hat. That's just non-automated black hat. That's also been below Google's radar.

This is the fundamental problem with SEO... People like you and me who are arguably 'experts' disagree about these definitions.

Ignorant clients hear "forums links are white hat" and reasonably extrapolate that "automated forum links are just scalable white hat SEO." And then they get into trouble.

I've seen it happen at some very well-funded startups. The marketing team looks like geniuses... for a while. Until they get nailed, then they claim they were tricked by a black hat SEO firm.

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Fair enough, but if forum links aren't white hat then 99% of SEO companies/freelancers are black hat. I have yet to hear an SEO company say "We'll make your product great enough people will link to it organically."

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True, an agency can't do much about a product. But they can produce content that will attract links. And they can find people who should be linking to you, but aren't because they haven't heard of you.

That's what the best ones like CitationLabs and Eric Ward do.

A really good SEO can produce 100-150 truly earned links a month. But that would cost you $15k/mo and most clients aren't willing to make that kind of long term investment.

Why won't they invest is a question for another thread, but I suspect blackhats have created a "market for lemons."

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There's a pretty big gap between forum links and nothing.

A websticker program, for instance, that is marketed via actual direct contact with potentially valuable partners, can provide high-quality in-bound links that are voluntary and durable. True, this works better in B2B than B2C. For B2C, an affiliate or discount program can do similar things. These can be supported by advertising as well.

These sorts of programs take a commitment, though. You're not going to make a quick big splash this way. But they do work over time, particularly since Google values age in both domains and inbound links.

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Amen.

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>Put up picture-based landing pages on those domains....

I would have though this is a no brainer for Google to catch these days. I though text under pictures would be like white text on white and would set off immediate alarm bells.

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You can use the "more" tags, similar to wordpress, and it still appears legitimate.

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Black hatters these days don't really even care about long-term rankings

Is that not because Google has successfully eliminated the long term viability of the tactics? Sitting on the sideline (sort of) it looks to be easier and easier to get rankings the "right" way and harder and harder to get them the "wrong" way.

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It's a little bit less clear cut than getting rankings the right way or wrong way. I personally know many churn and burn blackhatters, and the eventual demise of their domains is just part of their business model.

Google has never been good at handling short term black hat spam (buy viagra is the colloquial example always). They are good at filtering sites out after they've been ranked for a while though.

But when these blackhatters are making tens of thousands of dollars a day with their short term rankings, it's hard to convince them that they need to be focusing on the long term rankings avenue...

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This negative SEO is huge problem now and I'm concern about it.

What some bloggers are now doing is buying links to destroy competition. They don't even need to "order" black hat. They just go to fivver and order some of "panda optimized" gigs for $5 (these gigs just hurt - they dont help). And whola.... competition is toasted...

I hope this is going to be fixed somehow.

EDIT: Also is this is just an "urban legend" or real problem?

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It's a real problem. I do SEO for a living and work with hundreds of sites at a large agency. I've seen several hit with negative SEO from competitors ordering link gigs on Fiverr or asking some low quality link provider on Digital Point to build 10,000 links in a short period of time.

This has killed rankings for a few sites that I've worked with. It is really easy to get thousands of spam/porn sites to link to a competitor with exact match anchor text for whatever keyword you want. And it's basically impossible to figure out which competitor is doing it to you.

Google used to just 'devalue' all crap links pointing to a site. A link could never hurt you. Now that links can hurt your site, it's totally wide open for this type of thing to happen.

Here's a good case study/experiment done on negative SEO if anybody is interested in further reading: http://trafficplanet.com/topic/2372-successful-negative-seo-...

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That case study is truly frightening. People spend years of their lives and millions of dollars to get their sites to rank higher in search engines... and then this can happen.

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The pendulum has definitely swung the other way. It is now much easier to kill competitors with black hat tactics than it is to promote a business with black hat tactics.

I remember a comment by Eric Schmidt that the best way to combat spam was through "brands". While brands are a component of good search results, I can't think of a more misguided philosophy. If the only advice Google has about where to buy something is to buy from "Amazon" then Google has lost its utility in revenue generating searches. I think the best way to combat SEO spam is through engineering and hard work. Giving all the power to established brands is a shortcut that will ultimately undermine Google's core value to its users.

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It's hard to know if it's a real problem because when people are caught, it's hard to know if they're lying about how a competitor did it to screw them over.

Anyway, here's what someone should do:

Buy a bunch of spam links on fivver for keyword "matt cutts" and point it to his domain www.mattcutts.com. (He's one of the few people on Earth with plausible deniability regarding Google manipulation.)

If you successfully remove his domain from spot one on Google, this is potentially a real problem.

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Difference between matt cutts and everyone else is that he probably has thousands of sites (maybe hundreds of thousands, plus Google links) already pointing to the site.

Comparing a "big" site like that to a small business who might have $10-20 spent against them to negative SEO doesn't really compare.

It's like comparing McDonalds to a local burger joint.

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His name probably has immunity, just as most large brands do. Small/er sites are fried. Deep fried.

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Immunity? There's no immunity (supposedly) inside the Google search algorithm. But of course, there's inertia. Big brands have a huge inertia: you can think of a big brand as having thousands or millions of small links that push its ranking up. That is very hard to overcome with these tactics, it's like stopping the sea with a teaspoon.

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Exhibit A: How fast Digg came back into the index, a smaller site would never have come back as fast.

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Immunity? There's no immunity (supposedly) inside the Google search algorithm

Almost certain that there is. After a certain internal Google score (?) it appears like no update will penalize you with things like 70% traffic drop out of the blue. Big brands are largely not effected by Google's many updates and even when they buy links etc they are forgiven very fast. Regular sites on the other hand are told generic nonsense as they lose visitors update after update.

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Do you have anything to back that claim up? You're on hn every time there's a Google story talking about how they're killing smaller sites, acting monopolistic, violating anti-trust regulations or whatever, what is your motivation?

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Not the guy you're asking, but thought I'd answer. This may not be referring to true "immunity", but Matt Cutts did say this around the time Panda was first released:

"And we actually came up with a classifier to say, okay, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side."

http://www.wired.com/business/2011/03/the-panda-that-hates-f...

So there is something that is specifically recorded for well-known sites that likely prevents them from receiving the same treatment as other, smaller sites. And anyone who works in SEO can tell you that not since Vince has it been just about links.

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He's referring to a classifier that can tell the "quality" of a site, not the size of the brand.

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Google cannot "read" content so in essence it's the size of the brand that matters, unless they suppress it manually via search quality raters.

Brands escape major updates, something we saw especially after Panda. As soon as some major sites were hit, they changed the algorithm. Google does not algorithmically punish certain sites for link buying and other shenanigans. I suspect that after a site reaches a certain level of score (not calling it PR) it's golden. So buying 123456789 comment spam links for "Matt Cutts" on fiver will not do much, but 500 links to mymomscookies.tld will cause them to go to page 10, or dead in the water.

Google doesn't seem to care because small sites don't give them pr problems (Audi and Macys would) and small sites will be forced to advertise, if they want any traffic. Notice the perverse inventive? Cut the free traffic and increase adwords' business.

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It makes sense there would be some kind of immunity. "Immunity" is probably the wrong word - I'd call it common sense. I would think Google has a simple lookup table which always places results like "bmw.com" #1 for query "bmw", "wikipedia.org" #1 for query "wikipedia", etc. irrespective of backlink profiles.

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But there's no need to. Such big sources have huge anchor links with this tag, backlinks supporting them and whatnot. It should work organically without even needing a lookup table

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Do you have anything to back that claim up?

Yeah, lots of things. Things I mentioned in the comment.

You're on hn every time there's a Google story talking about how they're killing smaller sites, acting monopolistic, violating anti-trust regulations or whatever, what is your motivation?

T-R-U-T-H is a great motivator.

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Do you have some examples?

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No - but I heard people talking about that. Is this even possible?

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I've not seen convincing evidence that negative seo works, besides a few sites where they were already super open to being penalized upon any review, or small sites without much seo holding up their few rankings. It's not likely to return much if other competition exists and could cost a lot to bump one of your competitors for a month maybe two?

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[deleted]

Thank you, I'm not the only one! Every time I see someone misspell it, it makes me think less of their intellectual capacity.

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Nothing too interesting IMO except the increased advertorial crackdown, although I'm skeptical as to how much of that they'll be able to detect. (Ironically, I'm seeing more & more of these in A/B level tech blogs)

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I'm guessing their ability to identify a paid advertorial is going to come down to educated guesses. With their failure to identify sites using other blatant spamming and black hat tactics, I don't have much faith that they will be able to get this right.

Unfortunately, the result will be a lot of sites playing within the rules getting unfairly penalized, just like Panda and Penguin.

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If matt says it's more substantial than penguin 1.0 then its going to have a big ripple effect, the last penguin update effected more than 10%+ of SERPS.

If your worried about this update then you haven't being doing "SEO" right.

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There was a lot of collateral damage done to innocent sites during both Panda and Penguin. I think there's good reason for everybody who relies on Google traffic to worry a bit.

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My main site was part of the collateral damage from Panda, so I'm pleased to hear Matt say that they're still tweaking Panda to help sites that are still being affected.

My site is pretty much all user generated content (car reviews), and Panda seems to struggle with differentiating such sites from content farms, unless they're part of a larger, established brand.

Almost two years of attempting to fix the problem by improving quality and layouts, reducing ads etc had no effect. Then I raised my case on Google's own forums, resulting in a lot of attention, and a few weeks later I saw a massive improvement (I know, correlation is not causation). Unfortunately I seem to have been hit again last week, by something that looks suspiciously like Panda (though I'm not 100% sure).

I've mostly moved on (now working on an iOS app), but it did appear from the outside that Google was comfortable with the impact of Panda, and it's good to know that they're still focussed on improving it.

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I understand it's all algorithmic and there will be some truly innocent collateral damage involved but Google wouldn't be pushing this out if they didn't feel the overall quality of search would increase.

Most of the collateral damage is going to be people straddling the grey hat line and rightly so in my own opinion.

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I think it's very possible that google would push this out without thinking the quality of search would increase; if they think their PR will be able to continue controlling the message and getting discussion away from the potentially decreased search quality and fighting any possible damage to the brand through extremely tight & multi-layered propaganda around any dissent or competition that comes up in the news cycle.

Glass fans should be happy to know that shortly after the algo change they should be seeing another wave of public demonstrations, perhaps a self-driving car sighting or two.

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I don't disagree, but look at it from the perspective of the small business owner that gets 80% of their revenue from Google traffic. Even if they were one of the few unlucky ones, their livelihood is lost.

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Look at it from the perspective of the small business owner who currently has next to no revenue from Google traffic, because their genuinely useful or relevant site is drowned out by spam.

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That makes sense, if virtually every update didn't promote the likes of Amazon, eBay, and Google properties. Small businesses are toast and getting toaster by the update

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Right? Not enough keywords and you just don't rank, too many bold keywords and you're hit. Nowadays you get a penalty far before you do anything black hat (Though Penguin should not be about onpage).

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Keyword stuff is abusive, bolding all your keywords should rightly get you penalised. It's not far off the old days of stuffing the defunct meta keywords tag.

First point on googles webmaster guidelines says it all. Your chasing google, build a site for your users first, google will follow because it's in there interest to provide the most relevant content.

  Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.
  A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee.
  Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?

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What is abusive? With 1 keyword on the page you will not rank. You at least need it in the body, text, url and h1. Is this abusive?

Google tells you to design for the user. This assumes that Google is just as clever as people - what they love to tell you - but which it isn't. That's the main reason people put text blurbs everywhere, create landing pages, put synonyms and different keywords on their pages, because Google is not clever enough.

And your competition just ranks. If you design your pages for users you don't rank from my experience - e.g. people do not care about URLs, do not care about H1 tags on ecommerce pages, don't care about bold, don't care about explanations on ecommerce sites what a t-shirt is or what trousers are . But Google does.

Most of the current high ranking pages, SCREAM "I've been designed for Google!" right into your face.

see exhibit A: http://www.zalando.de/damenschuhe-pumps/

The text on the page to the bottom and to the left clearly isn't for users.

If you have examples of your SEO work where you rank for keywords and have designed your pages for users and not designed the pages for Google I'd be very interested to learn from you - as would /r/seo.

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Penguin opened the world to scalable negative SEO. This is now a common tactic in competitive markets. If you rank well it is worth worrying about.

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I can't deny negative SEO is a worry and yes whilst Google opened up the doors for it they also recognised it and have started providing ways to hopefully protect yourself. (Disavowing links etc)

If your in a competitive market where you have to worry about negative SEO so much so that it is making an impact on your SERPs then I'm sure the web spam team would be more than interested in hearing from you

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The largest problem with Disavow is that it doesn't scale as quickly as negative SEO does. You can't possibly build a legit disavow list, contacting every website, documenting effort, not to mention that Google doesn't even show you all the links, when $5 at Fiverr can toss 20k forum links at a site.

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So how do you disavow thousands of links a day? That's what a negative SEO could buy for a few bucks on fiverr...

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You are naive, even if disavow works, Google runs this update every six months are so. Do you realize what a traffic drop does to a business with payroll to meet?

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Yes probably I am, because we are talking millions of sites and statisticly your going to get anomolies. Then again if your business model is based primarily on your SERPs then you have a bad business model and should be doing everything you can to mitigate that risk.

It's one of the risks you take which should of been identified if your a competent business owner that wants to survive.

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Your post has nothing to do with the previous message or point, you're just switching arguments. Most e-commerce businesses cannot scale /downscale every 50% + or - organic search traffic changes.

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Apologies your right. Trying to bring it back around to my original point by rephraseing my orgional statement then.

If your worried about this update then you haven't been doing seo right and If your relying solely on a 3rd party for the existence or profitability of your company then you have bigger issue at hand than just your seo.

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For the record, I'm out. Been out since a few months after Panda, now I just do a thing here and there for others.

>>If your worried about this update then you haven't been doing seo right

I love this statement, heard it right after Panda when the "good SEOs" were bashing the panda hit sites...and then their own sites were destroyed too. As horrible as it may sound, I actually felt good.

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Im glad to see the clustering is being looked into, there is nothing worse than searching for something and seeing 15 links in a row from the same domain ( like tripadvisor or other large content heavy sites).

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I agree, with one exception: StackOverflow.

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At some point we could probably start searching stackexchange directly rather than relying on google to return stackexchange links. Their internal search is really quite good.

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Google knows about this and supposedly fixed that. But clustering reduces choices, increasing ad clicks and forcing companies to advertise (because they are not receiving that traffic.)

(Downvote if you will but I doubt Google's intentions these days and their earnings are through the roof, even as PPC goes down.)

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Google's value will always be search > PPC. Clustering reduces the diversity of the internet in general and this is a much larger negative for Google imo.

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and this is a much larger negative for Google imo.

Eventually. Doesn't mean that Google isn't doing it believing they're controlling the negative effects or doing it "just a bit" this time and a bit more that quarter.

Diversity on Google is largely gone on transactional search, big brands rule both the ads and organic search. This is responsible, IMO, for Google at almost $900/share but will eventually ruin Google. They got too greedy and people will eventually bypass them and go directly to the brands Google promoted for short term cash.

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Skip to the 3 minute mark.

The problem with these spam signals, like comment SPAM, it's very hard to know if they are from the target of the links, or from some other person trying to damage your reputation online and hoping you get penalised. Google doesn't see the IPs / email addresses that submit these comments. So it's impossible to know if they are legitimate or not when it comes to who has created them.

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This is my biggest problem with Penguin. No website controls who links to them. Google should do a better job at discounting/ignoring spammy links, rather than penalize a website with spammy links. It's essentially the same thing, though one is easier to come back from.

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> No website controls who links to them

This is clearly nonsense when some webmasters were buying thousands of links.

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OK, but we can probably say, "many websites have not prevented unsavory inbound links". How can these sites be helped? Do they need to "referer-bomb" (e.g. how some photo sites that didn't favor image embedding used to serve goatse to unrecognized referers) these links to a "don't count this link" document? Could Google propose a standard semantics for such a document?

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I hope SEO can be expected to go extinct in the coming whatever and be replaced with "good content" approach. It is unfortunate that Google even addresses the shady SEO community boosting their might and glory.

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Writing "good content" that you intentionally craft in a way to get optimal traffic from search engines is inherently search engine optimization, so no, SEO won't ever go away as long as there are still search engines.

There is this movement lately to call it "content marketing" instead of just SEO, but really, content marketing is simply an SEO technique.

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Hacked sites are a dominant strategy is many markets right now. Perp will Hack N sites, cloak them so only the googlebot sees the hacks, and use those links to drive rankings of a site in a highly liquid market place (Pharma, gambling, payday, insurance).

When google can't devalue hacked/cloaked links well, I expect much collateral damage with Penguin (since it has primarily been focused on low value links). It won't be a precision attack on webspam.

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Surely Google could crawl back with a "user" in a new IP range to detect and ban this sort of behaviour. I was under the impression that they did this to some degree anyway.

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Wow, supposed to be much more comprehensive then the first penguin update. This may be a game changer for some.

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Not to be too dramatic about this, but I basically feel that the moment it became possible to negative SEO a competitor for ~$5 via services like fiverr et al is the moment that will be remembered as the end of Google as a dominant search engine, or at least the end of a Pagerank-centric algorithm for its search.

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What do you propose as an alternative system?

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You don't understand. Google has made huge sites immune to this, and small sites that suffer are labeled as "spam, low quality and shallow" sites by Matt Cutts & Co.

Until recently Google was winning the propaganda war, now not so sure. On web forums people are openly talking about search manipulation to increase advertising via Adwords and ad clicks. http://searchengineland.com/google-matt-cutts-penguin-update...

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I think the biggest problem that Google can't fix is that they treat links as a voting mechanism, and that voting mechanism has value. So, there is a big economic incentive to "buy votes" by buying links.

As long as there is a financial incentive to ranking well in google and that the mechanism to rank better is to get links, people with money will buy links in the same way they buy influence in the media, politics, etc.

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There will always be something to buy (Yelp: http://www.buyyelpreview.com/ YouTube: http://www.ytview.com/, via a quick Google search). Overall it links are a very successful metric (the pagerank algorithm changed the search game), but it's more about the sophistication of the engine to detect and demote abuses.

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I'm not sure but it sounds like you are falling into the "Google still uses PageRank" fallacy.

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If Google wants to fight against SEO (of whatever color of hat), it needs to somehow separate the links of people that are trying to manipulate Google and the links of people that are just trying to use the Internet.

The closer a spammer's actions appear to that of a normal person, the harder it is to find and devalue those links.

Google's updates have been in the recent past are saying (Panda, Penguin), "Well, spammers generally tend do to this, let's make that bad now."

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I always have this in my head:

http://xkcd.com/810/

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As someone who has sold links and seen that income dry up completely, I would disagree.

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I think the biggest problem that Google can't fix is that they treat links as a voting mechanism

They treat public links as a voting mechanism. Unfortunately, in the era of social networking, and maybe outside of their own Google+ network, they probably don't even see the majority of high quality links based on honest personal recommendations any more.

Ultimately, I think this is going to be a good thing. Relying on a single, unaccountable source for most of your traffic was always a risky prospect for a small business, however good your products/services might be. I'm much happier with the situation we're seeing now, where search traffic represents maybe 30-40% of our total visits over a month, social networks are collectively a larger part, and there's also a substantial minority of direct traffic that presumably came from off-line word of mouth referrals and/or more traditional marketing channels where we use them.

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I wonder if Google is buying linkshare data from Facebook and Twitter. It seems obvious that they should.

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That's an intriguing idea, assuming that the likes of Facebook and Twitter would want to share that data with Google and would be able to do so without running into privacy concerns given that the links were presumably not public if Google couldn't see them in the first place.

I've been wondering whether something like this might explain how one of my sites, which has about two incoming public links in the entire universe and probably a page rank of 0 but seems to attract a decent level of FB/Twitter interest, hits the first SERP at least once for numerous queries in its niche.

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How would you solve it then? By putting more focus on social media? They are doing that, too, but that can be even more easily abused sometimes. Google can distinguish between the less spammy and the more spammy links anyway, but it's a hard problem, so they can distinguish it to a certain agree.

But Google's algorithm by now is certainly more complex than "giving each link a vote". A lot of SEO is on-page SEO, too, so it doesn't depend all on links.

It also seems they will be focusing more on "author rank", which means posts written by "popular" authors (whatever that means in Google's algorithm) will more easily rank in Google than those written by less "popular" authors.

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When google first started, or more accurately when Brin and Page were first working on PageRank, much of the content of the web was still written by hobbyists and professors. Sure there were web-rings and the like, but by and large putting together a page was a manual labor of love and linking was a personal endorsement.

Now the function of a link has changed entirely. Many of them don't even exist to be clicked, and many of those that do are either advertising or the functional equivalent.

There are a few places where a link really is still an endorsement: for example if I put together a hacker news comment that links a blog post I think is informative. Or a (genuine) blogger that writes about a topic.

However, anytime there's a useful signal to be found in something like that the SEO jerks come and flood it. That's why we've got comment spam, we have reddit sock-puppets, we've got blogvertisments and so on.

And the so-called white hat SEOs aren't much better in this regard. They are pushing their clients to go write mediocre "content" that is largely duplicative of what's already out there. People should only be writing content if they have something -- preferably interesting and/or informative -- to say, not because it means more people will visit their brochureware site, and certainly not as a means of getting (tricking?) people to click on no-value-add affiliate links or AdSense ads. That's putting the cart before the horse.

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re: "author rank"

By this do you mean popular people will rank more easily like they do now? How is popularity determined? By links?

re: How do you solve it?

You don't. At least, not how Google does it. Google is trying to act like the government of the internet and tries to manipulate behavior into things that align with Google's goals - primarily making money via AdWords. To achieve this goal, they try to discredit competing advertising paid link systems because they break Google's system. It's akin to twitter making it all but impossible to have a successful twitter client.

At some point, there is too much money in the current system to render what Google's webspam team does as much more than an elaborate game of whack-a-mole. They hit spam, more spam pops up elsewhere.

The only way for Google to make their algorithm better is to take out or dial back the "buyable" elements - the social ones like links, tweets, facebook fans, etc. They did this pretty effectively with AdWords over the years. It's harder with organic results, but not impossible. Arguably, for many people you could put 10 reasonable, relevant, non-spam results on the front page of a given search term and it would be "good enough" for many people. Something akin to DuckDuckGo.

Since this is a non-trivial problem what Google is doing is basically better than anyone else so far, and there is a lot of value in the social signals if only because it makes people care more about Google than they care about ranking on Twitter or Facebook. So, kudos to Google on what they're doing, but there is nothing inherent to search that requires a link to be a vote or for that to be such an important relevance factor.

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Google punishes people that buy links, just like our government punishes people that buy votes. That sets up an incentive to not do it. I would say, this problem is not in the "can't fix" category.

Just like in real politics, Google must tread carefully. You can't arrest the president because someone bought votes on his behalf, just like Google can't nuke a site because it has purchased links.

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Extending that analogy though, the government can punish people buying votes, but that doesn't stop the billion dollar lobbying industry from shaping public policy.

The incentive doesn't disappear, as there is a great deal to be gained by being bumped up search results. They raise the costs or circumventing the system, but that just means people look elsewhere. Its an arms race.

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Except Google does nuke sites all the time for buying links...

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