Blekko Launches Spam Clock To Keep Pressure On Google

Every hour, one million spam pages are created. That’s a stat that start-up search engine Blekko has now put out — complete with a new “Spam Clock” showing a count-up of spam pages created since the first of the year.

Currently, the Spam Clock estimates that there’s been about 155 million spam pages made since January 1. Blekko CEO Rick Skrenta talks more about the clock on his personal blog here.

Don’t confuse that figure with the total amount of spam pages on the web. That figure is probably in the billions.

How Bad Is Spam? And Is It Killing Google?

Is spam a big problem? Sure — spam can certainly make it harder for any search engine, including Blekko, to present the best results. But is spam in particular killing Google? That’s the impression you might get if you’ve been reading some of the posts that have been making the rounds of the technology circles recently. It’s one reason why I think Blekko also put up its spam clock — to help keep pressure on this issue in general and Google in particular.

It’s sort of a New Year’s tradition now. Last year — in December 2009 — Paul Kedrosky wrote about the difficulties in finding good information about dishwashers in advance of a purchase on Google.

This year, we’ve had another round — and Kedrosky’s article is often lumped in with them, despite being a year old. What’s the New Year given us?

Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Google from guest author Vivek Wadhwa on TechCrunch covers how apparently only Blekko’s date sorting could handle certain types of research.
Trouble In the House of Google from Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror covers how scraper sites were apparently making it harder for Google to surface Atwood’s own content.
Google’s decreasingly useful, spam-filled web search from Marco Arment of Instapaper talks about the problem of Q&A sites flooding Google with horrible content.

Sure, Google Has Problems

I agree with much of this, and others in the search marketing industry have also been noticing it last year (Jill Whalen; Rand Fishkin).

Date sorting IS an issue at Google (see Up Close With Google Search Options), though I’m pretty sure Bing and Blekko might have similar issues. Eventually, I’ll get back to revisit this.

Scraped content as Atwood describes is definitely a problem and especially irritating when you understand that Google earns off of that. The Google Sewage Factory, In Action: The Chocomize Story that I wrote last July has more about this:

On the other hand, it’s clear how much garbage that Google has caused to be generated, simply by publishing the trends. But that garbage wouldn’t happen, if it didn’t know it was going to be rewarded. It is, both with traffic from Google and from revenue from Google for those carrying its ads.

The Q&A sites are a real problem, and I’ve been compiling examples myself for a future article about how often these annoyingly get ranked well purporting to offer answers but actually fail to do so.

Moreover, I’ve been increasingly concerned that Google’s results simply don’t seem up to the standards that people might expect. The articles below go into more depth about this:

But No One Really Knows If Relevancy Is Down

But here’s the thing. I don’t know that Google’s relevancy has actually decreased. Nor does anyone above who has posted articles recently. We have feelings about this, but these feelings don’t take into account a number of other factors:

  • We expect more from Google than we do in the past, searching for things we might not have in previous years
  • We don’t remember all the successful searches, focusing on when things go bad.
  • We probably don’t do a comparison check on Bing or Blekko to see if they performed better, nor do we use those services on a regular basis to understand if they’re also “failing” to the degree we might feel Google does.
  • Our expectations of Google are higher.

Highs & Lows

Expectations are especially important. Over the years, I’ve seen Google heralded as even being godlike for its ability to find information, despite the fact that search engines before Google actually often worked well and those after it also worked well and sometimes outperformed it.

There was a press love affair when Google first came out. There continues to be a consumer love affair, in my mind, that the Google brand on search results can make them seem better. There have been several studies in the past where just putting the Google logo on someone else’s results will make a consumer think the results are superior.

I think we’re finally seeing this slip back on Google. Just as its achievements were inflated into super-greatness, now its results are blown-up into huge failures. The reality is that millions of people do millions of successful searches on Google each day. If there was a big problem, it would be losing share massively. It’s not. Also see Andrew Goodman’s take on this, Search Isn’t Broken Because One Guy Had Trouble Using Google.

Speaking Of Relevancy…

Meanwhile, here’s a quick taste of Blekko, for a search on locksmith in orange county:

Looking at those results, and having done this type of search in the past, I already know what to expect. A bunch of companies not really based in Orange County, California but rather referral services. And the first result seems to deliver that:

That’s not necessarily spam. This company probably will get me to a locksmith in Orange County. But it’s a page created specifically to hopefully win in the search results. All those hyphens in the domain name are a dead giveaway. It’s not a “real” business — and Blekko is rewarding it. So’s Google, by the way — same number one spot. At Bing, it ranks number five – some other referral service gets the number one spot.

Time For Relevancy Metrics?

So, a little perspective. I do think Google needs to improve. I would like to see Google, Bing and perhaps Blekko back a third-party independent group to do regular, industry-accepted relevancy ratings so that we’re getting past the “I think things are worse” perception to really knowing if they are. It’s something I’ve pushed for since 2002. I’ll have more to say about that in a future post, perhaps reviving the idea.

More About Search Engine Spam

In the meantime, if you want to understand more about search engine spam, see our What Is Search Engine Spam? The Video Edition post. And at our upcoming SMX West search marketing conference in San Jose, we’re taking another look at this in our The Spam Police session.

Postscript from Matt McGee: Pure speculation here: I can’t help but wonder if this is part of collaborative effort with another small search engine, DuckDuckGo, to hit Google on areas where it may be seen as vulnerable.

Just a few days ago, DuckDuckGo launched, a direct challenge to Google on privacy/tracking issues. Now, Blekko launches, an indirect challenge to Google on spam. And Blekko and DuckDuckGo have been formal partners for at least a few months. Is it coincidence that the two would launch these projects just days apart?

Related Topics: Blekko | Channel: Strategy | Features: Analysis | Stats: Relevancy | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Michael Martinez

    Here’s the problem with all the complaints about Google’s relevancy (including my own through the years): Who gets to define what is “relevant”? Users have different tastes and different needs, and according to the Wikipedia Principle “a search engine intentionally promotes low quality content that is minimally acceptable to searchers because it costs less to do that than to promote better content.”

    “Intentionally” means that as soon as the search engine reaches a generally acceptable level of user satisfaction, its economic incentive to improve the quality of results diminishes. Happy Users = Point of No Further Searching.

    As long as the users are the arbiters of what is satisfactory, one can hardly expect search results match the criteria laid down by experts.

  • nexcerpt

    Something at Google is profoundly broken. Google News (as you’ve noted) is beginning to miss the obvious, and promote the absurd. For example, I’ve come upon major failures (of attribution and provenance) over issues as diverse as BetaNews content ( ), Oprah Winfrey announcements ( ), and local ballet companies ( ).

    Years ago, well before Google — when the universe of advisors included you, Greg, Tara, Genie and a few others — SEO advice was intended to help real people, with valuable content, reach people who needed it. A deep hint might have been: “Identify the subject of your page in the first paragraph.” But, once “consulting” in that space began, all hell broke loose. The anchors were ripped free; the world wobbled.

    Google has itself to blame. By drumming up such mystique around PageRank, and “answering” so many “questions” about optimizing for it, Google created the monstrosity we know as the SEO industry. The industry produces nothing; it feeds on its own relentless failure; it is the intellectual equivalent of daytrading; it is the moral equivalent of stock manipulation. It’s a scourge upon a once promising landscape.

    Google deserves to suffer from the very sleight of hand it has long encouraged. It’s unfortunate that so many others need to suffer along.

  • Jill Whalen

    That’s what makes this all so difficult. It’s not that the pages that show up aren’t relevant–as mostly they are.

    In my mind, it’s the methods used to get them there that are spammy, and Google seems to be turning a blind eye to that. Which certainly makes it feel like they don’t truly care whether you use spam tactics or not, despite what they tell us.

  • PXLated

    “The reality is that millions of people do millions of successful searches on Google each day. If there was a big problem, it would be losing share massively.”
    Not necessarily true, it’s the default search almost everywhere. If all this press about the decline in results hits the main stream so people (other than tech blog readers) hear about it and start taking notice, then you just might see a big exodus.

  • armaani

    If there were a way to remove pages with Google ads from Google search results, the Google search results would be much better.

  • George Michie

    One other Machiavellian possibility comes from being mindful of how Google makes money in the short term and the long term.

    In the short term, Google makes zero dollars from organic search results that don’t contain Google ads on the destination page. If the SERPs become less relevant and more spammy, in the short run G makes more money from organic search. Moreover, if the organic results become less relevant then by definition the paid results become relatively more relevant increasing the CTR on paid listings and boosting short-term revenues again.

    In the long term, Google makes its money by being the choice of the lion’s share of users, and if relevancy suffers they jeopardize there long-term revenue.

    The balancing act between long-term and short-term views could explain a great deal. This seems to be manifested in the Google Product team caring only about mechanisms for delivering great results, and the sales team/business team being driven to grow short term revenue to meet Wall Street expectations. Interesting to see if relevance becomes more of an issue around the time of quarterly earnings calls :-)

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