Google’s Universal Search Spam Problem.

September 8, 20130 Comments

Google still have a massive uphill battle on their hands when it comes to real time results.

Attempting to filling that particular hole, Universal Search provides not only a series of links, but now, video, news content, and images in the search results. As they move into more and more verticals, we can only expect that to increase, and potentially integrate with Google+ if they ever manage to get that off the ground.

The below diagram explains it to the uninitiated..

universal-search

So what type of content now shows in search?

Search Metrics have, for a number of years now, provided information on the share and distribution of the differing types of content, and the frequency that you can expect them to appear in the search results. This infographic explains alot of it, showing that video content , particularly optimised YouTube videos continues to be a pretty reliable way of appearing in the results. News content from Google news, (detail on getting listed over here) is also up there, and if you happen to have the advantage of being a news publisher, you’ll know only too well, that these types of breaking news stories are your best friend for traffic.

So how do Google work out when to show a video over another one? Well, view count is a factor. How many people watch the whole way through a video is another. How many people link to that particular video is another. (p.s. If you are more interested in how to get video to rank better, you’ll not find a better resource than the guys at ReelSEO).

How spammers use this to their advantage.

The underlying problem with breaking news and real time queries for any search engine, is that, due to their very nature there aren’t enough signals around the web to determine quality and let the great content shine through. Combine that with the Universal search algorithm, and you have trouble on your hands.

Good video content hasn’t yet been made. Videos haven’t yet had enough views. Links don’t yet exist. All their algorithms can go on at this point is, “Is there a video on Youtube? And does it look like it might match this query?“.

Here’s the SEO recipe that spammers are currently using to profit from this

1) Find publications that are notorious for breaking news on the web. e.g. Techcrunch, Engadget, The Verge, Business Insider, Mashable
2) Grab the RSS feed from those services, and combine them.
3) Run the RSS feed through a text to speech video service. Something like Voice to RSS.
4) Use something like GoAnimate to create low budget video content.
5) Automate, Upload to YouTube, run Adsense on your video
6) Wait for the money to roll in month end

Here’s an example of how content from Business Insider has managed to make it’s way into a shiny video. Published 8 hours ago, and yet a video exists for it. A video which provides absolutely no value for end users, and yet is making decent Adsense revenue. If you simply rely on bringing back results if they exist rather than asking the social web for answers, this is going to happen, and there are still no signs of Google+ being integrated into results in this way.

How News publishers exploit Universal Search

Newspapers are hardly much better. Using the power of Universal Search, they understand that popular search queries are fantastic traffic fodder.

Here’s the recipe their SEO teams are using to drive traffic.

1) Setup a pagewatch /pagechange service
2) Point it at the Google homepage
3) Write a low quality article on the Google Doodle.
4) Wait for the traffic to roll in.

Or

5) Watch the Google Trends Service , or Twitter Trends like a Hawk
6) Write a low quality article on a hot term
7) Wait for the traffic to roll in

Due to the fact that Universal Search wants to return newspaper content for breaking stories, and hot search terms, they win. The Guardian, and The Telegraph are both notorious for it.

Both of these issues, are glaring holes in Google’s real time search armour, being exploited and until the search results start changing in real time, they are never going to be able to keep up with finding the quality content in the ways that social media can.

It’s a problem that Google themselves have created, and the bottom line is that clicks on Adsense adverts (regardless of their quality), still lines their pockets.

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