Debate Breaks Out Over 'Tag Spam'

Friends and foes of search engine optimizers locked horns at this week's Search Engine Meeting in Boston.
The price paid for a high ranking Google's search list, can be counterproductive, because the often-deceptive methods to generate hits don't reflect real Web site content, according to a speaker at this week's Search Engine Meeting in Boston.

"You can try to trick Web sites by embedding tag spam," said Steve Arnold, a speaker at the meeting. "It can work when the robot comes to the page, but it's misleading. Why not just put the content up and let the content speak for itself?"

Tag spam is unrelated tags appearing alongside relevant tags.

Arnold, managing director of Arnold Information Technology and the author of a book on Google, generated considerable debate at the meeting. Many use a variety of tactics that they believe are legitimate to generate traffic to their Web sites. Arnold estimates the search engine optimization (SEO) business is a $200 million a year industry. He counts consulting only in that figure, and does not include software. Arnold said SEO is largely a waste of money.

Taking issue with Arnold was Mike Moran, an IBM executive, who said he believed Arnold went too far in condemning some legitimate hit-generating tactics. "Steve does seem to pine for the days when all documents were manually classified by trained librarians and researchers," Moran said on his blog. "… Steve goes too far when he describes every technique that makes content attractive to a search engine as 'spam.'

Moran, who said that IBM had jumped its Product Lifecycle Management page from number 175 in Google to number 1 by adding keywords to the page, said adding the keywords didn't constitute "spamming." Arnold didn't disagree, but he stuck to his guns that heavy manipulation of Web sites is counterproductive in the long run.

"One problem is that people don't want to expose content to Google," said Arnold, referring to the entire problem of home page traffic. "The payoff is so high from cheating. If your search is on Google's first page, you'll get a lot of clicks. If you're on the second page, you don't exist."

Arnold noted that Google and the other major search engines providers Yahoo, Microsoft and don't like the manipulation and tricks employed to generate hits. They all employ algorithms to find and counter manipulation they disapprove of.

One long-term solution, according to Arnold, would be for standards organizations to develop and implement search standards. He noted that the federal government is sponsoring some standards efforts that could be effective in keeping abusive search engine optimizers under control.

"I believe that when your kid types in 'white house,' the President's home should appear, and not a porn site," he said referring to the infamous site--with no connection to the White House in Washington -- that has risqu content.