This Is A Job For….The Search Police

I have a story for you today which I’m pretty sure nobody else has noticed….especially nobody in Mountain View, Redmond or Sunnyvale. The Senate Commerce Committee is currently wrestling with the annoying problem of Moving Brokers. This is the service/scam where companies advertise a low cost moving service but don’t reveal that what the client thought was the entire moving fee was in fact a ‘binding deposit’ and if the customer wants to get their stuff delivered they have to pay the moving company additional fees. I agree it’s an obnoxious scam and one that ironically one of my sons fell prey to only recently. He ended up paying more than the quote (actually I paid more than the quote but who’s counting?) The committee is seeking to remedy it by asking the search engines not to return results from these offenders. Much of the business they land (naturally) comes from search and the committee has convinced themselves that these bad actors and somehow ‘gaming’ the system to get top rank. Any cursory inspection of the results for these kinds or queries reveals that there are indeed several (to my mind anyway) clear examples of spammers using black hat ‘SEO’ techniques to get their results to the top. Some of the other results may be bad brokers hiding behind well produced content rich sites. It’s very hard to tell….and that’s exactly the point.

In theory the plague of algorithmic releases Google has unleashed in the past year or so (Panda, Panda II, Penguin etc) was supposed to deal with such blatant spamming. Whilst it has certainly impacted the bad actors significantly (and in so doing hurt the good guys quite a bit too) it’s clearly still a long way from solved. It’s interesting that the Senate took this opportunity to get involved. We would more typically see them summoning the search guys to the hill to be raked over the coals for monopolistic behavior or privacy infringement. What they are simply asking for in their actually well reasoned letter is for the search engines to do a better job. It looks like a reasonable request but it’s really like asking me to lose 50lbs…it’s simple but not easy. The dirty secret is that whilst it is harder for the lazy or incompetent to spam high value terms the determined can still do it. If the bounties are high then the incentive is there to misbehave.

The search engines have always claimed that they don’t police individual results rather they set algorithmic tests of quality which raise or lower all boats. There are excellent DMCA reasons for doing this but in cases where high value Spam is this obvious how hard would it be to tweak an algo which looked for the obvious bad acts carried out by the bad guys in specific high value verticals and ban their domains as opposed to attempting to fix the few by boiling the ocean of all search…..not rocket science I’m betting.

I have moved many times over recent years and it’s a painful process. Perhaps the hardest part was getting quotes from viable suppliers. They guys you might want to use hide behind submission forms which trigger ruthless and dogged pursuit by sales guys who always want an in person meeting, which makes it so much easier to just book the job online from a smaller site who might be a bad broker in disguise. If I could go through my house and fill out a form with enough info so that one of the big guys could take my booking and not trigger that sales pursuit I would have done it. Instead I did it online and got caught.

Miss Moneypenny….Get me the Search Police stat!

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