As the never-ending battle of search engines vs. marketers marches on, it occurs to me that (in some instances, at least) only half-heartedly fighting may be in the best interests of the engine itself.
Unlike the virus writer vs. anti-virus company war, where the parasite is necessary for the host to survive, in the search realm it’s easy for the engines to claim they don’t want or need those who seek to gain advantage from holes in their algorithms.
In traditional SEO battles, this may have been true. Cloaking, paid links, scraping, keyword stuffing; Google fought these and largely saw their best interests served.
Now, Google is in shaky territory, where winning the battle may cost them the war. This is the trouble with expanding into other markets and against new competitors; the old rules just don’t apply.
The Incentive for Google+ to Allow Spamming and Abuse
Google+ is Google’s latest major attempt to launch into a new market. The biggest problem they face is that, as with any Google property with marketing potential, marketers looking to use/abuse the system are often faster than Google itself at finding loopholes.
This raises a big question: Is it actually in Google’s best interests to stop abuse of the system, or should they simply monitor what’s happening and address it later? There are pros and cons for Google on both sides. This question exists thanks to the race to gain social media market share.
Right now, Facebook and Twitter are the frontrunners in the quest to dominate the social media space. Their success is measured in users and their time on the site.
While spammers won’t necessarily help with the latter, they certainly contribute to the former. On the other hand, it’s a problem if spam becomes so prevalent that real users walk away.
Bottom line: the media reports on total users and what they’re doing. If media outlets don’t hype the launch when registration opens up, Google+ could be in big trouble. One might suggest it is in Google’s best interests to be strict on accounts people will watch closely and a little looser on generic accounts, to help push their numbers up.
Let’s look at some of the Google+ features more prone to abuse and why Google may be tempted to leave the gate open for a while, allowing limited spamming.
When we think of search engine spam, we generally think of ways of getting content to rank. Because Google+ comments and posts are crawled and indexed, they are ripe for abuse.
It would likely require solid accounts to rank well over time; however, I’ve found many long tail phrases that bring up profiles for people like Matt Cutts. Sure, they’re long tail and sure he’s a solid user, but one can imagine that with many “massaged” accounts, connected intelligently, and with just the right content, Google could benefit not only from the extra users, but also the additional pageviews. This benefits Google and is the natural byproduct of the heaps of traffic attainable from just a few visits per profile.
Buying Google +1’s
Seasoned SEOs will remember the day that little green bar called PageRank appeared and links became a commodity. Immediately, services selling high PageRank links in high volumes sprung up.
Google +1’s are no different. Shortly after an SEO value was placed on the +1, companies began offering them for a price.
If you ask Google, this is a violation and they don’t like it.
Let’s look at it another way: +1’s are a commodity and Google accounts have to be set up to initiate them. Webmasters are likely (though not necessarily) going to add them to their sites to get those +1’s spread across multiple pages easily. Google can then release their +1 view stats and usage with pride. This isn’t to say there isn’t solid use of the feature without spammers, but it’s inarguable that they are in the reported mix and enhancing Google’s announcements and numbers.
Standard Comment Spamming
Then there’s the standard comment spam, just to get the message out to followers. This is probably the peskiest type of abuse for users, but again, this method of spamming really only works in large volumes.
As we all learned with Twitter, to get these large volumes you need large numbers of accounts. So while Google would need to make sure these accounts don’t annoy their valued users, in the numbers game they need them for authority with the press and users; they actually benefit more from letting them linger.
Intentional or Not…
Before I get jumped on in the comments for suggesting that Google purposely turns a blind eye to spam accounts (with discussions about their celebrity verification policies, etc.), what I’m saying at this point is that they do benefit from the spam taking place within Google+. They may not have asked for it, but people talk numbers when measuring a social media platform’s success. Like it or not, those numbers are in the mix and directly benefit Google.