Google Bowling For Dollars

Mar 29, 2006 • 9:14 am | comments (1) by | Filed Under Search Engine & SEO Theory

There has been a discussion going on for well over a year about "Google Bowling." This is a theory that discusses the potential to negatively impact competitor search engine rankings by creating "unsavory" links to said competitor's pages. Google publicly denies this is possible, yet many in the industry feel that it is very possible. I have always been in the camp that feels that there is nothing that a competitor could do to affect my rankings negatively. Yet recently I have had to think seriously about this, because of the undeniably bad effects experienced by many websites that have been linked-to from so called "bad neighborhoods" ("PPC's"-Pills, Porn, and Casino sites being the unfortunate majority in this Internet community).

A thread started at Search Engine Roundtable Forums on March 16 leads to an interesting case study presented by an anonymous competitor in a recent SEO Contest. He feels that he was inadvertently "Google bowled" because his site solicited links in order to win the contest, and promised the winnings would be donated to a charity. Thus:

LOTS of people thought that donating the prize money to a good cause was a great thing, and so added links on their web sites to mine ... and in several situations, site-wide links.

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, I don't feel that sitewides can hurt, but that they could be discounted. The case study goes on to support a few more interesting theories, in my opinion, including:

What is new/unique about Google Bowling is the concept of negative weighting. If Google detects unnatural linking patterns, instead of devaluing or discarding that link weight, it may count against you…
I personally still don't buy this. One question I would have about the case study is the behavior of the rest of the top 10/15. Where they still the same or did he drop with a bunch of others?

The current discussion is at the Rountable Forum as well as Cre8asite

Rand actually started a discussion about this topic last November that Barry covered. Todd Malicoat aka Stuntdubl listed it as one of his top twenty contradictions earlier in the year at SEW Forum (before he was saving all his good stuff for his blog :). (**Added: I wanted to mention that I found another recently published and interesting viewpoint on this topic at ISEDB by Tinu Abayomi-Paul)

One more thing: at first I was a bit apprehensive about posting about this, thinking it may tip off even more tricksters. However, if this is an issue, perhaps it should be more in the open so that maybe a new subject line for Google's SPAM complaint center and for the Cuttlets (just added to my spellchecker) could be "I've been bowled." A site owner could identify specifically which links he felt were hurting him and G could come back with a vague answer.

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