There’s been much ado about the problem of spam and Google of late. Being something of a search weenie, as my eyelids were feeling heavy today I found myself mulling over the problem, “How would one detect Google spamming?”
The answer turns out to be surprisingly easy. Who has an incentive to spam Google? People living from advertising. Who owns the largest online display ad network? Google.
Unlike with email, where there are heuristics at work to guess the intentions of the sender based on the content, Google has that data right in front of them.
So, here’s the heresy: the spamminess of a web site is inversely proportional to its ad click-through.
Think about it — in a typical internet search, a navigation path terminating at that page is the best result. If they click on an ad, it probably means you missed serving up the right page in the first place. As a corollary, the pages best optimized to pull you in via a search term and send you back out via a related ad are among the worst results.
So if you’re Google which value do you optimize for? More ad clicks or better search results? I’m a big enough Google fan that I believe that they’d mostly want to optimize for good search results since that’s what made them the company that they are. But what do you do if there’s an inverse correlation between the two? Bite the hand that feeds you?
Thinking about things this way in my opinion makes the issue even more interesting, because it seems to hint at something systemic — i.e. that there there might be something deeper problematic in financing search through display advertising.
Obviously this is a massive oversimplification of the problem of spam, but the paradox intrigued me.