Google Denies Search Rank-fixing Allegations

Published by: Mike Goldman on 18th Apr 2011 | View all blogs by Mike Goldman
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Google Denies Search Rank-fixing Allegations

Google released a statement Monday defending its most recent update to its search algorithm that caused some popular websites to fall drastically in search rankings.  One of the worst hit sites by the “Panda” update, as Google called it, was Ciao.co.uk, a Microsoft-owned website that had been at the forefront of a developing EU competition case against the world's search leader.  Ciao's web visibility reportedly plummeted 94 percent as a result of the update, which Ciao officials say is evidence that Google rigs its rankings.

Scott Huffman, head of Google's search evaluation, said it is “almost absurd” to suggest the results were rigged.  The Mountain View, California-based company routinely makes changes to its search algorithms with the intent of weeding out “content farms”, or sites that copy material from other sites in order to drive traffic.  Where a keyword search may have previously returned a website to Google's first page, a change to the algorithm may push it down further in the rankings.

When the Panda update launched around the world on April 11th, Google published a blog entry explaining that its purpose was to “reduce rankings for low-quality sites.”  Shopping and comparison sites like Ciao.co.uk often suffer from these algorithm adjustments because they contain comments and reviews that appear elsewhere on the Internet.  A 94 percent drop, however, is extremely unusual, insiders say.

Ciao, and its parent company Microsoft, were instrumental in initiating an EU investigation into Google last November, claiming that the search giant used its dominant position to limit rivals' products.

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