Google Blogoscoped

Monday, November 26, 2007

WikiAnswers’ Search Engine Optimization, Google’s chosen site for dictionary look-ups on search result pages, sure knows how to search engine optimize.

On WikiAnswers, they offer a neat concept (in a rather bad implementation, I think) of a Q&A site where answers can be edited by many people over time, wiki-style. According to, which cites WikiAnswers itself and ComScore numbers, the Google AdSense-driven site is quite popular, too, with over a million questions asked and growing user sign-ups. The homepage of the site has a Google PageRank of 7; around 803,000 pages are indexed in Google.

Now, as there may be many ways to phrase the same question, individual Q&A pages include a footnote with alternative spellings and phrasings. For instance, the original question “Which breed of horse originated in Czechoslovakia?” receives a footnote reading “Other users have said this is the same as: 8 Which breed of horse originated in Czechoslovakia Clue Only gray and blacks are bred today? 8which breed of horse originated in Czechoslovakiaclueonly grays and blacks are bred today?” and so on, for over 8,000 characters all in all.

Google’s self-proclaimed litmus test for whether something is search engine spam is to check if pages are made for users, or for search engines (their webmaster guidelines include quality guideline “Make pages for users, not for search engines”). I can’t imagine any human would actually read through the alternate spellings offered by WikiAnswers for fun or education, so I suppose it’s meant exclusively for search bots; it’s specifically not hidden, though. Who thinks this is search engine spam that would requitre a penalty in Google rankings, and who thinks this stuff should be allowed as a way to have one’s page ranked for relevant query variants?

Update: Someone identifying themselves as a WikiAnswers Community Coordinator in the comments notes that this particular page’s footnote has now been removed, but tries to defend the general practice, which still persists throughout many other pages on the site (e.g. the Q&A on the iPhone). The Community Coordinator does pretty much admit though that their practice targets search engines, not humans, by saying the footnote’s “placement was chosen as a convenient and out-of-sight location, as not to clutter the primary Q&As and related features – while also helping search engines know what the pages are all about.”
(Again, the Google webmaster guidelines argue webmasters ought to “Make pages for users, not for search engines.” Google considers going against this or other of their guidelines an “illicit” practice which “may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise penalized.”)


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