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January 07, 2009

SEO = Adversarial IR

SEO is more than often classified as an "Adversarial information retrieval" technique in the computing world.  I say this because AIRWeb for example consider "malicious attempts to influence the outcome of ranking algorithms, aimed at getting an undeserved high ranking for some items in the collection" as spam, and there is a fine line between all that black hat stuff and the white hat stuff if you define it like that.  The fact that "algorithm reverse engineering" is viewed as a spam issue does directly affect the SEO industry.  

The relationship between the SEO and the search engine can be described as adversarial because any undeserved gain in ranking for the SEO means a loss in accuracy for the search engine.

Bechetti, Baeza-Yates, Castillo, Donato and Leonardi say that "This relationship is however extremely complex in nature, both because it is mediated by the non univocal attitudes of customers towards spam, and because more than one form of Web spam exists which involves search engines" ("Link Analysis for webspam Detection", Feb 08).

"Adversarial Information Retrieval addresses tasks such as gathering, indexing, filtering, retrieving and ranking information from collections wherein a subset has been manipulated maliciously. On the Web, the predominant form of such manipulation is "search engine spamming" or spamdexing, i.e., malicious attempts to influence the outcome of ranking algorithms, aimed at getting an undeserved high ranking for some items in the collection. There is an economic incentive to rank higher in search engines, considering that a good ranking on them is strongly correlated with more traffic, which often translates to more revenue". (AIRWeb)

It's a tricky one because basically the way I see it the computer scientists would quite like to protect their work and systems and stop them being tampered with.  SEO or rather malicious techniques used to change the outcome of those systems is a right pain.  It means more work and it's annoying.  But the spammers and the SEO pros have created jobs in the search industry lets not forget :)

The SEO wants to get top rankings for his/her clients.  It's necessary to figure out how the search engines work in order to be able to make sites stand out to the search engines and be ranked higher than other competitor sites.  There is a fair bit of rubbish going on where dud sites are ranking higher than content rich, more relevant ones, but overall in Google the results are good.  In order for a website to be well optimised, it needs to be highly relevant, useful, and basically be the best for what it does.  Back in the day this wasn't the case but now things have changed for the better.  

It's good for the whitehat SEO to have engineers penalising and banning blackhat sites, they support it and cheer when "Justice" is done.  So here we can say they are on the same side, right?

Now if I also decide as an engineer to no longer use ranking to deliver my results to my users, the whole game play changes.  The relationship between SEO specialist and engineer changes.  The SEO professional can become an ally.   That list has long been deemed overly simplistic and too flat.  There is a next stage in this story, and all of the web 3.0 and beyond points to a change.  The rankings list is just an example, the whole web is undergoing a lot of change right now as well all know.

The thing is that SEO shouldn't be malicious in any way.  Why would a search engine engineer be upset about people trying to make their sites more compliant, higher quality and in the right format amongst other things?  If my vision is the semantic web for example, then I'd be pretty pleased to have these website specialists available to me, helping tag up the whole web properly and expertly.  People creating super useful, highly relevant sites in a way that works for my technology is really good news.

AIRWeb has issued a call for papers, and I think some SEO people should submit something, because they need to start explaining what it is they do and showing how expert they are at using the technology.  I see some SEO experts as being part of the computing community as well.  Why would you want to be as an SEO?  Thinking about your work and skills in terms of tools for building the web of tomorrow is a really exciting thing.  Your questions and input would be valuable I think.

  If you feel like you have something you would like to contribute check out the site.  The paper will have to be of high quality, and it's a good idea to read past papers from the collection to see what kind of format they're after.  I am sure they would welcome people from the SEO community participating.  What can you do to help them?  The organisers are Dennis Fetterly from Microsoft Research and Zoltan Gyongyi from Google Research.

Best of luck!

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Science for SEO by Marie-Claire Jenkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
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