TNG/Earthling : Exposing Google Failures

This is the company responsible for the super high ranks on this and many other websites. TNG/Earthling, Inc. is a technically robust search consultancy based in NYC. CEO is Bob Sakayama.

By: Tangela Marquis


The Historic Embarrassments of Google

Online businesses evolve and implement changes to improve performance over time. Patching bugs, correcting errors in messaging, updating software & tools, improving user experience, etc. If you want to grow your audience, it's good to create trust in your brand through demonstrations of competence. When you compete in a marketplace, you need to stand out and prove you're better than your competitors, not by the words used to sell but by the deeds that positively impact your audience. The proof you're the best choice. This is the benefit of competition.

When there's no competition, no one's holding you to account. When there's no competition, the consequences of bad decisions are often never more than some short term humiliation, no sales are ever lost for terrible performance. There is no strong motive to improve Quality. This is the world of Google starting at their launch (1997 - 1998). Since then from the point of view of the quality of their search results there's been a lot of humiliation. But because they are a monopoly and relatively few understood the depth of the problem, Google can afford to make embarrassing errors and not be penalized in the marketplace. You might argue that there was some harm done to those whose legitimate ranks were devalued by a competitor who figured out away to game Google. But the real harm was in the message sent to all those closely watching as Google penalized some sites flaunting their rules while others were able to use them to their advantage. But there also are those who, with Expert help, can effectively buy their way to the top. As a result, there are a lot of very smart people with very powerful tools focused on successfully influencing Google's organic search results. Some have built successful businesses around their expertise.

This link goes to a post that covers Google's biggest mistake, which enabled the corruption of the top of their search results for years with sites that effectively bought enough cheap links to trick Google's algorithm. The problem was that Google's original algorithm advantaged all links equally when evaluating ranks. This equated a link from The NY Times with a comment link on crappy blog, and did this for over 10 years - long enough for an industry to develop selling link volume because it worked. Read the post. There's a lot more to this incredible unknown story of Google's initial incompetence and their solution - to re-evaluate all ranks based on the value of each link, which then resulted in millions of sites being penalized. The public never had a clue. And most of the SEOs were too busy dealing with the loss of their revenue due to having triggered penalties on their clients' sites.

But while this was happening (2007-2012), TNG/E's Bob Sakayama was posting about many other significant failures that enabled significant cheating to propel sites to the top of Google's search results. Many of these players made a lot of money on these schemes. One area ripe for abuse was the gaming world. Gambling sites paid referrers for traffic and engagement - affiliates could earn huge amounts by ranking sites for terms like "online casino" or "slots online" or "online poker" and many other highly searched money terms. Some of the tricks used to game Google were brilliant, mixing sophisticated tactics including hacks, cloaking, and knowledge of SEO.

Hacks: The .edu sites were among the least secure, primarily because they were not platforms for commerce. But these school sites were highly respected and when hacked could provide 2 very valuable assets. The first was a source of links. As Google shifted away from link volume and move toward link quality, links from schools became very valuable, and hackers exploited this fact, posting links from hacked .edu site to their money sites, many of them cloaked. Cloaking is the process which enables a site to show the public completely different content than that shown to search engines. So a typical visitor might see a casino page, but Google was shown a page from the history department. By combining the hacks with a cloaking strategy, these smart tricksters were able to hide their con from detection.

Check out this post. It covers some very revealing examples of successful "inserts" into Google's ranks using hacked .edu sites combined with cloaking techniques that are pretty amazing. Below is a screenshot from a Google search for "online slots usa" in 2013. Note that the #3 and #6 positions are held by .edu sites.



You need to read the full post to get the larger picture of how bad this really was, but from a technical point of view, the folks at TNG/Earthling were very impressed. These ranks, and many others like them, made thousands of dollars for the folks that successfully pulled this off.

This post covers what cloaking can do. Below is a screenshot from 2011 of Google's search results for "high roller online" - note the #1 & #3 positions are held by .edu sites.



But the real trick is what Google sees compared with what a typical visitor sees. Here's what Google sees:



So Google thinks this is a page from the history department at the University of California. But the visitors who click the search result go to one of six different casino sites - better promotion than any normal rotating ads presentation because of where this is occurring - at the top of Google's page 1! Here are the six pages that visitors see, in rotation:








"Keep in mind that this is happening at the TOP of searches - in this case claiming 20% of the page 1 organic search real estate. But even more valuable searches are often showing 3 or more such results on page 1.

Now why should we care that this is not only possible, but also happening with great regularity? We think all legitimate sites should be outraged at this, and therefore at Google. Because when 2 sites come onto page 1 via cloaks, 2 legitimate sites fall off of page 1.

Not only that, but often the rank is actually hijacked from some innocent site. Since it would be prohibitively difficult to insert a high ranking result from scratch, most cloaks actually take the rank away from someone who legitimately holds the position."


This is just a small example of the types of problems that Google faced during the time that is was attempting to straighten out its huge rank problems cause by their own overly simplistic way of assessing the importance of links. So on one hand we see millions of sites getting penalized for using huge numbers of crappy links to push rank, and at the same time we find these sophisticated schemes to game Google's page 1 using hacks and cloaks to run circles around Google's enforcement efforts.

Now eventually these techniques get caught and begin to fail, thanks is no small part to robust SEOs like TNG/Earthing's Bob Sakayama who posted regularly about these kinds of rank issues. While you may think that these were just part of their growing experience and that Google finally got its act together, we suspect otherwise. Because the one thing all these techniques have in common is their brilliant invisibility. It took Bob to find them and point them out. But if you have a great scheme running that's generating good revenue by using hacks, cloaks, and whatever, you probably spent some time making the whole thing look legitimate. And if someone did make the effort to do that, it might well stay hidden from view for a good long time.