11:47 PM

PageRank assassination and other nefarious online activities

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

I've been thinking a lot about the many ways companies can engage in new types of competitive battles for the pole position on that first page of Google's search engine results--which is defined by your PageRank.

Over on ZDNet, I've been writing about the potential for PageRank assassination and other nefarious acts of information warfare:

I'm not an advocate of search engine optimization techniques--beyond the basics. Because I believe you should optimize your site for your customers and not the spiderbots. Let the search engines optimize themselves to find the right content--it's their job.

However, the techniques of search engine optimization have potential application in the reverse: they can be used for PageRank assassination. [PageRank is the relative importance Google assigns to a web site] You can apply SEO techniques to potentially cripple an online competitor by making it seem as if it is engaging in forbidden SEO practices.

Google has strict policies on what you can and cannot do to make yourself visible to its spiderbots. And other search engines also try to root out web sites that are using SEO techniques to try and trick them into a higher PageRank.

Google will dumb-down the PageRank of a web site if it believes it is engaging in non-prescribed SEO practices. And it has even banned the web site of a large corporation, BMW in Germany, to show that small and large companies can be banned from its index.

The potential for competitors taking potshots at each others' online reputation is just too tempting. And such activities can be easily disguised.

And there are many other strategies of online competitive warfare that could tempt companies, such as renting a zombie network for an afternoon or two to mount a DNS attack on a competitor.

But it doesn't have to be sneaky. Public companies are vulnerable to scrutiny by the media and investors. A competitor could encourage the scrutiny of certain weak business groups, as an example. Bringing attention to problem business groups within a competitor can be easily done in many ways . . .

[Please continue reading . . .]