Two weeks ago my wife told me about her new Googling strategy: She ignores the top-ranked items and immediately clicks through to page six of the results. All the earlier pages, she says, are larded with SEO spam—links whose ranking has been artificially inflated by some nefarious form of search-engine optimization.

When I heard this, my first thought was: Well, there’s a business opportunity! Let’s set up a search engine—we’ll call it, or maybe—that will pass each query along to Google, collect the results, discard the first five pages, and return the rest. But that daydream didn’t last long. It’s not just that Google would slap a cease-and-disist order on me. More important, there’s no need for anything as elaborate as a pass-through search engine. It can all be done with some simple scripting within the browser. The following XML, when loaded into Firefox, creates a search-bar plugin that returns Google results starting with page six.

<Description>Get page 6 from Google</Description>
<Url type="text/html" method="GET"

The crucial bit is the phrase “start=50,” highlighted in red, which skips over the first five pages of the results.

Problem solved! Mission accomplished! But then over the weekend the business section of the Times ran a long story by David Segal that both validated and undermined the page-six strategy. The validation came from the revelation that SEO manipulation of search results is blatant and widespread and all too effective. Segal revealed that J. C. Penney, the retailer, has been finagling their way to the top of the Google lists for dozens of search terms, such as “dresses,” “area rugs,” “home decor” and “furniture.” Penney’s method is to buy lots of inconspicuous links on “innocent” sites, all pointing to Penney’s pages and thereby raising their Google PageRank. I shouldn’t be surprised to learn of this practice. I get offers every week or two to place such paid links on “Who couldn’t use an extra $100, $2,000, $10,000/month or more in passive advertising income?” asked one recent enticement. The surprise, I guess, is that such a clumsy and cloddish manipulation of the search engines actually works.

So that explains why Google’s page-one results are all crap, and we’re better off skipping to page six. Unfortunately, toward the end of Segal’s story we learn that page six isn’t safe either. When Segal went to Google with the evidence of these shenanigans, Google took corrective action.

On Wednesday evening, Google began what it calls a “manual action” against Penney, essentially demotions specifically aimed at the company.

At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for “Samsonite carry on luggage.”

Two hours later, it was at No. 71.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Penney was No. 1 in searches for “living room furniture.”

By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.

In other words, all the cruft that used to be on page one is now on page six or seven or eight. My Goooooogle trick is hosed.

This entry was posted in modern life.

3 Responses to Goooooogle

  1. John Cowan says:

    In any case, it all depends on what you were looking for. Google for “hyperesthesia”, and the page 1 results are much better than the page 6 results.

  2. David Rysdam says:

    Another option is to not use Google. If we have diverse search engine ecology (where “diverse” means “they use different methods”) then any particular SEO technique is unlikely to work everywhere and you can always find what you actually want somewhere.

    Lately, I’ve been using DuckDuckGo. I don’t know if they just call Google on the back end or what, but at least it goes back to the simple UI that Google started with.

  3. Mike Breen says:


    The best part is the “page 6,” which every good scholar knows is the celeb gossip page of the venerable NY Post. Obviously this is the kind of info you and your wife are really after:

    Ex. Search on “greedy algorithm.”
    Goal: what does Lindsay Lohan think about shortsighted step-by-step processes?