April 10, 2004

"Mesothelioma", lawyer games, and Google

"Mesothelioma", a form of lung cancer induced by asbestos exposure, is apparently a top selling ad keyword. It seems there's an eBay-like effect where prices are bid up, at least according to a recent article making the rounds, on search engine ads and Mesothelioma lawyers. And this leads inevitably to "interesting" search engine optimization:

The high price of mesothelioma ads has had some unintended consequences as firms try other means to land mesothelioma patients. In particular, some firms are attempting to boost their Web sites' spot on search engines' so-called algorithmic, or nonpaid, listings by tweaking the content and links to get a higher ranking. These efforts can include using the desired keywords (like "mesothelioma") frequently near the top of their home page, and including them in the Web address.

Due to these efforts, eight of the top 10 nonpaid listings in a recent Google search of "mesothelioma" were for sites sponsored by law firms, pushing down nonlawyer sites such as the National Cancer Institute. By comparison, a search for "cancer" a tamer ad category produces the American Cancer Society as the top nonpaid result.

Yup. The National Cancer Institute's Mesothelioma: Questions and Answers page is around #12 for a Google search.

I've said this before, but I should make the following into a catch-phrase:

Google ranks popularity, not authority

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 10, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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Alright, what about the "define:" feature?


Just looking at the first few search results doesn't seem to show anything misleading... I can have a good physician friend actually look at this information... a proper case-study of course would balance the quality of information, how it is framed and presented, etc.

Posted by: joe at April 11, 2004 11:42 AM

You can quantifie popularity... that is easy to understand. How would you quantifie "authority" ?

Would it be a number one site if it was about a policeman's views ?...the presidents ? or Jesus ?

Can you explain this to me Seth ?...or what is it here that I am missing ?

Posted by: Bob Turner at April 11, 2004 03:26 PM

"Authority" as, roughly, accuracy, best available knowledge, most correct as far as we know.

That is, as in a sentence like "The National Cancer Institute has authoritative information on mesothelioma".

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 11, 2004 04:51 PM

Oh...OK...that is what I was missing...I understand what you meant now...

I don't think it will ever be able to quantifie authority in any "sane and reasonable manner"...

as you state...

"Google ranks popularity, not authority" ...

and as my friend Martha Stewart would say

"thats a good thing"....

Posted by: Bob Turner at April 12, 2004 02:46 AM

I believe Seth's point was that people mistake one for the other: if it's got a high Google ranking, it must be authoritative, because otherwise it wouldn't be so popular.

Posted by: mythago at April 12, 2004 11:53 AM


Yes I believe you are correct.

In the same way that a celebrity has a prime time
"political voice" because of movie star status...this is mistaken as "credibility" (for some people) ...due to popularity.

And so goes google.

However, the good thing about that is popularity is quantifiable. The problem is with the end viewer's interpretation who may be non discriminating. Hence, pop may = authority.

Authority is tricky .....back to police? scientist? the bible?...what authority do you bow down to ?

So I don't blame google for quantifying pop ...because it would be "hideous" if it
attempted to "determined" authority...

Imagine a ranking system in order of "authoritative source" ...by what and who's authority ? It would boil down to "what do the designers believe"

How do you quantifie authority ? and furthermore do you want to quantifie authority.

I say no, not a good thing.

That is what I'm trying to get at...

Thus being said I will point out that I'm somewhat cynical, sceptical, and perhaps even godless when it comes to concepts of authority and experts ....so I do realize that others differ on this point.

Posted by: Bob Turner at April 12, 2004 01:39 PM

So I decided to run a small experiment.

I set up a blogspot blog with the delightful title

[Link to www.mesotheliomaattorney.blogspot.com edited - SF ] Mesothelioma Attorney

[Jay, sorry for the edit, not that I'd mind myself, but I think that such a "pure" test site might annoy the Googlebot and I DON'T want to do that! - Google *does* officially check my site! - SF]

It has Adsense ads on it and so far, a day in, I am afraid to say I cannot yet afford a Porsche. Not even a Hot Wheels Porsche. I'd give the tiny number but the Google bot is all seeing and it might violate the Terms of Service.

I'll keep you posted.

Posted by: Jay Currie at April 12, 2004 07:05 PM