Matt Cutts, McAfee and Malware

Recently, Matt Cutts posted about how Google was fighting the good fight against malware. This was a welcome announcement, and one I was very pleased to hear about.

I am also aware of a recent independent report by McAfee that lends a certain amount of credibility to Googles claims. I use McAfee's Site Advisor myself and have been pretty happy with the results. I use it as part of my link-building toolset, testing sites against it before submitting.

According to the report, Google appears to be doing fairly well in it's fight against malware, at least in it's organic search.

Too bad the same can't be said of MSN and Yahoo.

According to McAfee, this is the ranking of the major search engines search engines in terms of being free of malware-infested results pages (ie safest to worst):

1. AOL
2. Google
3. Ask
4. MSN Live
5. Yahoo

The report pointed out that Google had increased in safety since the last study, but MSN and Yahoo had both decreased in safety. I'm not sure that McAfee is aware that Google provides AOL's listings, or Ask's PPC ads, so the results in their charts need to be interpreted in that light, IMO.

Bribery, or Sleeping at the Switch?

Let's look a bit deeper at the McAfee report:

In our analysis, search engines' sponsored (paid advertising) results are approximately three times as likely to lead to red and yellow sites as are organic (non-paid) results. This result reflects well on organic search ranking algorithms, but it also indicates that search engines receive substantial payments from risky sites.

The more cynical readers may come to the conclusion that Google and the other search engines are 3 times more willing to look the other way if you bribe them with PPC dollars.

I'm not sure that's accurate, but it certainly looks like someone is asleep at the switch, at the very least.

Now, I know that no one is perfect, and that malware-serving scum are not exactly advertising that they are malware, so obviously some slack should be cut. But how much?

In practice, as much as your competitor, that's how much. If your results are more likely to contain malware than a competing search engine, then that's bad, and it makes you look bad, because it means either you are not trying hard enough, or that you are not "smart" enough. It can't be because it's not technically possible, because your competitor is doing it!

Top 10 Most Dangerous Keywords in Search

One other interesting factoid from the McAfee report - the top ten most dangerous keywords:

  1. bearshare
  3. free screensavers
  4. winmx
  5. screensavers
  6. limewire
  7. kazaa
  8. free ringtones
  9. ringtones
  10. lime wire

Looks like the people most at risk for malware are those that are looking for free or illegal software, which doesn't surprise me in the slightest. It's pretty much the only way one can make money off of that group of people - it's not like they are looking to buy anything. It would make no sense to pay for a PPC ad to someone looking for a free screensaver unless you have something other than free screensavers to offer, and a way to "convert" them - either by powerful upselling to legitimate products, or malware.

I'm glad that the search engines are looking at malware for their organics, though obviously MS and Yahoo need to improve. But the PPC issue is a huge disappointment for all involved. It really does look like a little money goes a long way if you are a malware provider.

If the search engines really want to convince people they can be trusted, they might want to begin looking at fixing malware associated with PPC.

Otherwise, the cynics are going to start getting louder and more numerous. Dominance in search is all about trust, and it always has been. Lose it, and you lose your users.


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