The efficient market hypothesis (EMH) is an idea in the finance world that the market price for a commodity accurately reflects all information available at the moment. There’s little point in us trying to pick particular winning stocks, unless we have some very secret information. The best investment strategy involves diversifying risk so that results match the aggregate market changes.
It’s a very appealing idea because it means the laziest strategy is also the best.
Anyhow, I suspect that something sort of like EMH dominates the search engine world, but instead of prices for commodities at points in time, the market is search engine rankings and keywords. In my inchoate model, each keyword is its own market. The “price” of a given website would be how well it ranks in a search for that keyword.
I brought up EMH because if we view a website’s search engine ranking as a market price, and we make the assumption that search engines on average operate as efficiently as any other market, then ultimately, your site’s search engine ranking can’t really be pushed up through artificial means, for the same reason that you can’t push up stock prices artificially. I should make it clear that I mean that you can’t do it sustainably.
Hopping back into the financial world, an unfortunately common tactic is to run a pump-and-dump scam. The principle is simple — I own a whole bunch of shares of a company, and so I go out and promote the heck out of that company while at the same time I’m selling all my shares to all the suckers that I manage to convince. Meriill Lynch paid a $100 million fine a few years ago for doing this.
I get unsolicited email all the time with investment recommendations. These are sent from people running the same operation on a smaller scale.
Of course even if these efforts do let the dumper get out and make some money, once the market learns about what is really going on, the stock price craters. See what happened to Enron for one of the most famous examples of how the market reacts to information assymetry.
Getting to the point, these tactics may push up the price just long enough for the dumper to dump, but no serious stockholder would ever consider using a pump-and-dump scam as a long-run strategy to improve the price per share.
I think this is what search-engine marketers mean when they talk about how black-hat tactics don’t work in the long run and will likely backfire. The more I read and learn about search engine optimization and website marketing, the industry experts all seem to be really saying that you have to have good content on your site, and you have to have recommendations from the larger community. Everything I read really seems to say that the best SEO strategy is to build a really good website, rather than to build a shoddy product and market it aggressively.
In short, the invisible hand can not be denied.