What’s the Big Deal about “Exercise Bike Clearance” and Target Gaming Google Search Results?

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There is a lot of chatter on the Internet today about the search term “Exercise Bike Clearance” and how Target has been gaming Google search results so that no matter what you search for (such as, for instance, “Exercise Bike Clearance”) you will find a link to a Target page in the top of the search results, even though Target doesn’t have the item for which you are searching. In fact, that’s even more the rub – because these Google listings pointing and linking to Target.com are a result from Target telling you that “We could not find matches for {your search term}. Please try your search again.”

So just how did Target manage to pollute Google’s search results like this – and why is Google letting them? Is it intentional or an error in coding?

Theories abound – from that Target is such a big brand and big advertiser that Google is allowing them to ‘bend the rules’ and game the system – to Target intentionally seeding their code to somehow cause these search results – to Target accidentally having found a loophole that creates these result.

We’re betting that it’s the latter explanation – first, because we believe that you should never ascribe to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity.

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But also because Target surely has much more to lose than to gain by this. While it is gaining them ranking near the top of the search results, it can only lose them good will. 15 million messages telling potential customers that they don’t have what they are searching for surely can’t be good for their image.

Our only real question is what Google is doing to do to stop this. Or, for that matter, are they?

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