Google's advantage, of course, is that its page-ranking means that the Web sites you find are less likely to be affected by how many keywords they can cram in, and more by which other important sites are linking to them. The theory is that lame sites won't be linked-to by important sites, and that therefore they won't show up high in your search results. And the theory usually works pretty well, which is why Google is my preferred engine.
The GeekPress article says that a search on "Liv Tyler nude" has as its top results some links all going to the same site which has Liv Tyler (allegedly) nude. Well, OK then. If you think that's a problem.
Google's CTO Craig Silverstein comments that that particular search query doesn't, "as far as we can tell, have any good results -- in our spot check, for instance, we couldn't actually find any Web sites that show Liv Tyler in the nude. When there are no good results out there, Google's results can be somewhat arbitrary, so it's not particularly surprising this site was first."
When I randomly checked the names of more popular actresses, plus the word "nude," the supposed-scam in question didn't pull down any especially good hits.
This was confirmed by the adult site itself. When I e-mailed its representative, he claimed their ranking for more popular celebrities like Cindy Crawford and Pamela Anderson were way down the Google list: 22nd, 38th, and worse.
And, protesting the "scam" label, he pointed me to a good article on bridge pages. The technique they're using is a popular method of getting hits which -- as long as the destination pages bear relevance to the search terms, which they here do -- is in the gray area usually considered aggressive self-promotion. It's a trick more or less ignored by the search engines until it's combined with other less-savory tricks.
(That article, and most of searchenginewatch.com, makes for fascinating reading if you're interested in the arms race for your eyeballs being fought between engines and webmasters.)
Also, the adult site operator says his site has gotten only 400 hits a day from all the bridge pages they've set up. It's hard to argue that just a few hundred clicks over to Jane Doe nude represent an extraordinary hijacking of the search term "Jane Doe nude."
Google does refine their algorithm, which incidentally like all search engines' is kept secret to avoid giving Web-spammers an edge. You may remember last year's joke of the search "more evil than Satan" pointing (mistakenly, of course) to Microsoft's homepage. As their founders comment in the recent MIT Technology Review interview, this was a little embarrassing for them, and the engine was tweaked to fix it.
And Google's CTO isn't ruling out more tweaking in the future:
In any case, we know our scoring scheme isn't perfect -- even when the sites in question aren't trying to fool us -- and we're always working to improve it. Often the problem isn't, "Why did this bad site score high?" but rather, "Why did these other good sites score low?"
We're always looking at queries that give strange-looking results to get a better understanding of how our scoring can be improved. Whether the "xnude" queries will result in tweaks to our scoring, I can't say, but we'll certainly be adding them to the test cases we look at.
Short version: the arms race continues; Google still kicks butt.