Posts Tagged ‘link fraud

24
Aug
11

5 Ways SEO Can Be Used as a Weapon Against You

Be afraid! Be very afraid! The evil overlords of SEO have the power to destroy you! Well, maybe not destroy, exactly. But an unscrupulous competitor, disgruntled employee, unhappy customer, or personal enemy can use SEO techniques to cause you and your business a fair amount of grief. Some of these tactics can be defended against, some of the damages can be repaired, some of them you really may just have to live with. But you should definitely be aware that these things are out there, and happen.

  1. Google bombing. This one is a fun trick to play on Presidents and other public figures, but can also be used against businesses or non-public individuals. You may remember the “miserable failure” incident from a few years ago…  Here’s how it works. The Dark SEO Lord (DSL) marshals some substantial resource (social networks like DIGG and 4CHAN have been used this way) to generate massive quantities of links that point to your site using an unpleasant link text. If you get enough of these (and it takes fewer than you might imagine) you can end up becoming the very definition of, say, “greasy booger.” Or worse. Just ask Rick Santorum.
    SOLUTION: Maybe none. If it’s a significant attack (as was the case with the attack on George Bush) Google may be induced to step in and end it. They stopped the “miserable failure” attack after two years. The Santorum situation has been going for a while now with no signs of  changing.
  2. Bad neighborhooding. This one is devious, but not every site is vulnerable and it’s somewhat difficult to pull off.  The DSL first scans your site using a readily available link scanner looking for old links that now point to abandoned domains. (If your site is big and/or old, and you don’t do rigorous link maintenance, you probably have some.) Once the abandoned domains are identified, the DSL registers them under an assumed name. After that, it’s a simple matter of either publishing “bad” content, or 301 redirecting the site to porn, spam, phishing, or other icky places. Get a handful of these in place, and suddenly Google thinks you link to bad neighborhoods. And that can hurt.
    SOLUTION: Monitor your outbound links! Regularly! Get some link checking software, use it, and fix any broken links immediately.
  3. Link spamming. You gotta love the lengths some DSLs will go to.  This is where a whole bunch of crappy links are created (usually purchased from some spam broker) pointing to your site. They all will probably use some generic link text, just so they don’t accidentally do you very much good. This is designed to make it look like you were buying spammy links. They will then report you to Google anonymously. And your site might get penalized.
    SOLUTION: About all you can do is to file a complaint with Google. Tell them what you think happened, and supply a list of bad links. They will often just discount the links and restore your search posture. But it usually takes a while and a bunch of effort.
  4. Spoofed landing pages. Suppose your business is ACME Froo-Froo and your website is ACMEfroofroo.com. Then imagine some pissed-off DSL registers the domain acmefrofroo.com and then uses it to publish a fake homepage. Maybe it looks a lot like yours, maybe not, but it is sure to contain damaging content of some sort. Maybe “free” offers or illegal merchandise. Or maybe more subtly just full of misspellings and crappy images. Or less subtly, full of scantily clad orangutans. Whatever. Then just suppose that said DSL works his/her/its SEO magic to get their fake page to rank above your real page when somebody looks for your favorite search term. You see a possible problem?
    SOLUTION: This attack is probably illegal, particularly if it uses your branding anywhere on the page, but also if the spoof domain is similar enough to yours. Report this attack as soon as you notice it. Report it to Google, and report it to whoever is hosting the site. If you have lawyers, get them to send take-down notices. All this remedial effort will work. It will also take time and resources.
  5. Review spamming.  Some person with anger management issues starts spreading malicious information about your products or your business. This sort of thing is as old as business itself. (“Not buy mastodon meat from Og. He not wash hands after he use bushes.”) And it’s been used a lot on the internet, from the very first. Now, though, with Google’s emphasis on “visitor interaction” the importance of reviews and comments will only grow. And so will the art of review spamming. We’ve seen reviews-for-hire packages cropping up all over the web in the last few months since Panda. We are sure that negative-reviews-for-hire are out there also. Can your product or service withstand 50 one-star reviews? What if it’s worse than just PR? What if those one-star reviews also cost you search position?
    SOLUTION: Well, you can contest the reviews, one at a time, and hope the review venue takes pity and removes them. Could take a very long time. The other option is fight ire with fire: buy or otherwise launch your own review campaign hoping to dilute the effects. Twenty five-star ratings will bring twenty one-star ratings up to a three!

Sigh. The evil DSL usually wins—because it doesn’t matter whether their campaign works or how bad it hurts or how long it lasts. Their real victory is that it costs you either search position, reputation, or at best it costs you the time and effort it takes to monitor, remedy, and recover.

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28
Jul
11

Top 5 Stupidest Link Strategies that Might Kind of Work

Well, you know us….

We are really NOT huge fans of spam in any of it’s greasy forms. However, we do confess that some of the slimy things that spammers do are grounded in some measure effective. Otherwise, why would anyone pollute the universe with their dreck?

So, in the interest of full SEO disclosure, here’s a list of very questionable link tactics that seem to bear some fruit. Tainted fruit. Cursed, tainted fruit.

  1. Blog comment spam. We hate this shit. No really. If you’ve got a blog, you’ve seen it: “Wow! what an idea ! What a concept ! Beautiful . Amazing.” (Actual comment submitted to us.) They submit this en masse, to pretty much every blog anywhere, hoping enough suckers approve it to give them some link joy. Of course, we do approve them sometimes, only we change the referral name to “Asshat Spammer” just in case whoever hired them takes a look into their referral logs…. Effective? Maybe. This is one of the things SearchDex got in trouble for.
  2. Reciprocal link request spam. We hate these too. You know the ones. An email out of nowhere, with boilerplate stuff like “My name is [random name here], Web Marketing Consultant. I’ve greatly enjoyed looking through your site searchmarketingmagic.com and I was wondering if you’d be interested in exchanging links with my website, which has a related subject. I can offer you a HOME PAGE link back from my PR 4 related website… ”  These requests are generated by software, which is purchased by losers who then flood the world with crap hoping to get a link or two from unsuspecting webbies. Does it work? If you send a million spam emails like this, you might get 50 or so links. So if you don’t mind being an asshole, you might get some return on investment. If you want to hate them even more, here’s a kind of fun exposé….
  3. Fake blog posting spam. This is where your genius black-hatter might create a host of one-post blogs that are nothing more than a vehicle for a backlink or two.  They are usually sort of on topic with whatever page they’re linking to, but of little to no content value. The content in them is also copied (sometimes with minor changes) from one fake blog to the next. Does it work? Meh. Used to, maybe. Nowadays, while Google likes links from blogs, they seem to lose value if the blog doesn’t update at least semi-regularly. And duplicate content gets picked up pretty easily now.
  4. Multi-way reciprocal link network spam. Some of these get complicated. It’s an effort to fool Google by trading links in such a roundabout fashion that the Goog can’t tell they’ve been traded. At first, they were all three-way links: A links to B, B links to C, C links to A. That worked pretty well in the old days. For a while, lots of sites had “link networks” set up. Of course, Google caught on to that. So then it was four-way, five-way, many-way link exchanges, which you can buy your way into pretty easily. Do they work? Maybe, but not very well, unless every site in the network is in a similar topic space. Which would make it kind of easy to spot, we think.
  5. Referral log spam. This one is kind of obscure, but still epidemic.  Here’s what they do: using software that mimic internal search engines, they pull lists of blogs within specific topicspaces, then fire off an automated click to all of those sites. What the site gets is fake traffic, but traffic that shows up in their referral logs. Since some small percentage of web hosts leave their referral logs on unsecured severs—in theory—those logs should get spidered and then count as backlinks to the originating site. Does it work? We really kind wonder how it could.  First, do that many hosts really leave their logs unsecured? And second, do search engines really index them? And third, what possible link value could be derived from a giant text page full of thousands and thousands of links? Dunno. But there must be something to it, because the sonsofbitches keep filling up our traffic reports with them.

So there are five link spam tactics that we better never catch you using. Because they suck. And they all pretty much piss us off. And we know where you live.

27
Jul
11

The Trouble with Backlinks

Google started it. Yeah, blame them. Blame them hard and often. Back in 1996, two Stanford PhD students came up with a “better” way to categorize and rank websites in order to create an index that would help people find treasure amid that horrifying mess of 488,000 registered domains. Can you even imagine? Almost half a million websites?

Growth of Internet Domains from 1996 to 2011

We used to think 500,000 was a big number.

At the time, the search engine landscape was pretty impressive, with such luminaries as Alta Vista, Infoseek, Lycos, and others whose fame and glory lives on to this day…. no wait. Check that. They are all completely forgotten. This is because every one of them relied completely on things like keyword density and the keyword metatag to rank sites for their search results. Which, it turns out, was really really really easy to game. So you’d see sites selling tennis shoes with the words “free sex mp3” appearing like 4 thousand times at the bottom of the page. Fun days for us SEO youngsters!

Until those Stanford brainiacs came up with a little thing they called “Backrub.” Which was an algorithmic way to categorize sites based—not on their content—but on their popularity. Well, the boys took out a few patents, tweaked the thing by adding a couple of hundred other mysterious ranking factors, named it Google, grew to gigantic size practically overnight, went APO, and became the richest geeks in the universe.

Which is getting ahead of our story, just a bit. Because at first, this new approach truly ruled the net. Google grew to enormous size because their search results were amazing. Compared to all the once-was engines, it was revolutionary. If you entered something into the little white box, you actually stood a decent chance of finding a relevant page or two. Remarkable!

Pages stuffed with irrelevant keywords suddenly dropped way, way down the ranks in favor of sites that lots of people had made lots of links to, just because they were awesome.

Time passed, and Google evolved. They tweaked and fine-tuned. They worked tirelessly to make their little engine the best little engine. And all the while, we SEO-types schemed and plotted to mess it all up. What we wanted to do (and still want to do, of course) was trick the Mighty Google into thinking our sites were better than our competitors’ sites, whether they were actually relevant to the search or not. We did this in many ways. We’d come up with something that really seriously gamed the algo and won top ranks, then Google would counter with more tweaks. So we’d think of something else.

This escalation cycle has gone on continuously since the first Google release. Google wants to make all the content on the internet easy to locate through a simple keyword search. We want to sidetrack, obfuscate, control, and manipulate those searches to point you to sites that have paid us to do so.

Sniff. Sometimes we’re a little ashamed. Most of the time we’re figuring out new ways to short-circuit Google’s algorithm.

Which brings us to backlinks. And the Trouble with them.

As of the latest survey of SEO pros from the good folk at SEOMoz (which we highlighted as a Site of the Week a few weeks ago), the consensus is that links still account for something 40% of the Google algorithm. So they still carry a boatload of weight.

Even though we SEOs have been busy jamming up the works with fake links, crappy links, irrelevant links, imaginary links, 8-way reciprocal links, purchased links, blog comment spam links, and any other kind of oh-so-clever link garbage we can imagine, backlinks still work.

Which is a pity, really. Because goddamnit, we might be SEOs, but we want to be able to find stuff on the internet! And just like you and everyone else, we frequently can’t. Find. A. Damn. Thing. In fact, we just spent something like 2 hours trying to find the data for the graph we posted above. Pssffffffft.

I guess you makes your bed, you gets to lie in it.

17
Feb
11

Penny-wise? Penny’s Foolish

wanna buy sum cheep linx?

Maybe you’ve heard about JC Penny’s recent moment of “Oh crap, we got caught peeing in the pool” moment, but whether you  have or  you haven’t, there’s a serious object lesson here. To recap, the New York Times ran an article this past weekend detailing an undercover investigative report on JC Penny’s search engine optimization strategies.

Those strategies involved Penny’s SEO provider, SearchDEX, who for many years has made lots and lots of money doing just this sort of thing. What sort of thing?

Link fraud.

There. I said it. The most cruel and horrible crime in all of human history. Okay, not really. But the tactics employed in Penny’s behalf by SearchDEX—and the sheer wanton, flagrant scale of the operation—really does create a threat (if not measurable harm) to all the other businesses who try to compete in the search arena without resorting to nasty tricks.

And just what is this “link fraud” carried out by SearchDex? They purchased, created, or encouraged others to purchase or create thousands if not tens of thousands of links to Penney’s website from any and every source imaginable. Links from sites with no relevance to Penny’s market space. Links from fake sites. Links from dead sites. Links from link farms, links from spam inserted into legitimate content like blogs.

The benefit derived from this profligate scheme was incredibly high search ranks for Penny’s for hundreds of different keywords, some keywords even that had no relationship at all to Penny’s business.

They’ve created a gigantic black hole of search, one from which no searcher can escape.

Google, meanwhile, alerted to Penny’s devious plot to rank better, took action and devalued all the ill-gotten links. Now, this may not seem like much, but in truth, it probably amounts to 30-40% reduction in traffic for the retail giant. That kind of hit could cripple an internet retailer with small margins and large competition.  But maybe not such a hit for everybody. Like Penny’s maybe. Who, incidentally, spends millions of dollars on paid advertising in search engines every year. So they’ll still show up on the first page of search results for any keyword that matters to them. And  they’ll still be free to hire another SEO firm of whatever scruples (or lack thereof) and move on to the next blackhat strategy.

Now, what have we learned from all this?

  1. At least in the short term, it can pay huge dividends to operate on the dark side of search engine optimization.
  2. You will get caught.
  3. Unless you are Fortune 500 material, it will hurt.
  4. If you are Fortune 500, so what.

Here’s the real lesson, though. Whether it works for a while or not, whether you get caught or not, whether it hurts your business or not, playing the backhat game just ain’t right. SearchDEX (and all the other blackhat outfits like them) make life tough for everybody. They reduce the usefulness of search in general by diluting the results with irrelevancy. They damage the marketspace by creating an environment where only cheaters can make it to page one. They make it damned hard for shoppers to find the things they’re looking to buy. And for me, the worst thing: they destroy the public’s faith in SEO as a legitimate marketing tool.

And that’s pissing in my pool.

More JC Penny’s stories

Big Brands and Bad Linking: How to Avoid Google Penalties
SEO’s Achilles’ Heel: The Misdirected Attack on Search Engine Optimizers




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