Search engine spam was invented the moment search engines started to be good enough to send significant volumes of traffic to websites based on keyword searches.
Before the days of Google search engines used strictly ‘on page’ factors to figure out how important a page was for a certain subject or keyword. This led to all kinds of pollution on the page, such as people filling out their pages with 1000’s of copies of the keywords they wanted to rank high for.
Google dealt a huge blow to spammers and other search engines when they released their pagerank algorithm based search engine which used the structure of the web itself, the links, to figure out how important a certain page was. This principle, the scientific name for it is a ‘citation index’ is a tried and true concept in academia where it is used to figure out how important a certain scientific publication (called a paper) is.
In the scientific world there are no spammers and there is no direct commercial advantage to creating a lot of nonsense paper that cite your own paper, also there is some oversight in the world of science and the people there have a reasonably high level of integrity.
Not so in the wild-west-world-wide-web. So as soon as Google rose to ascendancy and all the old ‘on page’ tricks failed to work the tricksters shifted their attention to the structure of the web. Link farms were born, sites whose sole reason for existing is to increase the visibility of other pages from the point of view of a search engine. Comment spam appeared all over the web, inane comments that add nothing to the conversation on various fora whose sole purpose was to drop a backlink to some website or other. 10’s of millions of junk accounts were created in automated ways on free hosting sites in order to create pages that could be pointed to which in turn pointed to others with the sole purpose of increasing ‘pagerank’, which is the name Google coined to name their algorithm and the name of the 0 to 10 value assigned to any webpage that google is aware of.
Every time Google made its algorithms smarter to combat the spammers the spammers upped the ante in a never ending arms-race to gain control of who receives the traffic that hits Google looking for certain goods or services. The commercial interests are enormous and the fanaticism with which the spammers are engaging the issue means that the web as a whole is suffering. The final closing of the circle is that nobody seems to bother with placing backlinks any more to sites they appreciate, after all Google is the way people surf the web so why bother dealing a final blow to the beatiful thing that was once the web, a globe spanning network of computers linked by hyperlinks pointing to useful information.
Google seems to have dealt a really harsh blow to the spammers in their latest update cycle. So far, the only thing I’d be pestered about with some regularity is people asking if they can buy backlinks on my websites to their websites. A typical example:
From: Bonnie <email@example.com>
Subject: for buying backlinks :)
Willing to buy text links from your website:reocities.com
This is dailyshop.com, we need to buy some text links from you. Are you willing to sell?
If you do, could you please tell us the price and the time it could be on your website?
Could it be added on your website within one day, or how soon that could be?
If you have other resouces, you could also contact us through the ways below:
I get a couple of these per day, interesting to see how integrated into the Google ecosystem they are because even though they are clearly trying to game Google in they use a gmail.com address for the transaction!
Since the ‘Panda’ update I’m also getting another kind of email. These are by the companies that are a little more advanced on the SEO curve that are trying to undo the damage they did to themselves. A typical email (both received in the same week):
From: Kristen Madey
Subject: Link Removal Request
To Whom It Make Concern,
According to our resources you are the owner of links linking to our website www.giftcards.com
and it’s pages. We own GiftCards.com and there are a few pages on your website that are
linking to our website. We would ask that you please remove our links from these sites as soon
as possible. Unfortunately we believe that our ranking in Google is being damaged due to
these links & others.
We would appreciate your cooperation.
Kristen Madey & GiftCards.com
Kristen Madey | Marketing Manager
THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS E-MAIL AND ANY ATTACHED DOCUMENTATION IS INTENDED FOR THE
USE OF THE ADDRESSEE ONLY, IS CONFIDENTIAL AND MAY BE LEGALLY PRIVILEGED. ANY DISSEMINATION,
DISTRIBUTION, COPYING, OR USE OF THIS COMMUNICATION WITHOUT PRIOR PERMISSION OF THE SENDER
IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED. If you are not the intended recipient, you must not disclose, copy,
or distribute, or use the information contained in this e-mail. If you have received this
e-mail in error, please notify us immediately by return email.
Interesting because the email does not even state which domain or page the links are on. Companies that hired SEO types in the past are finding out more and more that they are penalized by Google so they now try to undo some of the damage. There is another variation to the second email where the sender basically tries to blackmail the recipient into doing a lot of work for free because otherwise they will use the Google ‘disavow’ tool.
So, Google and the SEO spammers and their employers are battling out the war for the Google traffic and legitimate website owners are caught in the middle as collateral damage, first they have to work hard to keep the SEO spam off their pages and then (for instance, in the case of reocities.com there is plenty of it that made it into the archive) when Google changes their tactics they try to strong arm those same website owners whose sites they managed to successfully pollute into working on their behalf for free ‘or else’.
It’s the destruction of the web, collateral damage. There is no method that I’m aware of which would allow a search engine to function successfully on the web the way it works today that will not result into damage to the very thing it tries to navigate. If we’re ever going to get out of this downward spiral where each new phase in the arms race reaches for bigger guns then I believe this will have to come in the form of a reboot, a protocol designed from the ground up to combat these issues and a way to search the web that makes it infeasible for a single party to control such a large volume of traffic that it becomes worthwhile for large numbers of miscreants to make a living off parasitic behaviour.