Pssst… hey, bud, wanna buy an unlocked iPhone? Running shoes? Wanna know how to convert a video to play on your smart phone?
We’ve all seen plenty of those spam threads on our favorite bulletin boards, media comment threads, and elsewhere. A spammer, typically on one of his first posts on a BB starts a thread advertising some gray market ware. It’s obvious what his intent is.
But there’s a more insidious form of spam that moderators here and elsewhere have to deal with… link spam. And the use of it is one of the techniques that falls under the rubric of Black Hat Search Engine Optimization…
Link spam attempts to manipulate search engine results by manipulating what, in search engine circles, is called reputation.
Reputation is sort of an index of the number of sites that point to a given site via links. Search engines tend to weight links from related sites higher — but any link adds to a site’s reputation — unless the search engine company goes out of its way to deal with the problem, which often requires manual adjustment. Since search engines are hugely automated and investigation and adjustment is man hour intensive, such adjustments are expensive.
Search engine managers from Google or Bing (Microsoft’s search engine, which also powers Yahoo) recognize that their own reputation — the real kind — rests with their ability to deliver unmanipulated results — and to direct those who want to buy good placement in the form of clearly marked paid placements and other adverts to their own advertising departments.
They jealously guard the inner workings of their search engines and work to try to keep so-called black hat SEO optimization from skewing those results.
Reporters at the New York Times noticed during the 2010 Christmas shopping season that one large U.S. retailer was getting what seemed remarkably high rankings in non-paid search engine results at Google: J.C. Penney.
They went to a search engine researcher and asked him to find out why.
The result is the article below from the Times on black hat SEO spam that reveals the seamy side of internet marketing — and will probably help explain those often nearly nonsensical posts you will often see on internet bulletin boards and comment threads on blogs and media sites, all with links embedded in their text or in the user’s signatures — as well as those barely there websites that seem to have little content aside from some very general information on some topic or other — often plagiarized from legit sites — but the real payload is in the form of links to the sites of customers of such black hat search engine optimization ‘consultants.’
Does Google care about being manipulated?
The answer is a definite yes.
In the wake of this article, J.C. Penney Google rankings in many fields went from the top or near it to rankings down in the 70s and 80s as Google’s enforcers ‘manually’ adjusted J.C. Penney’s rankings.
J.C. Penney has denied any knowledge of such perfidy – but they did round up the usual suspects — firing their SEO consultants, an outfit called SearchDex (who failed to return calls to the NY Times — imagine that).
NY Times: The Dirty Little Secrets of Search
So, when you see a new user posting on your favorite BB with an off topic subject or nonsensical post, look a little closer and you’re likely to see links to third party businesses embedded in their text or in their signatures. Don’t be afraid to report them. You’ll be doing the internet a favor.