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Search Engine Spamming Sucks!
From Daniel Bazac at Web Design in New York on 8 March '02

Search Engine Spamming Sucks!

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – placement, positioning or
ranking – means designing a Web page that can be easily indexed
by Search Engines (SEs) to improve its chances of ranking highly
in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Unfortunately, some Webmasters abuse the privilege of being
listed in the search engines. When they do so, it is called
“spam.” Spam refers to any illegal technique used to improve a
page's ranking in the SERPs.

Tons of articles have been written about search engines and spam.
Why the need for another article? Because, believe it or not,
most major search engines are still vulnerable to unethical
techniques used by malicious Webmasters.

Spamming techniques have been used for years. Today, many SEs say
they know all the tricks and penalize those pages. But as you
will see, most SEs only say they punish spammers – in fact they
don’t.

My Experience With Search Engines

Recently, using some major U.S. SEs, I made a keyword search to
look for a Web design/SEO company in New York. Let me share my
highly disappointing experience.

The results pages in most of the search engines were full of Web
pages using one or more spamming techniques such as keyword
stuffing, page redirects, cloaking or mirroring domains.

Keyword Stuffing

Because many SEs use "word frequency" to rank sites, unscrupulous
Webmasters abuse this criteria and repeat many relevant,
sometimes irrelevant, words within a Web page. Some Webmasters
stuff the words into the “keywords" META tag, repeating the
keyword many times in the hopes of boosting rankings.

I found a page featuring 1,150 words in the keyword META tag,
with the word "design" repeated 209 times! Although the
submission guidelines of one of the Web's most important search
engines states it "excludes submissions with excessive keywords,"
that SE and many others indexed this page!

Some Webmasters stuff keywords at the bottom of the page. Others
use barely legible text or embed "invisible text” in a Web page
so users will not see the words but SEs will, ranking the page
higher than it deserves.

One search engine stated: "We must sometimes exclude submissions"
of "pages with text that is not easily read, either because it is
too small or is obscured by the background of the page". Another
SE says it will "significantly downgrade a page's ranking" ...
"if words cannot be read due to their small size or color."
Despite these statements, many SEs index pages having text in the
same color as the background. One page I found has a whopping 936
keywords in black text on a white background, making a raw
keyword list *visible*.

Page Redirection

With page redirection, users visit a Web page but are immediately
sent to a different page instead. Why? One of the legitimate
reasons is to redirect surfers to a new Web address (URL), but
some Webmasters abuse page redirection to obtain higher rankings.

The first page is highly "optimized" - as in "spammed" - with
many words in the keywords and description META tag and also in
the Title tag. Most of the time, the text of the page is also
stuffed with keywords - often as invisible text. The second page
is "nicer", not too much spam, a good page for viewers.

Search engines' own submission guidelines pages advise not to
submit "any site that redirects to another address," and "your
site cannot mirror or redirect to another Web site.” Despite
these statements, many SEs index pages that use redirection or
cloaking.

Cloaking

Cloaking is probably the most controversial spamming technique.
Like page refreshing, it uses two pages, one for the SEs and
another for the viewer. The big difference between these
techniques is this: with refreshing, it is possible for the
knowledgeable user to see the code of the first page but with
cloaking, the user cannot view the code of the page shown to
search engines.

Mirroring Domains

Mirroring consists of building hundreds or thousands of pages
with identical content, but with different URLs. The advantage is
clear: by finding the "right" tricks to cheat the SE's ranking
algorithm, the marketer can "dominate" the SERPs with a multitude
of listings. One company had 62 pages in the Top 100 results
list.

What do the search engines say about mirroring domains? "Do not
submit mirror sites". "Your site cannot mirror or redirect to
another Web site." SEs don't like it, but in practice, most are
vulnerable to this technique.

In light of these findings, I have several questions for the
parties the search engines and for Webmasters.

Questions for Search Engines

· When will you punish spammers and when will you have clean indexes?
· Why do you accept advertising dollars from sites using spamming
techniques?

Questions for Webmasters

· Is spamming worth the risk of having your pages penalized or
permanently banned from search engine indexes?

· Do you think it's impossible to get higher rankings without
using spam? Is not!

Reactions And Responses From Search Engines

After publishing the first part of this article, <http://www.web-
design-in-new-york.com/search_engines_spamming_sucks_dec.html>
I
emailed some SEs for comments. Out of more than 50 SEs, only
AltaVista answered. Its response: "No comment. Thanks."

There is only one word to describe the lack of response to my
study: "disappointment." Why the lack of interest? Do SEs think
their indexes are spam-free and that my article doesn't apply? No
SE is spam-free, so the article certainly applies to all the SEs.

A few good things did happen, however, as a result of publishing
my article. AllTheWeb (FAST) now has a report spam page.
<http://www.alltheweb.com/info/spampolicy.html> Coincidence? I
doubt it. Why? Because AllTheWeb has been in business for 2 years
and it’s strange that they made that report spam page only 3
weeks after part I <http://www.marketing-
seek.com/articles/data/20011217095856.shtml>
of my article
appeared.

AllTheWeb is not the only SE with a "report spam" page. Google,
<http://www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html> AltaVista,
<http://help.Altavista.com/contact/search> AOL,
<http://webmaster.info.aol.com/index.cfm?section=2&article=500000000000023&menuid=500000000000023>
or DMOZ <http://dmoz.org/cgi-bin/feedback.cgi> also allow users
to report spam. Interestingly, AllTheWeb placed a link to the
"report spam" page on its Home Page <http://www.alltheweb.com>
perhaps a sign they are taking the issue more seriously.

This begs the question “Why must users report spammers when SEs
could eliminate spam on their own?” For example in its report
spam page, <http://www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html>,
Google has a detailed list of spamming techniques yet they rely
on users to report spammers.

In AltaVista's “Combatting Spam" page
<http://help.Altavista.com/adv_search/ast_haw_spam> we read, "If
the hosting service also hosts spammers and pornographers, you
could wind up being penalized or excluded simply because the
underlying IP address for that service is the same for all the
virtual domains it includes." Excuse me? That's like putting all
the tenants of a building in jail simply because one tenant is a
drug dealer.

Reactions And Responses From Webmasters

The article was well received from Webmasters. A few, however,
disagreed with my comments on cloaking. Please see part I of my
article. <http://www.web-design-in-new-
york.com/search_engines_spamming_sucks_dec.html>
Just a reminder
– SEs do not differentiate between "good" and "bad" cloaking.
Google <http://www.google.com/webmasters/dos.html> says simply:
"Don't cloak." Crystal clear.

I received another comment: "If someone's more successful at
search engine optimization, that doesn't make them 'bad' guys –
it makes them more successful." Does this mean that somebody who
has 60 pages (same content with different URLs) in the Top 100
results is not a bad guy, he's only "more successful"? I
disagree.

One Webmaster said: "Your article may help newbies become SEs
spammers." Good point – I hope newbies will not use my article as
a "spammers manual." Instead, I hope SEs will wake up and start
doing their jobs well.

A Possible Solution to the Spam Problem

Have you ever had one of your pages rank lower than a page using
spamming techniques? Did you report it? How about this
suggestion?
<http://www.globalserve.net/~iwb/search_engine/spamdex.html> See
also SEO Pros’ <http://www.seopros.org/> “Complaint Registry.”
<http://www.seopros.org/services/report.asp>

· A site will be nominated and posted on a listserv which any
member can second then the offender will be notified of his
conviction by the spamdex police.

· They will have a week to clean it up and re-submit and remove
the offending listing from the search engines.

· After a week the offender will be reported to the search
engines. The search engines will have a month to act or they
will be added to the list as an accomplice to the activity.

Most major SEs are still vulnerable to spamming techniques.
Should SEs stop blaming Webmasters for their "unclean" indexes
and grab the bull by the horns? I think so. If not, we will
continue to see "bad" Webmasters' pages with high rankings,
unhappy users receiving irrelevant results and search engines
losing market share. Cleaning up spamming is just good business –
for everyone on the Web.

Note: A more detailed version of this article can be found here
<http://www.web-design-in-new-
york.com/search_engines_spamming_sucks_dec.html>


Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

Daniel Bazac
Web Marketer
Web Design in New York
http://www.web-design-in-new-york.com
danielbazac@hotmail.com




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