The New York Times published an article near and dear to my heart over the weekend about JCPenny manipulating Google results as a result of paid links. Apparently it’s news to many people that this kind of activity is taking place. But to those of us who optimize Web sites using “white hat” tactics it is certainly no surprise as we investigate why our competitors out rank us. I thought I would share some of the other common techniques that cheating sites are effectively using to game the system. Hopefully this article will help Google and Bing develop better algorithmic solutions to these problems and hopefully it will educate consumers about what types of activities their SEO firms should avoid.
For today’s example, I will be looking at the Hot Tub industry where one of my clients has a significant interest and ranks well for many of the most sought after terms including “hot tub”, “hot tubs”, “spa” and “spas” as well as many other related permutations. And while my client enjoys significant rankings across these terms, based on their link equity, it is dishearting to have to explain to them why a site like http://www.choosehottubsdirect.com is competing with them for listings given their back link profile. Unlike JC Penny, ChooseHotTubsDirect is using a number of other link spam tactics to artificially inflate their Google rankings. Let’s take a look at some of the methods they’re using including blog comment spam, blog spam (splogs), and forum spam. They may also be doing paid links but I won’t be focusing on those in this article.
*Note that some of these links may have a nofollow tag on them and therefore do not count for SEO purposes. However, the amount of link spam pointing to this site shows a clear and consistent intent to manipulate search results.
Blog Comment Spam:
This was supposed to die with the advent of the nofollow tag, but obviously it isn’t instituted on all blog platforms. Here is an example of some of the URLs where you can find links purposely created to establish keyword focused links back to ChooseHotTubsDirect even though most of these sites are completely unrelated.
I have no problem with getting links by adding value to a conversation happening on a blog. But when the comment exists solely for the purpose of SEO, its spam.
Blog Spam (splog):
These are blogs designed only to create links for the purposes of SEO. There is no value to the end user and most of the time the content is garbage:
- http://homengardengoods.com/hottubs-spa-hot-tub.html (borderline content at best)
There are plenty more of these in their backlink profile but after 20 I figured I had made my point. The majority of their backlinks seem to be of this type.
Again, guest writing blog articles that provide useful information to users is a good way to get links. Writing garbage and posting it on sites filled with garbage is not.
Similar to blog commenting spam but takes place in a forum:
Again, there is way more of this stuff in their profile but after 20 instances I think the point has been made.
Another interesting “black hat” tactic that I found is the use of clone sites which are essentially duplicate sites with different skins:
The funniest part about this whole thing is that one of the links that ChooseHotTubsDirect.com does have that is legitimate is their press release about the secret to their success. Apparently, it’s all thanks to their in-house, world class SEO Team:
Hopefully as search technology advances these techniques will become less effective. It’s really frustrating to explain to clients why their competitors are ranking well in the engines using cheap and underhanded link spam techniques. Especially when you are recommending much more costly link development campaigns that center on providing useful content to users and then marketing that content through relevant channels. I don’t envy Matt Cutts and his team at Google as they have an extraordinarily difficult job to do in hunting all of this stuff down. Hopefully this will help.