SEO That Helped NYT Investigate Mugshot Sites Shares Further Insights Into Their Rankings

    October 7, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

In case you haven’t heard by now, Google pushed out an update late last week aimed at demoting shady sites that prey on people who have publicly available mugshots, and charge them to have the images removed.

The New York Times published a big investigative report about the practice and Google’s response. The Times had Doug Pierce, the founder of SEO company Cogney dig in and study some of the mugshot sites in question. The piece didn’t delve too much into the optimization behind the sites, but Pierce himself has since put up a blog post about the topic, which he pointed us to in an email.

Here’s an excerpt discussing the sites’ backlinks:

I’d sum up all 3 site’s backlink profiles as a combination of: people angry with them, people in support of them (freedom of information ralliers), people using their mugshot photos as sources, and spam generated by the sites themselves (mostly comment spam which seems to have slowed). It’s also interesting that there are some names that these sites specifically build links for. It seems to be a mixture of celebrities, gangsters, and people in the news like Tamerlan Tsarnaev. What they’re doing is trying to rank for “[famous/infamous person’s name] + mugshot” which is harder to do than ranking for random Joe Schmoe who got arrested thus link building is necessary.

The most interesting links though come from media coverage of the mugshot sites. By talking about how sites like mugshots.com impairs lives and is a paid unpublishing scam, they often link to the sites in question, passing the news organization’s authority to them and in turn boosting their authority.

He points to links from Gizmodo, Poynter, The New Yorker and SF Weekly, which link to the sites, but don’t include nofollow attributes, so they’re passing PageRank.

As he notes in the post, as well as in the NYT piece, these sites also cater to “the long click,” which essentially equates to time on site. People who click these results from Google probably aren’t quickly going back to the results page. They’re seeing why the person in question is on a mugshot site, and possibly looking around at other pages on the site, which is a sign of quality content, right?

People are also likely to click on the results simply because they are what they are. If you’re searching for someone, and a mugshot result comes up, you’re going to click on it. This, as Pierce points out, is a signal of quality itself.

As noted earlier, while Google’s update appears to have helped in some cases, it didn’t work for the first example the New York Times gave in its piece.

Image: Doug Pierce (Google+)

  • Truth

    I work in the court system.

    The reality is that this guy is making money from people that are at a low point in their lives. He is profiting from people’s suffering. This country has less than 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. Arrests are big business in this country and prisons are a multi-billion dollar business.

    For those who think they can’t get arrested or sent to prison, I have news for you. I am seeing more people being sent to prison for crimes that don’t even involve people. In Georgia, 1 in every 13 people are in jail, on parole or on probation. Georgia runs 23 prison work plants and requires all their state agencies to buy from them. They don’t pay workers and the prices of their goods have profit margins of 200% to 500%. The largest employer in the state is the department of corrections. Anyone can be arrested for anything.

    How can anyone who does not give mercy in this life expect to receive mercy when they die? Once a person leaves prison, we should help them rebound and not persecute them more. Why do you think people re-offend so much? It isn’t because they want to go back to the hell of prison — it is because people won’t give them chances. Funny thing is that there are many innocent people in our prisons and there are many guilty people walking around free. Some of the worst people on this planet are those that we think are so good — you just don’t know what they are doing behind the scenes.

    Don’t tell me I don’t know what I am talking about because I see it every day. Money buys justice in this country and if you are poor, you will go to prison. Guilt or innocence doesn’t matter.

  • Anonymous

    The google algorithm change seems to have pushed down web search results for mugshot sites but the mugshots themselves still rank at the top on image searches. And when you do a web search, the related images pop up as well. All you have to do is click on the mugshot image and it takes you to the site. Google’s algorithm change was an improvement but definitely not a total solution. I hope they keep working on it to get it straightened out for good. They need to implement the same “push-down” effect for IMAGE results as well.