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When A Spam Site Isn’t Spammy

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Blogger Niall Kennedy delved into the murkiness surrounding a site that hit the front page of Digg and several other social media websites, and found a hugely intertwined mix of link-baiting and keyword-targeting in place that profits from the viral nature of stories that grab attention.

Geeks with weight problems need to pay better attention to their health, and as it is an ongoing concern for many people, any suggestion of a way to better accomplish that will usually draw attention. Online, the attention for a story on steps to weight loss dubbed a “spam node” by Kennedy gained some significant traffic which it likely capitalized on via its affiliate membership.

Kennedy walked through the example posting that used sites like Digg and Delicious to increase in awareness while garnering traffic and affiliate revenue. The tips are hosted on a blog that appears to be dedicated to dental information, but is mostly a conduit to an affiliate program.

“Scanning the sidebar links and adjacent content it was obvious this content was out of place on a page optimized for dental insurance,” wrote Kennedy. ”

The webmaster of i-dentalresources.com had inserted some Digg bait, seeded a few social bookmarking services, and waited for links and page views to roll in, creating a new node in a spam farm fueled by high-paying affiliate programs and identity collection for resale.”

Kennedy also traced the path of the site, from its genesis as a domain managed “by eBizzSol, a company with fake domain registration information including the address block of a Christian church in Fullerton, California.” The site is registered to an address in the capital of Bangladesh.

The site makes its money from referrals to a seller of dental plans. Each referral brings in $40 or more, according to Kennedy. By using a number of significant keyphrases in its article categories, the site rose in its organic rankings.

To further help traffic, they purchased links in directories at Yahoo, Microsoft, Business.com, and others. Then they moved to the social networking sites. On Digg, 920 users gave the story a vote, which seems to indicate the common belief that people Digg stories based on their front page presence and not their content may have some credence.

Now here is the issue. The article in question, though somewhat general in content and not related to dental work, isn’t necessarily spammy.

After opening the site in Opera and Firefox, I fed the URL to poor defenseless Internet Explorer, where I fully expected it to explode with popups, banners, and contextual advertising. But except for two image links and several text links to the dental plan affiliate, and a text link to a content writing website, there were no other elements besides the weight loss tips.

One will see more ads on A-list blogs than they will on this dental site. While it’s hard to not see the site as a blatant grab for profitable pass-through traffic to the affiliate, it’s far less offensive than the sorts of spyware that researchers like Ben Edelman and Vitalsecurity.org write about often.

The scary part about the dental site is how it benignly occupies middle ground when its comes to revenue links. The nigh-ubiquitous AdSense and other contextual ad links are absent, as are the more intrusive ad elements.

It may be dodgy if its affiliate does not offer a valid product, but if those dental plans are legitimate, the site may be a decent example of gaming search optimization and social media without being the spam node Kennedy and other bloggers have called it.


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

When A Spam Site Isn’t Spammy
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