I regularly research Google’s search engine result pages for keywords in our vertical. Along with monitoring our paid advertising, universal search results and organic rankings, I’m interested in keeping a watchful eye on the competition. Along with paying attention to anything smart their doing, I’m definitely on the prowl for sneakiness. Recently, I came across the following page one results on Google for the keywords Access Panels.
The first result, www.accesspanels.net, seemed suspicious. The description, coming from the site’s meta description, seemed a bit spammy, as the two sentences are nearly identical and little care has gone into fully utilizing this content to help searchers. Based on my experience with these keywords, it also surprised me that a .net domain extension had made it to the top spot. Also, I didn’t remember coming across this site before during general competitor research. The domain name was obviously a big plus, in that it mimicked the search, but it still didn’t pass the smell test.
Clicking through to the site gives the impression that it’s an affiliate or possibly a spammer. The appearance, organization and user interface leaves something to be desired. Not a lot of original quality content jumps out. Using a .net tld extension, along with other non .com extensions, on a domain made up of popular keywords is often employed by affiliates or spammers targeting those searches. The sites look and feel, as well as its architecture, hints toward a template application or a run-of-the-mill HTML editor. Another characteristic I noticed was that the information in the footer pertaining to copyright dates appears outdated. It doesn’t take much attention to maintain current dates in this area but an affiliate or spammer may be less inclined to spend their time keeping the boilerplate current.
Finally, and most interestingly for this example, www.accesspanels.net doesn’t sell anything. The header logo and every product listing links out to another domain, www.ameraproducts.com, run by AmeraProducts, Inc. who seems to actually sell product online.
One of the first cursory checks I do while investigating for malicious activity is a “Select All” using CTRL + A. Although this technique won’t catch more sophisticated types of black hat spam, like links hidden in counters, it’s an easy, quick, and useful check to notice blatant hidden text right off the bat. Here is the same site after a CTRL + A.
As you can see, a bunch of hidden texts appears near the top of the site. A quick look at the page’s source code, shows the hidden text being manipulated by coloring it white and placing it in front of an almost all white background image.
Now, it’s one thing for a spammer, affiliate or otherwise, to build spammy sites with hidden text in order to rank well for popular keywords and then link out to a retailer. The retailer may not have any relationship with the spammer. The retailer likely has little, if any, control over the spammer. If the spammer is an affiliate via a third party network, like ShareASale, the retailer can stop paying commissions and report the affiliate to the network, but they can’t likely force the spammy affiliate to stop linking to them.
However, what’s happening here is much more fishy.
First, as you can see in the screenshot below, www.ameraproducts.com links back to the spam-filled www.accesspanels.net stating “visit an informational website about Access Panels & Doors at www.accesspanels.net”.
Second, both domains are registered to AmeraProducts, Inc. as shown in their WHOIS records.
Third, Both sites have the same logo in the header.
Fourth, the email address in the footer of the spam-filled www.accesspanels.net is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fifth, the out of date boilerplate in the footer of www.accesspanels.net reads “© Copyright 1999-2004 AmeraProducts, Inc. All Right Reserved”.
It’s not a long stretch to assume that www.ameraproducts.com is associated with, if not behind, the Number 1 ranked, albeit spam-filled, www.accesspanels.net.
Examples like this offer internet retailers a sobering perspective on black hat competitors. A few issues bubble to the top:
- Honest, white hat retailers are put in a difficult position. If even the most diligent and honorable search engine optimization strategies can be thwarted by easy, simple, dirty tactics like this, retailers have a tough fight ahead. Every time a spammer is knocked down by the search engines, another can quickly rise up and take its place. Frustrated or impatient retailers may begin to wonder if they have a chance at the top rankings if they’re not practicing dirty tactics.
- Websites using hidden text, such as www.accesspanels.net, or practicing other spam techniques will eventually be caught by Google and other search engines. It may not be today, but over time Google’s algorithms, along with their human talent, will learn and grow and become more sophisticated at identifying and dealing with sneakiness. However, in the meantime, the honest e-commerce players lose valuable traffic and conversions.
- If you come across a website that is using hidden text, or other deplorable black hat SEO methods to acheive high organic rankings, take a moment to report the website to the Google Spam Report. With the help of retailers, Google can further improve their search results by removing spam which ultimately improves the experience for their, and your, users.
- Not only does a spammy website face the danger of being caught and reprimanded by Google, which may include being removed from their index, but websites such as those registered to AmeraProducts, Inc. face the harm of having their unethical tactics publicized and their company’s reputation damaged.
Ryan Douglas manages Paid Search and Comparison Shopping Engines for PlumberSurplus.com, an online retailer of home improvement products including Kitchen
Faucet, Access Door, and Sump Pump categories.
Some Google Groups users are discovering their groups are falling victim to “Sporgery attacks”. Now, the problem isn’t actually a Google Groups problem, but rather a Usenet (Newsgroups) problem, but the close connection between Usenet and Groups means a lot of people who might never have heard of the term are now suffering from it.
So, what is “Sporging“? The word is a combination of spam and forgery, referring to a spam attack on a newsgroup that not only floods the newsgroup with a ton of posts to disrupt regular discussions, but forges the usernames of regular active posters to make it appear that the regular users of the forum are saying offensive things.
The origin of the word comes from the Scientology Internet wars of the 1990s, where the usernames and email addresses of anti-Scientology posters were appended to posts from pro-racism newsgroups and reposted. Over the course of a year, over 1.4 billion racist messages were posted with the identities of Scientology critics, seemingly in an attempt to discredit them as bigots.
So, if your group is victim of a sporgery attack, or you hear one might be coming, don’t panic. Don’t blame Google, because it is a Usenet issue, and do consider contacting the FBI. Unlike regular spam, sporgery can be more actionably illegal, since it involves fraud and offensive content, and the FBI’s CyberCrimes division will often be interested.
Thanks to Tomi for the hat tip, and check out Tomi’s unofficial Google Groups FAQ.
Google updated the program policies for AdSense, with two noticeable changes:
- AdSense publishers must now comply with the spirit of the AdWords high page quality guidelines. Google doesn’t want AdSense ads placed on low quality pages, because that hurts the return on investment (ROI) for the advertiser, which makes them less likely to buy ads next time. That means distinguishing advertising from content, not tricking users into clicking ads, having actual and unique content, clearly defined website purposes, not collecting and abusing user information, and making your site easy to navigate.
- Publishers may now place three link ad units on a page, up from just one.
Google also updated the Webmaster Guidelines, making them clearer with links to examples of dishonest pages. Here’s that section:
Quality guidelines - specific guidelines
I am so sick of the news on this blog being, on average, a week old. Its my fault. I let these tabs build and build and build, and I don’t have time to write because I’m too busy amassing tabs, and when I finally do write something, it’s a week old. Dammit! I am so not doing this anymore. I hate missing news, but it is beyond stupid to have late and irellevant news because you don’t want to miss anything.
And because of that, here’s everything I’ve got, leading up to just about today:
Google announced the 2007 Summer of Code. Wordpress is part of it, among others.
As part of the 50th anniversary of Gumby, all 200 episodes of Gumby are now on YouTube, absolutely free. Oh boy!
Scott Clark has a Google Doodle for Gumby he thinks Google should have used.
Google acquired video game advertising company AdScape, which everyone knew was coming. They are competing with Microsoft’s acquisition, Massive, which is far more massive and successful. Google will likely use an automated system and have the same success they had with dMarc, which is to say, none at all.
Google also acquired Gapminder, a data visualization firm that makes Trendalyzer. Looks like they are buying new features for Analytics.
Gary has the search engine logos for St. Patrick’s Day, mostly just Google’s. Barry has Yahoo’s and Search Engine Roundtable’s.
Google has added a feature for the Personalized Homepage that lets you customize the top portion of it with some cool themes. The regular Google.com homepage remains the same, but the Personalized one can now have some cool stylings.
Valleywag has a screenshot gallery of the Google homepage over the years.
There’s an easter egg in there. In most of the themes, just visit the page at 3:14 am (get it? Pi time!) and you’ll see something funny happen. Screenshots at Google System.
Blogspot.com has more spam, by far, than any other domain on the internet. I’m shocked!
Google AdSense is doing Pay-Per-Action ads, that pay out when the user clicking the ad actually does something, like buy something or fill out a form. The ads come with a rotating product format, and even embeddable text links, so you can write about a product and link to it as an ad, just like an Amazon affiliate link.
Arrington’s right when he says Google has crossed a line here. We’ll have to see if they’ve crossed the wrong line. Hopefully, unlike the Google referral ads, Google will never make this available to all AdSense publishers, instead holding it for trustworthy publishers.
Some bloggers just plain don’t like it.
The internet is so slow, Google is transferring data by FedExing hard drives!
Philipp has done this page that puts search queries from AOL’s privacy leak of last year with random images from Google Images, resulting in fun and poignant statement. My favorite is when the dog says, “I’m searching for ‘cute glitter myspace’”
The judge has thrown out the Kinderstart lawsuit against Google, saying Google is not liable for PageRank drops. Kinderstart lost so badly, they actually have to pay Google’s legal fees!
Google is classifying some “second class” employees as hourly workers, with compulsory unpaid lunch breaks and other breaks, limits on overtime, and the “threat of a black mark on the review of anyone who fails to punch in properly to the time-tracking window on their desktops.” Yoiks.
Yahoo has released a new version of Yahoo Widgets, the former Konfabulator. New features include a Widget Dock, auto-updating widgets, hidden widgets, 40% improved performance/memory usage, a FLickr widget, and lots of stuff for widget developers.
There’s a new look being tested on AdSense ads. Unlike some of the previous tests, these are pretty cool.
Oh, and holy crap! Lessig responded to an article of mine! I feel honored, and even more so since every point he makes in response to me is dead wrong.
Lots of websites use Google’s redirect service as a way of linking without passing PageRank. The way the redirect works, is that it is something Google set up for its own use but never stopped others from using, a webpage that passes you onto another specified webpage. I use it here on the comments. For example, if I link to Philipp, I’ll normally link right to him:
< a href="http://blog.outer-court.com/" >I love Google Blogoscoped< /a >
But, if I was mad at Philipp, I could link like this:
< a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=D&q=http://blog.outer-court.com/" >Philipp is a tool!< /a >
Because the link goes to Google, then on to the website, the link juice counts for Google, not the site I am linking to, giving him no benefit. I use it here for the comments, so if you spam my comments, you gain nothing for your link. The change is that, while before the redirect would pause on a Google page for a moment, then take you where you were headed, while now it just stays on the Google page pictured above, inviting you to click to move on.
Ionut Alex has noticed this, too. Is it annoying? Of course. Is it necessary? Probably. some bad fellas (spammers, phishers, black hats) have been using it to fool unsuspecting web surfers into thinking they were going to a trusted website, Google, when they were really headed for evil-poker-phentermine-icephishing.com, or about to download some nasty spyware.
I can’t blame Google for making a smart change to protect its users, but it means I won’t be using the redirect anymore, and I suspect others will follow suit. If they wanted more people to adopt nofollow, this could work.
Google is also showing little warnings in its search results, saying “This site may harm your computer”.
On the other hand, Google has added tags to the templates of many Blogger blogs that add “nofollow” and “noindex” instructions to that page, telling all search engine not to include those pages in their search results, and not to count any links from those pages. Google made this change without notifying the owners of those blogs, resulting in those blogs getting dropped from the major search engines, the sort of thing that can be the kiss of death for a website.
This might have been a bit of overkill, done because of the huge number of free BlogSpot blogs that are just spamming up search engines. Google should do what it can to stop spam, but it needs to do so while talking to the community. Certainly, there are better solutions, and at the very least, notifying the owners of those blogs would have been the least they could do.
If your blog has been given these tags (look in the source code for
< meta name="ROBOTS" content="NOINDEX,NOFOLLOW" / >), you should go in and remove them, as they only serve to hurt your blog in search engines, and they stop you from giving credit to the sites you like. You’ll need to delete
< $BlogMetaData$ > or
< b:include data='blog' name='all-head-content'/ > from your template, and then see if you want to add back in by hand some of the other metadata that dissapears when you do that.
Here’s a shocker: Wikipedia isn’t the only major site that uses “nofollow” on outgoing user-generated links; YouTube does it too. I looked at the source code on a typical YouTube video page and discovered 137 rel=”nofollow” tags!
The strange thing is, YouTube doesn’t reserve the nofollow for outgoing links, they even slap it on links to other parts of YouTube. For example, the Related videos box in the sidebar, as well as the links to user’s profiles, all receive nofollows, even though those links present no search spam value.
If you do want to link from your YouTube video to your own website and keep the PageRank, fret not. Turns out, if you paste a link into the video description (the full link, including http://), YouTube will automatically turn it into a link, and won’t slap on a nofollow tag. Take advantage of this loophole, and be sure to link to your blog post when posting a video.
Google should be concerned about this, since sites that make heavy use of nofollow can skew the accuracy of search results. The technology behind Google is built on a certain philosophy, one that breaks down if one of the top ten sites on the internet does not follow. YouTube’s use of nofollow, by itself, is mostly harmless, but as a Google property, it sends a bad message on misuse of nofollow, and is an example Wikipedia can point to for its more complicated policy decision.
Eventually, nofollow, if used significantly by major sites, could break down the accuracy of Google and other search engines, forcing us to find a new method of determining search relevancy. Every legitimate link that gets a nofollow tilts the balance in the spammers favor by one more link. Big websites should only use it when absolutely necessary, and websites owned by search engines should be much smarter than this.
Oh, and Yahoo’s del.icio.us does it, too.
I was planning to moderate the comments, then I lost 20 minutes:
10 comments approved
957 comments marked as spam
And by the time I went through them, another 151 were waiting.
Nathan, seriously: GET AKISMET when you come back. Please.
This isn’t a warning, Nathan gave you one before, in your comments. Since you copy almost every item from this blog and many others and reproduce them word for word without linking back, I figure you’ll see this sooner than you read your comments.
Plagiarism is one thing, hiding or bypassing your sources another. You’re guilty of both, making posts look like your own because you keep the first person tone the original author used to express his thoughts. You copy everything, word for word, including images and lay-out. What gives? Are you totally thrown off the earth or what?
Of course, you upload the images yourself, including Philipp’s nice drawings of Nielsen and other authors and screenshots. You upload Steve Rubel’s screenshots, and you upload every image I posted here on Nathan’s blog, from the Lexxe screencap to dohop logo to whatever post you copied, the whole shezam. What? Should I send you flowers for not hotlinking?
But now you’ve done it. You actually copied an entry with a link you shouldn’t have duplicated, because you my friend… you copied text that came from Mister Anti-Blogiarism himself. As you might have read in your latest comment, you’re now dealing with Randy Charles Morin. Too bad for you because he actually knows how to deal with content duplicators like you. Yes, buddy… today we celebrate.
This is the end of your blog as you know it. Flagging you is one thing. Nathan did it, I did it… I think even Philipp did it. I know for sure Randy flagged you and that’s just where it begins. We all know flagging a blog on blogspot doesn’t really work that good, and it certainly doesn’t scare you. But for the readers of this blog, and for good understanding, because you ignored Nathan’s comment about at least giving links back, I’ll copy Randy’s comment right here:
Buddy, you have been reported to FeedBurner, Blogger and Google for blatant plagiarism.
This is your countdown. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Yours sincerely, Miel (Coolz0r)
Readers of InsideGoogle, I apologize but it had to be said.
Visit the content thief and see for yourself if you open up his january archive :
http://ambiraj.blogspot.com/ Link goes back here, you’ll need to copy-paste.
UPDATE : 1.49 AM CET, THREE (3) HOURS AFTER THIS POST, RASJEH’S BLOG WENT 404 !
Two months ago, Randy wrote a comprehensive blog entry on the State of Blogosphere Search. Since he wrote that article, he has noticed a considerable decline in the quality of results returned by the blogosphere search engines and wanted to update everybody on what he’s seeing.
Overall, the blogosphere ping has improved and the improvements lie with FeedBurner and Google blog search. Everybody else has stagnated. On the downside, 75% of all blogosphere pings are now spings (a.k.a. pings from splogs). Which brings us to our second topic; splogs.
I’ve noticed a considerable improvement at PubSub and Technorati which were splog infested two months ago. Now the results compare with the rest of the industry. Google blog search, IceRocket and BlogPulse, which were already good at handling splogs, are now even better. Blogdigger also seems to return few splogs.
Also check out his summary of who’s best at blogosphere search.
Coolz0r’s blog is back up, and I’m glad, since I’ve been waiting to link to some items.
The big one is that his and Jason Schramm’s series on blogger linkage and credit policies now includes good ol’ me, and since I don’t really know when to stop talking, I hope its kind of interesting. Let me know what you think of my comments in their comments and my comments with your comments on my comments. The interview is both here and here.
Also, he found out that, in a Technorati search for Coolz0r, 46 of 60 results were spam. 76.6%! And a very large number of them are from Blogspot. Does the search operator
-domain:blogspot.com work, and if not, why not?
Oh and I really think this is cool, even if I hate all programs written in Java.
So, welcome back, and let this be another reminder that you can never trust a web host.
Randy goes bezerk on Google, or on Technorati, or on both.
This morning, I woke up again to dozens (76 to be exact) of Blogspot splogs populating my inbox and in the last 24 hours, I’ve had to manually tag hundreds of emails as SPAM (I use Gmail). It would seem that things are getting worse, not better. A bad note again on Google, the Blogspot splogs were not in my Google blogs search. So, either Google isn’t indexing their own blogging service, or they are removing the splogs from their index, but leaving them online. Not very pleased. It would seem Google is now struggling with all sorts of malware.
[copy-pasted from here]
Then a few hours later :
Note to David Sifry. Stop indexing blogs hosted at Blogspot or I will stop using Technorati altogether. Even Google has stopped indexing Blogspot blogs. 50+ more Blogspot referrals since my discovery of 70+ this morning.
[copy-pasted from here]
So somebody should do something about it. Google is trying a bit, Technorati should do that too.
Randy Morin says Google has not been acting on his diligent spam reporting, with SpamSense accounts and Splogger sites still active. I’m not surprised. I’ve long suspected that two years ago, Google replaced all their employees with algorithms. How else do you explain the lack of mutiny over the months-long search for a new chef? Clearly the robots don’t care, since they don’t need food.
But, in all seriousness, its one thing for Google to not be developing systems to track and remove spam, but the least that can be done is to listen to users that have done the work for them. Spam sites are easy to recognize at a glance, so once Google has the URL, it is just lazy to not take action.
[37Signals] : Google has reintroduced their Google Web Accelerator with a vengeance. It was evil enough the first time around, but this time it’s downright scary.
Randy : There’s one part of Web Accelerator that I’ve always feared and that’s inadvertent clicks by the end-user. Image if you using a Web mailer and you get SPAM. Not hard to image, that’s a large fraction of the Internet users. Those SPAMmers will now put links in your emails that effectively act as a ping, telling them that somebody just read their email. Helping SPAMmers figure out which email accounts are actively read doesn’t sound like a good idea. Now, use your imagination and figure out what else will be done with this security hole.
[Read on iBLOGthere4iM]
Coolz0r : Hmm. Damn. That doesn’t look good at all.
Randy has had a very frustrating day. City workers laying sod cut the cables of his internet connection at least a half dozen times, then when it got fixed, he got spammed all over the place, through GMail.
The solution to the *MXON* and ‘viagara’ spam is to start creating your own filter rules :
“I’ve had to start writing my own Gmail SPAM filters today. I’ve received hundreds of SPAM with the phrase *MXON* in it. They are almost identical, except for the number of *’s. This seems to escape Gmail’s SPAM filter and I’ve setup a rule to forward anything with that string to the Trash (you can’t send it to the SPAM bin with a rule). “
Read on [iBLOGthere4iM]
Randy has some good points regarding the entire “Google needs to clean up Blogspot” issue that is going on. I agree totally with what he says, but I have some thoughts on this too, which I’ll add after his to-the-point quote :
” […] Many in the blogosphere have pointed the finger at Google and want Blogspot taken down until they can fix the splog program. This is very short-sighted. You see, if Blogspot wasn’t hosting these splogs, then somebody else would be. The reason sploggers have chosen Blogspot, is that it’s a very popular blogging platform that supports an API. If not Blogspot, then sploggers would host on 21publish or Blogspirit or Blogware or Wordpress. […]”
See, it’s true that Google offers a platform that allows abuse in a certain way, but indeed so do other platforms. My question is : then how come nobody else is using the other services for the same purposes they use the Blogspot for? I’m pretty sure some free bloglines accounts are also splogs, but I’ve not yet encountered a series of splogs overthere. Could it be the browsing function in Blogspot (mostly top-right located) actually invites people to start a splogblog, because of the random ‘next’ button? Is it an open invitation? I thought Google put up a ‘Flag this’ button to get rid of the problem. Isn’t that working out? What are they doing with the flagged blogs? If there were three or four employees over at Google who would crawl through Blogspot for a week, I bet a lot of crap would be removed already, no?
What is the exact difference between Blogspot and the others that makes sploggers decide to go host over at Google’s?
Then : Would things change if there was a blogsearch service that was able to filter out the splog-results?
“Beyond the constant easily detected SPAM that escapes them and the finger pointing that follows, none of the blogosphere search engines are all that good at capturing the blogosphere conversation and an HTTP 500 error isn’t exactly out of the ordinary.”
Randy puts up a ’state of the blogosphere’ regarding this topic, which is an interesting analysis of the electronic world today.
Satire : Splogspot.com & Spamgoogle
Definitely to be continued.
There’s a little bit of an arguement between Steve Rubel and the Yahoo Search Blog as to whether Yahoo’s My Web 2.0 has been co-opted by massive spamming. While, at first glance, the tags Steve points to (crapware, nhw: bad crapware, nhw: bad and nhw: dangerous) seem just crap spam, I’m inclined to agree with YSearchBlog’s assertion that this is not spam, but a bit of an accident, and Steve seems to confirm as such.
As explained by one comment, all of these pages have been tagged by one Carlo Zottman, and the contents are strikingly similar to the AGNIS Adblock list. Steve says later in a comment:
Thanks all. I see your point but I wish Yahoo would provide a way for users to ensure that they don’t see certain links posted by users they don’t trust when they’re viewing the community cloud.
On a related note, I heard from the person who posted all of these links that he is tinkering with MyWeb2.0 and by accident imported all his browser bookmarks into the larger community. Still, it does expose a big hole in all of these tagging sites.
So, what we’ve got here is an example of how a single person can overwhelm a new tagging site. Yahoo says that there have been 37,231 saved pages tagged with 14,098 tags. Conceivably, I could tag three hundred pages with “Nathan Weinberg is the coolest” and that would become one of the most popular tags. Good thing this should dissapear if My Web becomes a lot more popular.
You know, if I were an evil company, I’d realize I could kill this Yahoo service by having one employee tag all day with completely irrelevant pages. I’d have to start immediately, however.