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The Net Takeaway: Search Engine Spam...


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Search Engine Spam... · 08/11/2005 10:43 AM, Marketing

Nice article in the Wash. Post, reprinted here, about fake sites designed just to have pay-per-click search and affiliate links on them. (PPC is defined here, and I chose this site because it exemplifies the very type of crummy site this post is all about).

The whole article is a good read. She examined one scumbag, Marchex (who went IPO (people will pay for anything!)) in some detail. They create sites either designed to rank high in search engines, or as typosquatters.

This week, Marchex rolled out more than 50 Web sites based on Zip codes, such as for Washington D.C., each featuring local weather, maps and sponsored links to local businesses. It announced plans to generate similar sites for almost all 42,500 Zip codes in the United States.

So, if you accidentally type a zip code in the address bar instead of the search bar you might be using, you get this scumbag page. It does nothing to help you, just sends to you a site which may attempt to install spyware, change your home page, and other nasties. Their entire business model is based on abusing both web surfers and the targeted-search-ad models.

Other companies try other games: Some copy DMOZ listings, some copy Wikipedia entries, and some blatantly steal content from other high profile sites, such as this case where MarketingSherpa discovered content theft

I worry for a couple of reasons:

1) No easy way to tell Google or Yahoo that a site is a scumbag. We have to wait til they figure it out. Google has a dissatisfied link but who knows what happens to that info.

2) Screws over the rest of us. Like any kind of spam, these scumbags make it harder for legit stuff to be appreciated. If someone clicks on 3 links and each is more spammy than the next, then they will give up instead of visiting the 4th… which would have solved their problem

3) Its just another example of the long history of abuse connected with affiliate linking, unmoderated search ads, and other ppc programs. I’ve been in this space for a long time, and for every person who says that they’ve been successful with ppc marketing, I find 10 who have lost tons of money to fraud, get poor results, and find “optimizers” who do either nothing or provide “edge of legal” tactics like these scumbags. Good brands like Gevalia have been tainted by spammers using affiliate links. The greed for volume over quality continually hurts the total market and the individuals who pay into these pyramid schemes.

Now, I could go on an on about Tragedy of the Commons and other abuses of shared resources, but I bet you’ve heard it all.

So, what to do?

We have really screwed the pooch on some of the marketing things we are forced to accept in the real world. Let’s not do the same thing online. If you market, try to be better than the “easy money” approach. Yes, its harder. Yes, its longer term revenue, no quick hits, no immediate return. And yes, when you look back , not only will you have made more money over time, but you will have made marketing part of your service, instead of being part of the abuse.

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