Spamming search engines – is it worth the risk?


People who have been using search engines since the ’90s remember seeing spam and/or irrelevant sites constantly mixed with legitimate search results. As search engine technology has evolved, it’s become harder to game the system, and search results have become a lot cleaner and more relevant. However, spam is still alive and well in the search engines.

Some people go to a lot of risk and trouble to manipulate the system. Yet in many if not most cases, it just isn’t worth it. Before I talk about some reasons why, let me start with a classic example.

Just out of curiosity, I queried “search engine optimization tri-city” to see where we’d rank. Here’s a screenshot (roll over to enlarge):

search engine optimization results

There we are, #2, right under a rather spammy looking #1 result for “Tri-City Airport” search engine optimization.

Now, that page title just begs for further investigation. I followed the link and got this:

website

On the landing page, we’re invited to consider this company for “all your Tri-City Airport search engine marketing needs.” I think I will – if I ever decide to run a spam campaign. Obviously, these guys just plugged into a database somewhere and made a generic page for every town (and airport?) across the state, perhaps the country, in hopes of achieving results in local searches.

This was just a few days ago, and that page has already been removed from the SERPs. I can’t find it at all. Google either canned it (not likely, since the rest of the site is still visible in Google), or the company realized that some of their robot-produced pages looked really dumb and obvious, and did some cleaning up.

Stuff like this is common. There are a lot of “black hat” SEOs and database programmers who will charge you a healthy fee to automatically generate a large number of pages. Black hat is big business now, and there are still plenty of techniques that continue to fool search engines, like scraping, cloaking, hidden content, and redirects. There is even a technique many black hats claim can often destroy the search engine position of competing websites.

A related phenomenon known as “google bombing” generated some buzz some time ago when bloggers were able to cause the whitehouse.gov presidential biography of George Bush to appear as the #1 result for “miserable failure.” Google has since responded to this exploit, but the trick still yields the same results at Yahoo and MSN.

Regardless of your politics, you probably aren’t looking for a biography of George Bush when you search for that term. Likewise, you probably aren’t looking for cheap, mass-generated spam pages like the one above when you search for local search engine optimization companies.

Where am I going with this? Simple. SEO is only half the battle in online marketing. You can spends tens of thousands of dollars, buy hundreds of links, and employ every trick in the book to get top rankings for a variety of searches – which may or may not be relevant to your site – but it’s all for nothing if you don’t convert those rankings into visits, and those visits into sales.

Number one, if you’re ranking for searches that have nothing to do with your site content, then you’ve wasted a lot of time and money, and you’ve risked being banned from the search engines. Your target audience is just like you – they get annoyed with irrelevant search results.

If you’re mass-producing pages, scraping, cloaking, or using other techniques to capture a wide range of search results within a specific topic, at least attempt to stay away from the spammy look and feel that usually accompanies these types of sites.

Sometimes black hat and/or aggressive SEO is great, especially for blitz marketing. But if your business is interested in protecting its reputation and maintain a lasting presence (read: not get banned from search engines), don’t go too far.

I’d rather search and get ten clean, informative, relevant sites than a thousand generic, cloned, cheesy ones, and I’m going to do business with the company that looks the most credible and the least desperate to reach customers at all costs.

I think we’d all agree.



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