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Monday, August 22, 2005

What is Search Engine SPAM?

Posted by @ 6:01 pm

What is search engine SPAM? Well at one WebMasterWorld conference I attended, SPAM was actually jokingly defined as an acronym, standing for “Site Positioned Above Mine”. This was a very funny comment that I wish I could remember which one of the Webmasters said it, so I could provide the appropriate credit. After all, if there site is above mine, it must be SPAM because every webmaster believes there site to be the most relevant, most important and most useful to the searcher.

However, it does bring me to the point at hand, what is Search Engine SPAM? Email spam is quite easy to define, as it is – in common English – unsolicited (unrequested if you prefer) marketing material that is received via email.

With search engines, the definition is not as easy, as shown by the entry into the Glossary of SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization):

SPAM: Any search engine marketing method that a search engine deems to be detrimental to its efforts to deliver relevant, quality search results. Some search engines have written guidelines about what they consider to be spamming, but ultimately any activity a particular search engine deems harmful may be considered spam, whether or not there are published guidelines against it. Example of spam include the creation of nonsensical doorway pages designed to please search engine algorithms rather than human visitors or heavy repetition of search terms on a page (i.e. the search terms are used tens or hundreds or times in a row). These are only two of many examples. Determining what is spam is complicated by the fact that different search engines have different standards. A particular search engine may even have different standards of what’s allowed, depending on whether content is gathered through organic methods versus paid inclusion. Also referred to as spamdexing. Source: Webmaster World Forums

To me, the definition of search engine SPAM is quite simply, search engine cheating! Plain and simple. If you are SPAMing, you are cheating by defrauding either the search engine or the search user, using tactics which are taking unfair advantage of a weakness. You are defrauding people into visiting your site but making it appear something that it isn’t or by falsely representing the site to be more important than it is.

To put this definition more formally, I consider search engine SPAM to be:

Any tactic (either known or accidental) that is employed by a search engine marketer with the intent of deceiving a searcher or search engine spider, by manipulating the order of the search engine results page in an unethical

The more obvious forms of search engine spam are (please note that these are my definitions and not formal definitions) defined below:

Black Hat SEO: Generally referred to the “darker” side of SEO, which is using unethical tactics to increase a sites ranking. The search engine cheaters and the ethical search engine marketers and search engines natural enemy.

White Hat SEO: Opposite to Black Hat SEO, where only ethical tactics are used to increase a sites ranking and not impacting on the quality of the search engine index. Rather enhancing int.

Gray Hat SEO: Not quite ethical, not quite unethical. A mixture of both.

Keyword Stuffing: Putting too many keywords (stuffing) or repeating your keywords in your meta data extensively. i.e. stuffing them with a single word or derivations of the same keyword.

Hidden Text: Text on a web page which has the same font colour as the background, effectively hiding it from the user. This is a way to increase keyword density on a page or to have text on the page which is actually not related to the main content of the page. A very old tactic that will get a website banned because it is so easy for the search engines to detect this.

Cloaking: A deceptive tactic where the search engine is presented a different version of a website (or page) than to a normal user. This is achieved by looking at the “user agent string” (when ever someone or a robot visits a site, they tell the server the name of what they are. This is the called the user string. For a Browser, this is generally the name of the browser. For a spider, the name of the spider i.e. Googlebot, msnBot) and if it is a known search engine spider, then serve up a very keyword rich site, that is included in the search results. A user who comes to the site, can be presented with a totally different page.

Doorway Pages: A web page developed with the sole purpose of attracting visitors by being specifically for search engines and not for searchers. It provides an entry point or avenue to a website that ranks well for a particular term. Unfortunately, most door way pages tend to be fairly generic and are of low quality.

There are a few more techniques which deserve greater attention in future articles.

The age old saying of “cheaters never prosper” is not true in the case with search engine cheating. Whilst here is significant money to be made from search engine traffic, there will always be cheating. However, if you are cheating, you will get caught. If you are an ethical business using ethical search engine tactics, you have nothing to fear and will come out on top as the cheaters are discovered and penalised.

If you are the victim of “Site Positioned Above Mine” by an internet marketer who is cheating, then your best response is to wait. Wait until they are caught (not if but when) and they are penalised. Search Engine SPAM hurts everyone and is a blight on the Search Engine Marketing industry.

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