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Graham Davies

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Newsweek (21 Nov 2005) carries an article entitled "Here's one more thing to hate: splogs":


Splogs, a contraction of spam blogs, are a crafty form of advertising or self-promotion: a blog that carries no useful content but serves merely to feed search engines. Citing the Newsweek article:

Here's how they work: first find a subject that draws consumers who may be valuable to advertisers on Google or Yahoo, and register for the programs that let those search companies place ads on your blog. Then set up a blog that automatically sucks in items from the news (via easy-to-set-up feeds) about that subject. If you've done it right, Google's search engines will identify your blog as a prime place for a high-value ad. Then, as Sifry says, "you can pay housewives in India to sit there and click on the ads." Because programs like Google's AdSense pay out each time someone responds to the ad, it's possible to make a bundle from this.
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This forum still comes up in Google searches. I just tried keying in three words (all proper names) that I remember appearing in one of my earlier contributions. My message came up as No. 1 in Google's hit list. A long-lost cousin found me by keying in a similar combination of names in Google.

However, I was a bit disturbed to find that messages I have written to another forum are reappearing all over the place. One location looked suspiciously like a splog.

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There is a good article about this in today's Guardian:


It is known as the Google dance, a delicate struggle between technicians at the world's largest internet search engine and the spin doctors who manipulate the worldwide web for commercial ends. Every day one group tries to prevent the other from abusing Google's index of more than 8bn web pages.

The stakes are high. As Britain's online shoppers spend £150m every day in the run-up to Christmas, the value of a high ranking on Google is potentially worth millions to retailers, website owners and criminals alike. Web search has become the focus for a legion of marketers over the past decade, and their tactics - known as search engine optimisation (SEO) - are the basis of a multibillion pound worldwide industry. Most are legitimate businesses, but some so-called "black hat" SEOs use unethical strategies to boost their clients.

To test the effectiveness of these tactics, the Guardian created a spoof site and tried to force it up Google's rankings. Over one week, a number of tricks - some similar to those used by black-hat firms - were used to successfully push it to the top.

The spoof site was set up to promote eco-friendly flip-flops, a bogus product promising zero harmful emissions. The simple page featured a disclaimer to make the nature of the experiment clear, and a picture of the goods. At the start of the experiment, there were more than 11,500 results for "eco-friendly flip-flops" on Google, and the spoof site did not feature. Within two days of creating the site, Google's spider - the program that explores the web - had discovered the site and included it in its main index, but it appeared within the lowest 100 pages. The first attempt to boost the ranking was a series of basic instructions intended to manipulate Google, including overloading the page with words that would improve the site's ranking, and adding invisible data intended to boost it even further. This had little effect, however, and the spoof site remained static in Google's index.

Another trick was then used to mimic black-hat behaviour. A second site was created which contained a large number of links to the first. Because Google rates the authority of a site partly by how many times they have been linked to, this ploy can makes a site appear popular. Within hours, the effect was apparent - the spoof site was now the top result in our test search, trumping the other 11,500 sites within days.

Our experiment was small scale and limited in scope, but in the real world the value of success is higher than ever. Black-hat companies offer a range of services at different prices, all aimed at unfairly manipulating search engines. One website found by the Guardian offered customers the chance to download a program to spam Google for $99 (£56), while another - posing as a legitimate SEO -charged several thousand pounds.

Commercial power Customers trust the results of search engines, which rely on advertising to generate profit and have much to gain from keeping the results clean and everything to lose if they fail. Almost a fifth of all visits to online shopping sites are the direct result of an internet search, according to data monitor Hitwise - and more than half of those come straight from Google. This places an astonishing level of commercial power in the hands of one company. Google says it takes this very seriously, but it is an almost impossible task given the amount of information concerned.

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