Stop Littering Online! How Webspam Affects User Experience
I would like you to take a quick stroll with me down main street America. On our walk we pass dozens of family stores, small shops, established restaurants, and healthy businesses. We go in and out of shops, enjoying a nice afternoon. Near the end of our trip we decide to go in one last store. It looks quite normal on the outside and we expect nothing out of the ordinary. But upon opening the door, we quickly realize we aren't where we want to be. There is loud music, tacky displays, annoying clerks, and low quality products. We only last a few minutes before we dash out of the store and vow to never go back. We were fooled.
This little scene is played out thousands of times each day on the internet. It's what we have come to call webspam, or black hat SEO. What was once only done by a few, has sadly become commonplace for many websites, blogs, and online store fronts. Put simply, it needs to stop! The deceitfulness and unethical actions of spammy internet marketers and black hat SEOs are causing a world of problems for the law abiding citizens of the internet, and the consequences are hitting hard.
The Problem with Webspam
Webspam, also known as search spam, is the term used to describe internet pages that are specifically designed to take advantage of SEO algorithms and rules through unethical and misleading means. Marketers, SEOs, and webmasters usually do this through black hat SEO tactics like cloaking and keyword stuffing. The problem with this goes far beyond the repercussions for individual sites and pages. Webspam actually ruins the search engines for the rest of us. Just like a misleading store on main street America creates a negative image for the rest of the businesses in town, sites using black hat techniques are watering down the quality of content available.
It's become common today - a searcher inserts a keyword into a search engine and is then taken to a website that doesn't relate to that search. Instead, they're taken to an advertising page designed by a spammer. Pages like this have been strategically created in order to manipulate the search engines, making them believe the site is providing genuine content.
The issue here is that webspam and black hat SEO techniques are trashing the internet's environment. It's a problem when a consumer thinks he is getting one thing and ends up with another. It is no longer an isolated issue that only affects a select company or individual, but it is a universal problem with detrimental effects for everyone. Marketers, webmasters, honest SEOs, and consumers are all suffering at the expense of webspam.
Guilty of Littering
While most people think black hat SEO and webspam is something only done by small sites and companies, there are some big names that have proven the problem is not restricted to any isolated area.
Popular US department store J.C. Penney was one of these big name violators. A 2010 investigation by the New York Times found that J.C. Penney was using thousands of unrelated sites to link keywords and funnel traffic. They were essentially cheating Google's system to appear first for a long list of keywords they normally wouldn't rank well for. The result? Google conducted what it calls a "manual action."
The New York Times article provides an example of the drastic results this manual action produced for the keyword "Samsonite carry on luggage." At 7 p.m. on the night of the manual action, J.C. Penney was ranked number 1 for the keyword. Two hours later? Number 71. The keyword "living room furniture" was also ranked number 1 at 7 p.m. that day. At 9 p.m., they were ranked number 68. That's the risk you run when you take on black hat strategies. Google is not pleased, nor impressed, with questionable webspam techniques.
While there are certain techniques that Google deems unacceptable and dirty, there are plenty of SEO techniques that marketers, SEOs, and webmasters can utilize to play by the rules and increase traffic. The solution is to lead by example and follow the rules in creative and ethical ways. This means respecting the power of Google, while learning how to employ creative advantages. Learn to create quality pages with rich content, use effective keywords, and build quality links.
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