Enjoy Spam? Just Search for … Anything

Recently economist, technology investor, analyst, blogger and all-around go-to guy Paul Kedrosky published a scathing post on his Infectious Greed blog entitled “Dishwashers, and How Google Eats Its Own Tail.” You can (and should) read the entire post for yourself, but the gist is his stymied efforts at searching for appliance reviews online that turned out to be spam.

Algorithm Spam

In his quest to find dishwasher reviews, he found that the vast majority of top-ranking results were for advertisements, repackaged advertorial content, and fake blogs linking back to advertisers. His assessment based on his anecdotal evidence was that searching for products that yield high scores in keyword search algorithms (“dishwasher reviews”) was useless spam, and Google needs to work harder to eliminate this issue.

In response, Chris Dixon, founder of Hunch, dug a little deeper to figure out the source Kedrosky’s frustrations and published “Anatomy of a Bad Search Result” on his blog. Dixon found that spammers set up a number of sites to resemble blogs and linked back to one common source—in this case, consumersearch.com.

How Spammers Use Algorithms

The crux of his response was that these spam blogs mine content about whatever keyword term they are seeking to promote from other sites, string this content together to look like a blog, then link back to a commercial site. But who was responsible? Consumer search, an SEO consultant, a member of an affiliate program, or someone else? The problem as he saw it was that “you have a multi-billion dollar economy built around keywords and links,” so of course companies will create cookie-cutter content to drive traffic and conversions.

The question then becomes what to do about it. We have arrived at this juncture in search marketing because search has value. Much like in physical real estate, it’s all about location, location, and location. Companies take whatever measures they can. Or, in some cases, they’ll take whatever they think they can get away with. Sadly, they will do this to land prime search results page (SRP) real estate. Add in the importance of inbound links to the search relevance equation, and you are going to see this type of practice.

Algorithms and Behavioral Tracking

Technology exists to serve its human masters. As such, it can be and is constantly improved to meet our needs. Search companies like Google constantly change their algorithms and add new features like behavioral tracking and sales data in order to determine relevance. It’s easy to make the argument that search engines are so good at finding results. This is especially true if it’s common queries that they’re finding. In that case, they’ll find anything and everything, quality or not. And what a problem to have.

Besides, do you remember back to 1995 when you could just submit a site to Yahoo! and it would show up almost instantly? Or add a physical address to Google without responding to an automated phone call or postcard? The web in 2010 is an unimaginably crowded ecosystem. So, it’s folly to blame Google because they haven’t yet solved a relatively new problem. Every day, new services are added. Daily updates are also made. The updates ensure that their search product can get its arms around the web and see the forest for the trees.

Best Practices to Avoid Spam

In short, don’t panic. Companies should keep operating above the table when it comes to search marketing. They should also keep producing quality content as it relates to their products and services. Additionally, companies should engage in targeted search marketing to the best of their abilities by the rules. Spammers and short-term profit-seekers will always spike, but they always have a short-lived moment in the sun. Algorithms will get better, and they’ll learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

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