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Search Engine Spam Survey

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Search engines face a lot of spam, and the worst is the opportunistic spam. This is when someone decides to take advantage of a popular topic and create a page that's meant to attract those looking for information, though the content offered usually turns out to be minimal or worse in terms of quality.

A good example was after the death of Princess Diana. Many pages were created promising information about the princess. Instead, they were often a collection of banners for porn sites.

These are what I call "clickthrough" pages. The goal is to get people to the page, then have them clickthough on a link or banner that may generate referral fees for the page author. It's not just porn sites that pay. Online books stores and web hosting firms are other vendors that pay for clicks, making opportunistic spam worthwhile.

Monica Lewinsky is in the news at the moment, so a search for her name is a natural for opportunistic spammers. This is an obvious topic that the search engines should be closely monitoring. The chart below shows what percentage of the top results were deemed to be spam. In addition, the results were also graded in terms of overall quality. I was very liberal in my interpretation of what "good" is.

Results as of March 1, 1998

Quality

AltaVista

Excite

HotBot

Infoseek

Lycos

Good

0%

20%

20%

40%

20%

OK

20%

30%

10%

40%

10%

Poor

30%

0%

30%

10%

10%

Junk

0%

20%

10%

0%

10%

Spam

50%

30%

30%

10%

50%

AltaVista

AltaVista tied with Lycos as being the most likely place to find spam. Three offending pages were of the clickthrough variety, while two used basic word stuffing or hidden text to rise to the top.

Excite

One word stuffing offender and two clickthrough pages made it into the top listings. Among the good pages listed was a copy of Monica Lewinsky's original AOL home page. Junk included two pages from a porn-oriented bulletin board.

HotBot

Among the worst of the obvious spam is an online auction house asking Monica Lewinsky to use its service. There's no way this should be HotBot's number one listing, and what's worse is the fact that it has been number one for over a month. In fact, the entire line-up has not changed in that time. There are two obvious clickthrough pages that make up the other spam, and all three pages in the poor category might be considered opportunistic spam by some.

Infoseek

For ages, Infoseek has been the search engine of choice for spammers. All that attention has caused Infoseek to continually refine its spam-fighting techniques. In this case, they've done well. Only one clickthrough page made it into the top listing, one that also made it into all the others but Lycos.

It's easy to overlook this page at first glance, as it appears to be a collection of links about Monica Lewinsky. But further down on the page are loads of links to an online bookstore, probably which generate revenue for the site owner. A URL search also reveals numerous topical pages that also appear to be revenue-generated gateway pages. It's enough to nudge this into the spam category.

Among the good sites are links to various news stories. Though these may be dated, they remain good in comparison to the overall quality of results from all the search engines.

Lycos

There's an assortment of clickthrough pages here. Among the good are links to Lewinsky's resume and to a copy of her AOL home page. Another link also leads to her AOL home page, but this one has hidden keyword stuffing stuck to the end of the page.


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