The quest by some to improve their Google PageRank score seems to have reached the point of sheer madness. Even common decency may be abandoned in futile attempts by desperate (or simply less educated) online marketers and others who will seemingly stop at nothing to try and gain links in hopes of seeing more green in their Google toolbar.
What I'd like to share with you in this article is a personal tale about the actual personal harm such ill-advised linking campaigns can inflict.
Unless you're a marketer who happens to work in commercial radio in the UK, you wouldn't have heard the name Ed Harwood before. Ed was one of the UK's leading and award winning, commercial copywriters.
Ed was my closest and dearest friend for 25 years. That was up until he was tragically killed on his motorcycle last year.
If you've ever lost a relative or close friend so unsuspectingly, you'll know the feeling of shock and the shadow of grief you immediately fall under. Ed had a huge circle of friends and acquaintances, so prompted by another friend, I immediately created a memorial web page. A place where everyone who knew him could go and share their own thoughts and memories of this great character by posting them online.
Within a week the guest book (as it really was a simple CGI guest book script I used) had over 100 entries and the memories and eulogies grew each week.
Not long after his funeral, I received an email from Penny, Ed's wife. She was obviously very upset and explained that she'd been to Ed's memorial page to read the new entries and couldn't believe that "someone had placed adverts on it."
It wasn't too long before I found myself receiving notes every couple of days from people who had been to the memorial page and were horrified to find promotional messages for ring-tones and other affiliate type programs. And so I started my daily vigil of downloading the memorial page and cleaning off the junk.
It has now reached a point where, I have taken down the form and requested that people wishing to make an entry should email it to me and I'll upload it. Of course, this takes away the whole point of being able to express your feelings spontaneously, or even anonymously.
I've also tried to explain to friends and family that, the entries for ring-tones and other nonsense are actually created by bots (AKA spam-bots). That they are software scripts developed to automate the process of signing guest books and leaving links back to their operators' own web pages.
Such activities have little impact on Google. The links often lack the context that's an important factor to help pages rank well for particular words. In addition, Google is known to have taken action to downgrade, or disregard links that it finds in guest books, because they are less trustworthy these days, than in the past, as a guide to relevancy.
Programming a spam bot to relentlessly seek out guest books and comment areas to dump links back to your own pages is a "brute force" method that will produce little search engine gains, in my view.
But even if you don't believe me and my writings about effective link building (PDF), are you really prepared to commit yourself to the virtual desecration of someone's memorial site and bring pain to their loved ones to sell a ring tone? If so, then why not head out to your nearest cemetery with a can of spray paint and plaster your URL's on the tombstones. Your actions in the virtual world of the web are the same.
Yes, I know this a is a very personal message. But that's how these spam bots and the people who operate them have affected me: Personally.
I don't know if my words will have any effect on the spam bot problem in general. But if it pricks the conscience of just one person who's just about to launch his own program then it may be one less bit of junk which a grieving friend or partner will have to scrape off their loved ones memorial page.
Mike Grehan is a search marketing consultant, speaker and author of Search Engine Marketing: The essential best practice guide.
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