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The Search Engine Spam Police

thurow-shari
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A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2001 Conference, November 14-15, Dallas, TX.

Those who take extreme measures to rank well on search engines are likely to be labeled spammers. There are some clear no-nos, but it is mainly an issue of intent and proportion. In a session entitled "The Spam Police," representatives from Google, Inktomi, and FAST explored the issue of spamming the search engines.

To determine whether or not a search engine optimization strategy can be considered spam, Matt Cutts, Software Engineer for Google, said that webmasters should ask themselves the following questions:

(1) Does your web page's content help end users? Tricking end users to get to your useful content does not count.
(2) Would you perform on optimization strategy if the search engines did not exist?
(3) Are your pages automated? If so, Google does not want them in their indices.

"Essentially, we want the best search results on top," stated Cutts. "We want to get end users off of Google as soon as possible."

Google takes all spam attempts seriously. Some items that Google considers spam are:

(1) No hidden text.
(2) No stuffing pages, graphic images, etc. with irrelevant words.
(3) No doorway pages, multiple domains or subdomains with essentially the same content.
(4) No "sneaky" redirects.
(5) No cloaking.
(6) Typo spam/cybersquatting (for example www.yahhoo.com)
(7) Identity theft/pagejacking.
(8) Linking to "bad neighborhoods."

All of the search engines representatives made it very clear about linking to "bad neighborhoods," which is creating deceptive links purely to boost a site's popularity. Though no one can control which web sites link to you, you have total control over which sites you link to. If a site links to another site that is considered a "bad neighborhood," such as free-for-all (FFA) web sites, your site can be penalized.

The email address to report spam is [email protected] or fill out their form at
http://www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html

Google also announced a new beta toolbar which can be downloaded at:
http://toolbar.google.com/go?version=beta&hl=en .

The toolbar sends a vote to Google to determine whether you had high quality or low quality search results, or if you saw good or poor sites.

For more information about spam guidelines, go to http://www.google.com/webmasters/ .

Tim Mayer, Web Search Product Manager at Inktomi, presented these common spam practices:

(1) Embedding deceptive and/or hidden text not related to actual content.
(2) Using meta data that does not accurately describe a page's actual content.
(3) Fabricating URLs that redirect for no specific purpose.
(4) Flooding the search results with machine-generated pages.
(5) Creating intentionally misleading links.
(6) Cloaking/doorway pages not reflecting actual content of web pages.
(7) Link farming or link spamming

Affiliate programs, Mayer stated, are generally problematic. Essentially, affiliate programs tend to be "spam magnets" because the content is the same on all sites.

Inktomi does accept information pages into their free index and into their paid inclusion programs. For example, if a site contains PDF documents, and you create an information page in HTML with an abstract of each PDF document, that HTML page is acceptable to Inktomi.

If you suspect that someone is spamming Inktomi, email [email protected]. This email can also be used to dispute a spam penalty.

Stephen Baker, Director of Business Development and Marketing for Fast, echoed both Google's and Inktomi's sentiments. "Sites that are not meant to be of interest to people and material repeated in too many unreasonable places is generally considered spam," said Baker.

Baker listed three basic types of spam:

(1) Page spam, which is material that is not intended to be seen by end users.
(2) Spam stuffing, which includes invisible text or link farming.
(3) Offensive content, which includes pornography, hate views, distribution of illegal substances, etc.

"Spam is a serious problem on the Internet and FAST is committed to identifying and eliminating it from our engine," stated Baker. "While FAST doesn't explicitly define what spam is, our policies are clear and suspect sites will be penalized: any technique that is used to achieve a higher ranking than otherwise similar documents or trigger a result for unrelated queries runs the risk of being considered spam."

Any searcher who thinks they have found a questionable result on AlltheWeb or any their portal customer sites, such as Lycos, should email them using the "contact FAST" link located on www.AlltheWeb.com.

Site designers and webmasters should focus their efforts on creating sites with unique content and getting other quality sites to link to them instead of wasting time trying to spam the search engines.

Shari Thurow is the Marketing Director and Webmaster for Grantastic Designs, Inc. (http://www.grantasticdesigns.com/) She has been designing and promoting web sites since 1995 for businesses in a wide range of fields.

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