TechCrunch recently had a post lamenting the fact the Barnes and Noble's new How-To site, Quamut, is being spammed by SEO guys looking for some free link juice. The B&N site wasn't adding nofollow to their external links, so it's been open-season for SEOs. (Before you get all excited, they've now changed the links to nofollow.)
To many people, that SEO spamming may look like a bad thing. I think it's the best thing that could ever happen to Quamut.
Unlike other types of spam, good link spam carries with it a wealth of benefits for the site being spammed:
1. It brings users. When a new social site debuts, especially when it is a "me-too" site like Quamut, getting users is tough. Unless you offer some special incentive, or your site provides something necessary that other sites don't, you have to fight a tough battle for users. If someone wants to add link spam to your site, they need to sign up. The thousands of SEO Spammers out there can quickly become thousands of new members of your site. And when the spammers sign up under multiple accounts, they can quickly become tens of thousands of new members.
2. It adds content. It might not be the best content ever written, but SEO spammers do know how to write content that, at the very least, is unique, keyword-rich and geared to any user that might stumble upon it. Contrary to popular belief, SEO spammers are not interested just in backlinks, but also in filling up the SERPs. If they can get a page on your site to rank by combining their content with strength of your site, and then convincing the user to shift to their site, the bottom line stays the same.
3. It raises stature. When your brand spanking new social network has 10,000 members and 50,000 UGC articles after only one month, your site starts to get noticed--even if most of those members are spammers and that content is primarily spam. There's a reason companies like MySpace and YouTube didn't crack down on spammers--and even explicitly allowed spam in their original Terms of Service. If you want to grow--and grow fast--no one will help as much as spammers.
SEO Spammers contributed to padding out Wikipedia; for every great article that was written to insert a spammy link, Wikipedia got a great article. They helped get YouTube to critical mass; for every YouTube embed done to get a YouTube backlink, YouTube got more video views. SEO Spammers keep MySpace growing. Do you still know anyone with a MySpace account? Can you tell me how their growth keeps skyrocketing? Check the inbox of your old MySpace account and you'll see how.
In short, SEO Spammers are helping the internet continue to grow. As each once-spammed site gets big off of the shoulders of spammers, they introduce methods to lock the spammers out, and the spurned SEOs move on to new sites. The cycle continues--and, with it, innovation in the social and user-generated content fields.
If popular sites are suffering under a flood of spam, I sympathize with their decision to add nofollow their links and put barriers to stop spammers--as long as they don't forget who made them popular to begin with.