Spamming Your Way to Visibility with User-Generated Pages

name-a-city-in-florida“Can you name a city in New Jersey that doesn’t have an E in its name? It’s not easy…” So say the multitude of recent Facebook posts that have inundated the feed of pretty much everyone on Facebook.

It’s easy, and it’s so simple that even Great Aunt Matilda could comment “Brick” or “Lodi” and feel pleased with herself that she accomplished something that was claimed to be “not easy”.

Why are these posts showing up? It’s all to do with Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm.

The median reach of a Facebook article is said to be around 16 percent – in other words only 16 percent of your followers will see your average Facebook posts in their news feed. How can you increase that? By increasing your level of engagement with your followers.

How can you increase your level of engagement? By putting out stupid inane questions that the lowest possible denominator (sorry Great Aunt Matilda) can easily answer.

Once they’ve responded, there’s a greater chance that future posts from the site posting the inane posts will show up in their news feed, thus increasing their reach.

how-many-squaresThis is far and away from being the first instance of this attempt at manipulation on Facebook. Last year there was a spate of “write some specific word in the comments and you’ll be amazed at what happens” (SPOILER: What happens is nothing apart from their next posts perhaps showing up in the feed of Great Aunt Matilda, et al). …and let’s not forget the “How many squares do you see in this picture?” image that you couldn’t avoid every time you logged on for about a month or so.

So is there a solution beyond ignoring them? Well, if enough people flag them as spam, then perhaps Facebook will look into them, beyond that it’s a matter of increasing awareness of this type of trick.

SEO and Spam

college-humor-debut-curesOf course spammy tactics and techniques aren’t simply a Facebook issue, Twitter has its share of trend hackers, those who follow the trends and automatically tweet out links to their debt consolidation program, pharmaceuticals, or whatever they’re selling attached to the hottest hashtag.

With SEO, there are many tactics that go against the grain, but the one I’m going to focus on here that is roughly equivalent to the inane Facebook posts issue is that of creating spammy pages on legitimate sites.

These pages could be user profiles, or UGC pages if the site permits it. These are low quality pages that shouldn’t, in a post Panda world rank for anything, but in some cases they still do, so they keep trying.

At least with these, there is a mechanism to get them removed if you see them ranking in the search engines. Simply fill out the Google spam report and let them deal with it.

wedding-die-hardYou can always report them to the site owner as well, as they may not be aware of the extent of their issue. If they understand that Google detecting a large quantity of spam on their site can impact the ability of their site to rank for terms that they probably, legitimately should be competing for.

For example, in the image to the left you can see links to a free (illegal) stream for the new “Die Hard” movie. Hardly the type of content you’d expect to see on a wedding site.

It can be difficult for a successful site that allows users to create pages to keep an eye on every page created. On site I was working with had a slew of link heavy UGC pages that were linking over to products that had absolutely nothing to do with that site. The dev team killed all of those pages.

A year later I note that several of them are back in operation. Not exactly the same as they were, as the dev team had placed checks and balances on the site to trap these type of pages based on common patterns. The spammers obviously noticed that and worked to find out a way back onto the site.

coach-purses-nowRegardless of the medium, there’ll always be spammers, people trying to work their way around the system, looking for the quick buck. Sure, they’ll get smacked down from time to time, but they keep coming back.

Primarily it’s up to the search engines, the social networks, and the site owners to prevent it as much as they can, but flagging spam where you can will at least give them a hand in identifying this web junk.

What Should a Responsible Marketer Do?

Don’t do what Johnny Spammer does. If it looks like spam, feels like spam and smells like spam, guess what? Yep, it’s spam.

If you’re working with a site that relies on this type of tactic trickery in order to survive, then perhaps you need to reevaluate why you’re working with that site, because quite frankly it’s a short term strategy, as you’re constantly wondering when the next Panda, Penguin, or Facebook smackdown will come around the corner and kill your site dead in the water. Plus it just makes your brand look cheap and tacky.

Let me finish with one question for you, it’s a hard one: Name a site without an E in the domain that’s going to be able to spam like this long term and get away with it?

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