Search Engine Spamming Articles


There are many ways people try to attract traffic from search engines. Some aggressive methods that go too far are collectively known by a term I coined back in early 1996, “search engine spamming.” Spamdexing and spammage are other terms applied to these methods. This page provides a compilation of articles on the topic of search engine spam from Search Engine Watch and from across the web.

NOTE: Article links often change, especially the older an article is. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline. Also, some very old articles flagged “no longer online” might indeed be online — but the former URL no longer resolves, and it’s not worth the time investment for me to try and personally track down these down versus spending time producing new content.

Jump to articles from:
Sept. 2004 Onward
Jan-Aug 2004200320022001 & Earlier

Jan-Aug 2004

When are pages “spam”?
Search Engine Watch Forums, Aug. 23, 2004

Always a hot topic – what page elements are considered search engine spam? What are borderline tactics? And how can you firmly establish spam without specific SE guidelines?

My Plan to End Spam
iMedia Connection, Aug. 3, 2004

Kevin Ryan would like a solution to finding a good search engine marketer. COLON is his tongue-in-cheek call for the industry to work together on a solution.

Porn Blogs Manipulate Google
Wired, Aug. 3, 2004,1367,64422,00.html

File this under the best spam report seems to be to get someone to write an article about your competitors. A porn site is accused of using Google’s Blogger service to create a number of blogs that link back to its own sites. Not said is that this has an impact on other search engines — or that porn sites have been doing the same tactic with non-blog sites — or that non-porn sites have used cross-linking — or as best I can tell, any actual examples of searches where the tactic supposedly helped. Perhaps it did, but for what isn’t shown. I didn’t find the blog material in question for the three celebrities named, when I looked in mid-August. Perhaps they were there before, of course.

Defusing the Google bomb
RedHerring, June 30, 2004

A look at the search engine spam problem. Nothing new to regular Search Engine Watch readers, but a generally good recap if the issue is new to you.

Spam, Damn Spam, and Statistics
Microsoft/WebDB, June 17, 2004

Research from Microsoft showing that many machine-generated spam pages can be statistically identified through a variety of ways. That can help search engines weed out abnormal pages and linkage networks. It might not catch sophisticated spammers diligently working to escape being noticed by doing abnormal things and other types of non-machine generated spam. You’ll find links to the paper in PDF and PS formats via the URL above, in the Further Reading section.

Entrepreneurs Look for Ways To Exploit Google’s Ad System
Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2004

I’ve mentioned briefly before that you knew Google’s AdSense program had hit critical mass when the “make money off AdSense” email spams started last year. Here’s a good look at how AdSense has sparked the creation of new sites designed primarily to make money by carrying AdSense ads for high value terms. I haven’t looked at any of the sites named in this article, but there’s no doubt that many of the new sites are similar to low-quality Amazon or eBay affiliate sites that have long polluted search engine results. And that’s ironic, because this time, it’s Google itself that’s fuelling the pollution.

Spam Rules Require Effective Spam Police
SearchDay, April 27, 2004

Rules about spam mean nothing without effective enforcement by the rule makers, the search engines. Will they ever publish an offenders list? A look at how this would help and the impact better spam disclosure would have for searchers and marketers alike.

Six Apart Trains Guns on ‘Comment Spam’, March 25, 2004

The makers of the Movable Type blogging tool are working up a method to allow comments but prevent spamming designed to influence search engines.

Doorway Pages or Advertising Pages, What Is The Difference?
Search Engine Guide, March 17, 2004

I always love the conversation with someone who has talked with an SEO firm that wants to get them listed with some type of newfangled pages that explicitly are NOT doorway pages. The person knows doorway pages are bad, but this firm has explained that these are attraction pages, entry pages, infosearch pages and so on — the “good” kind.

Not always — but often — if the SEO firm is coming up with some new name you’ve never heard of, they’ve simply renamed doorway pages to be something they hope will be acceptable. Or as Jill Whalen put it so well, call ’em “zebra” pages if you want, but they probably still are doorway pages and bring with them potential trouble (more on Jill’s classic here).

Dave Wallace takes a fresh look at the type of confusion this renaming can cause. Importantly, he provides a rundown on how he investigates the alleged “advertising” pages to see if they are what he’d consider spammy doorway pages.

Shari Thurow also provides a great rundown on red flags to look for as well as tips on how to tell if a page might actually be acceptable.

How to Spot Search Engine Spam: Doorway Pages
ClickZ, March 15, 2004

Using doorway pages can get you in trouble with many major search engines. A guide on how to spot the signs and avoid trouble.

Articles From 2003

Bungled Search Engine Optimization – Cleaning Up the Mess
SearchDay, Dec. 24, 2003

Many advertising agencies, design firms, and even web hosting companies offer search engine marketing services for their customers. However, some of the methods they use to obtain top positions are considered to be spam by the major search engines. How do you tell the difference?

Search Engine Spam
ClickZ, Dec. 8, 2003

What’s search engine spam? Shari Thurow offers some advice on tactics that are best avoided, if you want to stay out of trouble. Cloaking gets lumped in there. Without wanting to reopen the debate from earlier this year about cloaking, just a gentle reminder that not all search engines consider cloaking spam nor have outright bans.

Google does, so you have to watch yourself there. And with the others, cloaking often goes hand-in-hand with low-quality doorway pages. It’s the low-quality content, rather than the delivery mechanism, that tends to be the problem. In short, it is good advice to avoid cloaking if you want to avoid trouble — but the issue is very complicated, and more so when you consider trusted feed programs. For more, see my article from earlier this year on the topic of cloaking and spam.

Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization Debuts
SearchDay, Nov. 26, 2003

At the gala inaugural meeting of the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, the group’s board outlined the organization’s mission and extended a welcome to all search marketing industry professionals.

Top Five Search Engine Optimization Myths
ClickZ, Nov. 24, 2003

Shari Thurow covers promises you might hear from some SEO companies that she warns should make you wary, such as guarantees about free positioning, instant link popularity and off-site microsites.

Google Kills eBay Affiliate Spam Quickly, Others Survive
The Search Engine Update, Nov. 5, 2003

AuctionBytes has had a series of stories looking into how an eBay affiliate was driving traffic to eBay from Google through cloaked content. The tactic is nothing new when it comes to search engine optimization. However, it is notable how quickly Google responded to the public outcry over this, while similar situations that are known or reported continue.

Schmoozing with the Enemy
FastCompany, November 2003

For two years running, Google’s now hosted a “Google Dance,” an off-site party for attendees of the Search Engine Strategies conference when held in California. This color piece looks at the event and how Google is reaching out to entice potential advertisers but pokes fun that some “bad guys” might be in attendance, as well.

Fair enough, but plenty of search engine marketers are pretty sick and tired of being cast as some type of “enemy.” No one suggests that most PR professionals are the “enemy” of the media. Indeed, many reporters can find a good PR person very useful in constructing stories. The same is true with search engines.

A good search engine marketer understands there are paid ways and non-paid ways to get good coverage for their clients. And there are indeed plenty of good marketers who go after the unpaid ways that are acceptable and don’t hurt search engine relevancy.

Reader Q&A: October 2003
The Search Engine Update, Oct. 22, 2003

Answers to the following questions from readers:

+ Will paid ads on Google or Overture hurt your unpaid listings?
+ Why can’t I find the submit link for an Open Directory category?
+ Do I have to pay a new submission fee if I change my web page?
+ Where can I find out the popularity level of shopping search engines?
+ Why did the Open Directory drop my sites?
+ Do search engines read the words within links?
+ How do we get Google to drop misleading and spammy web pages?
+ Is there an easy way to find out what the cost or a particular term is on the various search engines?
+ I don’t see AllTheWeb in the search engine ratings pages you maintain. Why not?
+ I am trying to find out which search engines have the most users and what keywords are used the most when navigating to sites in particular subjects. Can you help?
+ Why do you recommend search engine math commands over Boolean commands?
+ Do you know anything if Froogle will be released in the UK or elsewhere? What other UK shopping search engines are there?
+ Is the meta description tag still worth doing?

How Can Google’s Gold Be Inktomi’s Spam?
SearchDay, Sept. 24, 2003

While there are some universal guidelines about search engine spam, each major engine has policies that can occasionally appear out of sync with others.

Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization Opens To Members
The Search Engine Report, Sept. 2, 2003

I’ve mentioned SEMPO before briefly in some past newsletters, but now the organization has an actual site up and is open to members, so it warrants a revisit. SEMPO stands for the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization. The registered, non-profit group aims to raise the profile of search engine marketing, so that potential clients will understand what SEM is and budget money for it. More about the group and why you might or might not want to join can be found in the short story below.

Can the IAB be our search guide?
netimperative, July 3, 2003

The Internet Advertising Bureau in the UK is considering publishing standards to govern search engine marketing. I haven’t seen any details about this, so it’s hard to say how the IAB thinks it might impose such standards on third-party search engine marketing firms — if these standards are even intended for them.

In this commentary, Adrian Moss thinks the big issue they need to take on is banning cloaking and that there should also be a worldwide blacklist of sites deemed not to be following standards.

One problem with this idea is that many of the search engines either don’t outright ban cloaking or allow it under the guise of “trusted feed” programs, as described more in my past article, Ending The Debate Over Cloaking.

As for a blacklist — sure — I’d love to see the search engines publish a list of firms they have banned. That would help the public be more careful about who they choose, plus it would let the firms that do get blacklisted actually have some official notice that this has happened. The search engines could do such a thing tomorrow, if they wanted. Why won’t they? Legal fears seems to be the primary reason.

Search Engine Lobby Group
The Search Engine Report, July 1, 2003

This new organization is intended to lobby search engines for transparency about their practices and procedures. It’s especially aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses who may have felt cost-per-click advertising has become too pricy, leaving them dependent on organic listings that can be fickle.

The new group sparked quite a discussion on WebmasterWorld about whether the group was merely an attempt to help the main firm backing it, which is known for aggressive search engine tactics, or whether it indeed may be a way to rectify real concerns some have. Sadly, that thread appears to have been pulled. However, another thread with debate can be found at the ihelpyou forums.

New Media Age also has a short article with comments from the group’s founder on the organization’s goals and some anonymous criticism from others, at the end.

Search Engine Spamming
Search Engine Watch, June 10, 2003

Update of long-standing feature for Search Engine Watch members on tactics frowned upon by search engines.

The Danger of Defining “Ethical” SEO in Terms of Search Engine Compliance
SearchEthos, Feb. 12, 2003

Techniques of search engine optimization that some search engines say they dislike aren’t necessarily morally wrong or unethical. Instead, showing harm to users may be one way of defining what’s right or wrong.

Ending The Debate Over Cloaking
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 4, 2003

A look at why people have traditionally cloaked, how XML feeds these days provide a form of approved cloaking and why the bigger issue to focus on isn’t whether cloaking is allowed but instead whether paid content gets more liberal rules about acceptability.

Getting Honest With The Search Engines, Dec. 3, 2002

Search engine marketer Daria Goetsch lists techniques she believes are best avoided, to stay out of trouble with search engines.

Articles From 2002

Search Engine Standards, Please!
SearchDay, October 8, 2002

Search engines should set standards and adhere to them, say webmasters, advertisers and a senior attorney for the Federal Trade Commission. Uniform standards would serve both web site owners and searchers.

Reader Q&A
The Search Engine Update, June 17, 2002

Touches on whether Zeus links would be seen as “bad” by Google, as well as spam issues.

Google protects its search results, April 16, 2002

About 100 Comcast cable modem surfers were locked out from using Google for a few hours because of automated queries happening on the same IP block that they used. Revisits the long-standing dispute between WebPosition Gold and Google, over rank checking on the service.

Statement Of The Search Engine Marketing Standards Committee
WAIM, April 3, 2002

The World Association of Internet Marketing committee is charged with developing search engine marketing standards for its members, and it takes its first step by outlining some general areas for dialog.

SEO Guide Expands, But Ratings Upset Some Firms
The Search Engine Update, April 2, 2002

A look at how changes to a prominent guide reviewing search engine marketing firms has opened a new debate about developing standards.

The Search Engine Spam Police
SearchDay, Jan. 15, 2002

We don’t like spam! Three prominent anti-spam crusaders pull no punches when describing common mistakes that will automatically banish your site from the major search engines.

Articles From 2001 & Earlier

Search Engines and Spam
Web Design in New York, Dec. 29, 2001

Search engine marketer Daniel Bazac offers a definition of search engine spam and asks both search engines why they don’t do more to fight it and search engine marketers why they perpetuate it.

Google Adds Spam Reporting Features
The Search Engine Update, Nov. 20, 2001

Has a rundown on how to report spam at Google and other major search engines, as well as how to determine what is spam.

Desperately Seeking Search Engine Marketing Standards
The Search Engine Update, Nov. 5, 2001

A new effort is underway to establish standards for the search engine marketing industry. However, different philosophies among marketers and a lack of guidance from the search engines themselves make this a difficult challenge.

Promoters Call For Certification
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 4, 1998

Principals from four major promotion and design firms have sent an open letter to the major search engines calling for the establishment of a certification program for optimization professionals.

Related reading

Simple Share Buttons