“Undetectable” spam

I was reading Loren’s write up on a new link selling service from V7N. He points out an interesting claim from the company, which says

Contextual Links @ V7N are undetectable to search engines. Whether it be by human or algorithmic filtering, our links are impossible to detect. Additionally, an enforced non-disclosure agreement prevents both publishers and advertisers from revealing participating publishers and advertisers.

(emphasis preserved from the original.) Suffice it to say, if “undetectable to search engines” is listed as one of the major selling points of a particular link scheme, it probably violates our quality guidelines and the guidelines of other major search engines.

The “undetectable” claim brought up fond memories of another time someone claimed to me that their spam was undetectable. It was November 2002, so cue up the wavy time-warp special effect and let’s go back in time. :)

I had just removed a very large data recovery website from Google. They asked me why their website appeared to be penalized. I replied with this email:

Pages like

http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-cw.html

http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-dr.html

http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-mn.html

http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-aa.html

http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-it.html

http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-gl.html

appear to have garbage doorways with text about random SCSI things.
Visiting those pages in Internet Explorer just redirects to your
homepage. Using doorways + sneaky redirects is a serious violation
of Google’s spam guidelines. In order to relist you (and it will take
about 7-8 weeks), we need to have clear evidence that all these pages
are gone, and that we won’t see these sort of tricks on your domain
again.

Matt

(domain name removed to protect the guilty back in 2002.)

By the way, you can see the main criteria for a successful reinclusion request to Google haven’t changed in the last four years: remove the spam and find a way to assure us it won’t happen again.

The data recovery company evidently forwarded their email to their SEO to get an explanation. I like to imagine that they said something like “Um, dude. Google removed us completely because they found a bunch of crappy doorway pages that you made. What do you have to say for yourself?”

All well and good, but what happened next is where it gets funny. The SEO replies, but he doesn’t write back to the data recovery company that he spammed out of Google’s index. No, the SEO accidentally wrote back to me instead of his client. And here is what the SEO tried to say to his client but said to me instead:

SHIT!!!!!! It’s my fault!!!! Oh my Gawd. This is the first time – why you? No doubt in my mind it was a search engine savvy competitor who turned you in, because it’s undetectable to spiders. First time the search engines have found my doorways. This is scary! Weird that this happened right now, i have been worried that this would happen someday, so i have been working all month on a new system to make the pages look undetectably “real” so that someone with javascript turned off will just see a nicely formatted page, with images & stuff. – now we will be undetectable to spiders, and humans, hence 99% bulletproof.

I know what to do. I’m going to call you…

(name trimmed so as not to reveal the identity of the SEO)

I laughed so hard, I nearly bust a gut. His old system was undetectable, but he was worried he might be caught, so he was working on a spiffy new scheme which was really *really* undetectable. But only 99% bulletproof. :) As you might be able to guess, I was easily able to find all of the fellow’s “undetectable” doorway pages and all of his clients with a single Google query — I didn’t even have to use any of my internal tools. I still chuckle when I hear the word “undetectable.”

One thing I do like about working on webspam at Google is that you collect really good stories. I don’t always tell the funny ones, but I share this one to make a point. The moral of this story is that “undetectable” spam sometimes stands out a lot more than you’d think. :)

155 Responses to “Undetectable” spam (Leave a comment)

  1. Jeff

    People will do anything to try to make a buck.

    Matt,

    Could you comment a bit on the new adsense policy and DMCA complaints? Google is obviously planning to crack down on scrapers quite a bit which is nice because most scrapers are spammers as well.

    Also, it would be nice to be able to fill out a DMCA complaint online and email it verses putting it in the regular mail as the current policy explains:

    http://www.google.com/dmca.html

  2. But Matt, what if if undetectable spam was really out there? How would you know, if it is truly undetectable?

    Isn’t that where our differences of opinion on what the definition of spam is meet and prove mine? Spam is the intent of playing the search engines. Spam that is caught is simply that, spam that has been caught, whereas spam that hasn’t been caught is still spam.

    Isn’t spam that ranks, undetectable spam, at least for today?

  3. Spam today – gone tomorrow!

  4. Great campfire story Matt!

    ;-o

  5. Jeff said, “Google is obviously planning to crack down on scrapers quite a bit which is nice because most scrapers are spammers as well”

    Aren’t there many legitimate scrapers, please remember that all the major search engines are scrapers too?

    IMHO intent is the arbiter of whether something is web spam or not.

    Take the above with a pinch of salt if you disagree as I am obviously in “thick plonker mode” today as I can’t add up 3+9!!! 2nd time lucky? :)

  6. Yes Matt I am aggree with your conclusion there is nothing like that a human eye can not identify the which one is forced or non-normal link and which one is normal link based upon quality. If human eye can identify then a designer & programmer can easily put some road map to implement this logic into a robot program.

    Thing is that there are some real estate site they envolved in such a link sharing or link buying scheme that any good or quality site will ever come up untill Search Engine robot logic will get changed. These site are sharing link between high profile site but the usual user will see the better site are on page 30.

    I guess age restriction on site is over kill and put nice people to death before they even come up. See nice idea is evolving everyday ( Google is also part of that), if we will not able to give a chance to nice idea a web exposure because of age restriction, they will not be able get the appreciation in time and they will die because lack of exposure due to age restriction.

    Things are evolving in Search Engine but will take time, we as a webmaster need more exposure and they will always apply some of the optimization to get it but we also need to take care if the visitor visit our site they are good and packed with quality information. Search engine should be able to identify the quality site and give ranking based upon quality not based upon optimization and link building. It is clear that both of them can not live without each other so there should always be a mutual contract and both of them should follow and if a website owner breach a contract then he should be eliminated with a warning procedure.

    I guess there is a real need of manual review of sites and ranking based upon quality in highly popular fields. DMOZ is ok but filled with junk information it is a legacy directory which will not fullfill the demand of year 2007 needs. We need to take some extra step to fight this war between quality and SPAM.

    Regards

  7. Undetectable spam… yeah. You can’t detect their spam in the SERPs after Matt is done with them. That’s undetectable.

  8. JLH

    Great story, and don’t let it be said that you didn’t give fair warning!

    I’d say anything that is set up to not be detected is detectable. You can’t implement a computer based system ( scripts etc) that a computer can’t decipher. After all the whole point of google is a giant database and the detection of patterns for sorting, if they are the best at sorting out the good results it also implies that they can also sort out the bad ones.

    Back in my catholic high school days they used to say there is only one method of birth control that is 100% reliable, all the others even at 99.99999% effectiveness, have some babies.

    The only way to be undetectable is to have nothing to detect. You still have a percentage of sites that are caught up in collateral damage sweeps by the algorithm and that’s enough risk to bear with no recourse to get out.

    I don’t want to ruffle any feathers here, but the spam detection game has got to be a lot like fighting terrorism…now of course on the same level of importance but with somewhat similar challenges. What’s discernable through all the noise and clutter of the web is patterns and organization of any scale. If a group of people are going to a website or service to buy/sell something and in turn putting that on their websites, someone is going to figure it out. Just as if a large group of terrorists are organizing an event through communication channels such as phones, emails, meetings, we hope that the powers that be are going to sort that out. Where it gets impossible to detect is the private meeting, webmaster A calling webmaster B on the phone and saying put a link to me and I’ll give you a $1 tomorrow at the bar. Nothing to detect as there is no record of it. Just like in terrorism I’m not as worried about the group coming up with the big plan and holding clandestine meetings for 2 years planning it, I’m worried about two like minded individuals driving together in a car hatching a plan that they implement tomorrow, no one is going to detect that.

    Bottom line is this, if your link selling is automated enough to eliminate one on one arrangements, it’s going to be seen, then again the real pros all ready know this and won’t bother with it in the first place. I think who really get’s sucked into it is the guy selling chicken pot pies his wife makes on his site that’s not getting any traffic. So he google’s a bit and finds out that everybody is talking about links, then he google’s some more and finds sites like the one mentioned that sell links, and then he sees that they are UNDETECTABLE, and buys a few links. Hopefully he get’s an email from google so that he can get back in the index after the business is closed.

  9. In response to the scraper comment, I hate them. Someone, still not sure who, was actually manually scraping both my content as well as my coworker’s content. It was ridiculous, but the best part he was hot-linking images, so some apache configurations were made, and needless to say he stopped. I doubt he outranked my coworker or me for anything he had, despite he was hosting it on a very well ranked domain. Thank you Google for realizing we had our content first. :-)

  10. This may be a case where they’re trying to say one thing and it comes out meaning something completely different.

    If they’re contextual links served in the same manner as Google Ad….. links, then that wouldn’t be a violation (since they’re concealed in a cross-site Javascript, and that’s the same as Google Ad….. links.)

    That would make the most sense to me, since it’s entirely possible that a spammer could buy a contextual link through V7N and end up on an otherwise clean publisher sites. It happens all the time to GAS publishers…why couldn’t it happen this way?

  11. I just figured out a better way to reword the last thought:

    If V7N is selling a service that is designed to compete with Google Ad….., YPN, etc., then the links could be concealed within a cross-site Javascript and therefore would be undetectable by SEs.

    That made a lot more sense.

    P.S. Screw the stupid. Publish the spammer’s name. Come on, you know you wanna. ;)

  12. amd

    Classic! You’re saving the good ones for the book, right?

  13. Nice story. Why would anyone think their stuff is undetectable?

    Reminds me of working at Xerox back in the late 80s/early 90′s. Back then there were a lot of things that claimed to be uncopyable. I remember certain computer game protection schemes and of course money.

    Each time the subject came up, the old engineers got this gleam in their eye. They didn’t say it explicitly, but the tone was, “We’re Xerox, nothing is uncopyable until we say it is.” If something couldn’t be copied by the current version of a machine, you can bet that the next one would handle it.

  14. I broke this story on Marketing Pilgrim on Jan 18 (the day after it was announced), and I talked to John Scott about how the links would be done. By “contextual” it means that they’re mentioned in the text of a post. For example, as John Scott told me in an interview, if V7Inc.com bought a link on a blog, the blogger might write about web hosting (the service offered by V7Inc) and include a link in the text of the post.

    The thing that gets me is that in addition to being “undetectable” to search engines, they say that this system is “ethical.”

    The discussion in the comments includes details from John Scott as well as excerpts on a debate of the ethical and legal status of the contextual links service.

    http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2007/01/v7n-enters-the-link-buying-business.html#comments

  15. Ferre

    Matt, doorway pages have specific features that can be detected and you really crack me up when you try to claim that you guys would be able to detect contextual links that are bought vs contextual links that are just plain natural linking.

    Millions of people link to sites volunteerly in a natural way every day, wityhout being bothered what Google thinks about it and I doubt that you could see the difference between those and those who get paid, we are not talking about doorway pages here. You compare apples with pears. The fact that you posted that makes me think that you guys at google are getting nervous.

    I like that, I hate the commercialisation of the net and I hate those spammed by goooogle pages that you are responcible for.

    I’m a non commercial, non profit website owner who gets spammed like crazy by adsense pages all the time, I’m glad to see that you are annoyed, I am too.

  16. I love it! Even 5 years later it’s still funny :)

    What an amateur. Not only did he screw up and cover up poorly he emailed the wrong guy AND he couldn’t have chosen a worse person to unintentionally send it to.

    Did you reply to him or just shut down all his clients’ undetectable sites?

  17. LOVE IT!

    For a future Cutts Video, I wonder if you could address a non-black hat (?) cloaking technique. I had a client ask me about writing a cloaking tool that strips out the ASP.NET viewstate data when the Googlebot comes a visiting. This posed a few question in my head: Is this black hat or not? You aren’t changing the user experience, you are just cleaning up the non-visible code so that a 100K+ of garbage doesn’t get processed first by the bots. So that should still be white hat. Also, I know that the bots ignore javascript (since they don’t process AdSense links), so maybe they ignore the viewstate data as well and this doesn’t effect the SERPs anyway? This also leads to the question of how any non-visible code gets prioritized by the Google algos. For my answer I told them that any type of cloaking mechanism whatsoever is running a big risk of getting booted out of Google, so its best to leave viewstate where it is and focus on other legit SEO techniques.

    Your comments would be much appreciated.

  18. Nice.. You should tell more stories, I enjoy them.

    Brian B.. If your client is worrying about how an ASP.NET viewstate affects their rankings, then their (and your) focus seems to be improperly directed.

    Even if it did matter, (as nobody outside of Google knows for sure), it would most likely matter so minutely that it wouldn’t even be worth considering.

    It’s like accounting for the mass of the flag on the moon when calculating the moon’s gravitational effect.

  19. Chris

    Speaking of Undetectable Spam, I’ve been finding more web sites that create doorway pages for each town/city across the US. For instance if you search for [web design hackettstown] the first result is one of these. If you swap out the Town_State in the URL with something like Newark_NJ, you will see what I mean.

    I thought awhile back you wrote something about this being worked on, but I still run into sites doing it with good ranking all the time.

  20. Ryan, I’m a bit confused by your response. It’s my impression from various SEO stuff I read (but I’m very new to this and still reading every freaking SEO blog possible to learn more), Google places more importance on content at the top of the page and less on the bottom of the page. Thus, you want the content with your primary keywords to be placed in the beginning of the page and in the H1 tags.

    Plus, even MORE important, Matt has said before that due to practical considerations, the GoogleBot only reads in the first 100K of many pages b/c it can’t handle storing 100% of all the billions of web pages out there. Until you rank higher, the first 100K is the only content that gets indexed. To think that the ONLY page content getting indexed is garbage ASP.NET viewstate code is pretty scary. You effecitively eliminate any chance of ever getting in the SERPs.

    Now, I’m thinking that you are really saying that good SEO means delivering quality content that people want to read so that they come back as well as tell others about your site. Building a site just to make Google happy defeats the rules of proper web design. And of course, this is a given. But to ignore common SEO rules seems silly. Yes, it’s not the primary goal, but only ignored at your own peril.

    Plus, I would think that this is a question that Matt would be free to answer without disclosing Google secrets (considering it falls within the range of other questions I’ve seen him answer in the past).

  21. I really worry about the actual webmaster owners who buy from rogue SEOs such as the chap in your story.

    If someone claims that their product is undetectable and bullet-proof, do alarm bells not start ringing inside their heads? I would run a mile, these people should have at least an ounce of scepticism about statements like that surly…

    The mind boggles, it really does, business owners part with their hard earned cash far too easily in my experience, jeez, make us SEOs work our arses off for it that’s what I say!

  22. Harith

    Matt

    Talking about giving credit where credit is due :)

    I guess you forgot to mention very important point. Whatever spam which might be undetectable to search engines, could be very well be detectable to webmasters and other site owners who have the option to report that spam thing within Google Webmaster Tools.

    I.e spam which might be undetectable to search engines is still a very risky business. Power to webmasters who report “undetectable” spam ;-)

  23. lots0

    Matt said;
    >>>The moral of this story is that “undetectable” spam sometimes stands out a lot more than you’d think.

    OK, I guess I’ll be the jerk and state the obvious.

    If “undetectable” spam sometimes stands out… Why is it so hard for google to spot it?

    I see dozens and dozens of “undetectable” spam pages in the SERP everyday and Iam not even looking for them.

    These “undetectable” spam pages polute many many nitches within the google SERP and are not removed until some human has spotted and reported them.

    So the moral of my story is… The pros are gonna laugh and newebes are going to be upset when they find out that spam does exist and that google really can’t stop it all.

  24. star3night

    rotflmao

    So, did you respond to the “seo expert?”

  25. OUR links are totally undetectable because we don’t even put them on the web. We write them on a piece of paper, lock them in a box, and bury them under 20 tons of concrete. Let Matt Cutts try and find THAT! Bwahahahahaha!

    Seriously though, I don’t see how you could ever detect the difference between “I’ve had really good service from this company(link)” and [I've secretly been paid to say] “I’ve had really good service from this company(link)”.

    What I suspect makes this particular scheme eminently detectable is the control they want over what you say and where you say it – a sentence at the end of your blog article with particular keywords linking. So when Google see those keywords linked at the bottom of loads of articles, they’re gonna figure it out pretty darn quickly.

  26. George

    I think in my case with this new update Google detected something that’s not even there so I guess they detected some undetectable stuff.
    Wonder how, hmmmmm……?
    Somehow I think this link thing needs to go away as a factor in all algos. It is an outdated thing of the past and is so easily manipulated. Page Rank needs to go away also. Even a PR6 site disappeares whenever there is a so called update like the last one.
    Web sites needs to be evaluated off of the content and that’s it.

  27. That’s a pretty funny story about the SEO guy emailing you back. :)

  28. Lol, great story that. Who actually uses speech like ‘SHIT!!!!’ and ‘Oh my gawd’ with their clients? Haha, sounds slightly unprofessional.

    Are there cases where seo’s have been sued for this sort of thing?

  29. Hi, jumping in on the viewstate question. This is something i’ve been thinking about too. EPiServer (a CMS by Elektropost.com) claims to have an add-on that will “move” the viewstate to the end of the file, its done for all user-agents as far as i know.

    Is this the way to go or are SE’s (Google) smart enough to ignore the viewstate, .Net is quite common after all.

  30. Jen

    The idea that you could detect paid contextual links such as he offers is laughable, and a lame attempt at scaring off potential customers. There’s no way that Google (or any search engine) could tell whether a link I or anyone else places in a blog post is paid or non-paid, unless some kind of a footprint was left. Absolutely no footprint is left as the link looks exactly like any other natural link, and there’s not a damn thing you guys can do about it.

    Services like Text-Link-Ads, ReviewMe, PayPerPost, etc. all leave clearly identifiable footprints. TLA makes you insert code on your site, which I’m sure you guys can detect. ReviewMe makes you disclose the paid nature of the review, and PPP also now requires you to indicate the paid nature (as well as often times having you insert certain identifiable features within the post). The service V7 offers is completely unlike this. They blend in with every other link. Sure, its massively human resource intensive, but it works. :)

    Before you go about comparing apples to oranges and spewing forth obvious inaccuracies, I’d suggest you do a little research. ;) That goes for both Matt and the lot of you who are also very much misinformed.

  31. You should really post more of those stories, a combination of SEO and humor makes my day :-)

  32. The sad thing is that these *undectable* link sites charge a hefty fee for pagerank5 or more.

    And even worse they know that Google is ignoring any links coming from them.

  33. Bear with me as this may be a stupid question, but if you are buying links to improve ranking, and the links are undetectable, how does that improve ranking since no one can detect them and count them?

  34. If you did not know who v7n was you for sure do now ;)

  35. Indiana Cutts and the Quest for the Holy Link
    Raiders of the Lost Redirect
    Indiana Cutts and the Doorway of Doom

    This clearly is Hollywood material…

  36. Edd

    Very interesting story.

    >I didn’t even have to use any of my internal tools

    Intriguing! What kind of internal tools do you guys have to combat these maniacs? I’m imagining huge animated 3D-graphics and topological network graphs – or are you just talking about the infamous Google whiteboard?

  37. It’a funny that you should write this.

    I recently made you guys aware of a hanging page redirect recently that allows two top 10 spots with different URLs. A month later the old redirect page with the long hang time is still in the index. Yikes!

  38. George

    Actually I don’t really understand how it’s all going to work in the future.
    Let’s say I have a little shop selling things from local growers and I buy my stuff at Costco, Walmart and other places. My customers are older people with no blogs, no web sites not nothing when it comes to Internet.
    I want to setup a little web site about my shop but I still just want to sell to my local neighborhood. So what do I do? I can’t exchange links with similar shops since they don’t want my competition so they don’t want to give me a link. Costco and Walmart are so big so they won’t give me any links.
    This means that I will never get any links from anybody and now, if I can’t buy, I can’t trade can’t use links at all which means I’ll never get to the top in Search Engines, I’ll never get any PR, I’ll always be on the bottom of the list, so why spend a lot of money building a web site when I am going to be treated as a nobody anyway in the search engines?
    What would the pages look like if I was to create a web site so it wouldn’t look spammy to search engines….
    Title Tag: Carrots
    Description Tag: Carrots, Orange Carrots,
    Description Carrot is a vegetable.

    Page content: Picture of a carrot with the alt tag “carrot”
    More content: This is a carrot, the type I sell and that you can buy.

    Page name. carrot.html

    Now, what fun is that?

  39. NeO

    I was really excited about this new venture, and now I’m confused…

    And LOL@SHOE!

    John? you gonna post up?

    NeO

  40. This rings very truly and neatly summarizes much of my experience with a number of SEO firms. We host the web sites for quite a large number of publishers and I’ve worked with a number of folks at Google (shout-out to A + A at Google Scholar!) to get our content well indexed and visible. A couple years ago one of our clients hired an independent SEO firm to help them improve their visibility in the Google.com index. At one point they asked for a phone conference to discuss the SEO’s recommendations and the time they picked was during my commute so I agreed to do the meeting via phone.

    After the pleasantries were over the SEO firm started describing the changes they were recommending and said that they would like to send us some html pages and javascript to put in place of the current home page. I asked them to describe what the javascript would do and that’s when I nearly drove off the road and hit a tree. They had just asked me to put in place cloaking and doorway pages.

    I stopped the car and then asked the client “Has your consultant advised you that the techniques they’ve just described are textbook examples of things that will get you banned from Google and all other major search engines?” The client asked the SEO firm to comment on my question and they replied “Yes but we think it’s highly unlikely that we’ll get caught.” And the client said that they trusted the SEO’s judgement and would go forward with the plan. I was so surprised I couldn’t restart my commute until the call was over.

    About a year later we removed the doorway pages and cloaking javascript. Seems like all of their pages had disappeared from some search engines for some reason …

  41. I just wish that Google would start exercising reasonable care to not accidentally penalize innocent web publishers in their somewhat clumsy attempts to conbat spam.

  42. I have seen so many spend so much money and time trying to trick the engines when the energy the expended would have been better spent on building a good site and doing the basics of good SEO. A new technique here and there is fun to try, but it’s not worth blowing your entire load into something that is only speculation or marketing.

  43. George

    Oh, I forgot to mention that I hate SEO :)
    You read a lot of things that seems good and promising white hat stuff and of course the spammers read it too so they try to exploit it as much as possible.
    SEO is nothing but tricks to get high ranking and after a while, there are new tricks you have to learn because it has been spammed to death so now you have to change 10,000 pages to the newest of the new SEO technique.
    After a while you spend more friggin time to figure out what Google has changed now because of some SEO trick that was exploited and made your site drop like a rock again.
    You build a site without even thinking about SEO and ever so often you get caught by some stupid filter that was implemented because spammer took advantage of the latest and greatest SEO tactic.
    I used to get a lot of emails from higly deemed SEO’s and I read them but didn’t implement aNYTHING. jUST CURIOUS TO READ ABOUT IT…OOooPPsss…CaPs… and every day now I read about spammer did this and spammer did that. Where do you think they got the idea from??

  44. I don’t know why everyone’s so concerned about new methods of creating undetectable links when the old methods work so well. For example, LongsCycle http://www.longscycle.com/ is using some of the oldest tricks around and Google hasn’t caught and punished them.

    They come up #1 when searching for “cycling clothes” (without the quotes). Sure, the words are in the title, but they’re not being punished for hidden keywords. I thought you folks caught kid tricks like this. Pretty discouraging, if you ask me.

  45. JLH

    “jeremy schoemaker Said, January 24, 2007 @ 1:17 pm. If you did not know who v7n was you for sure do now ;)”

    Is there a more targeted audience available out there than a mention in Matt’s blog for a link selling enterprise?

    I wouldn’t be so paranoid if all these people weren’t chasing me…but I wonder why they don’t offer Google Checkout? Does spam fighting include any metrics from across the aisle in the checkout group?

  46. Very nice article.

    Maybe a good thing to learn about this: http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-cw.html

    Is at least how to use descriptive file names to describe your pages. I have drummed into my designers to be as descriptive as possible with their naming of images and file extensions etc. (althoug at times I have to completely re-name everyting) and in return our pages get traffic (in the long term).

    A page: content.php?id=1 can be more descriptive if you name it: content.php?id=1&desc=data-recovery-software. So long as the pages has useful content on it you are good to go.

    Looking forward to your next article.

    - Brendan

    Such a shame that SEOs get muddled up with tricking the engines as apposed to putting the right foundation down and of course some good old fashioned elbow grease.

  47. Hi Matt,
    I think there is only one way to make spam undetectable without stopping spam. The only way to manage this (and even make it invisible for a humans eye) is to create high quality content webpages just with the reason to link to your site. But this isn’t what we really call spam – but this would be the only way to make it undetectable just making it valid and if one is really good at what he does he should be able to provide enough high quality content to create some “spam”sites with heigh-quality-content linking to his main-page (and some other interesting sites which are no competitors for him).

    This would give the user a benefit – so it may be White-Hat-Spamming.

    By the way – a really cool stroy I’d like to hear more of them!

    Alex

  48. George

    Matt is not saying you cannot buy links he said you cannot buy links to improve search engine rankings.

    You can and should buy links to drive traffic and build your business the way you see fit, whether or not Google.com exists.

    Hope this helps

  49. Jacques

    Hi George,

    About your question, Actually I don’t really understand how it’s all going to work in the future…..

    Easy, if you are a small company, you can buy Adwords :), or you can find a an angel capital or venture capital to start up a “new” compare prices website, it could be comparefruits.com like shopping.com, bizrate.com for supplies or if you want to give information about fruits, it could be wikifruits.com, then if you are lucky (working 14hs/day, programming, creating unique content, etc etc, why lucky? becouse, maybe today you are first, and maybe tomorrow you are 100, and we know, you need to sell every day). Ok, you have a small company. If you buy Adwords, you will be first) this is a new product’s cost for your company.

    Jacques

  50. Jacques

    Clint Dixon,

    About, it “Matt is not saying you cannot buy links he said you cannot buy links to improve search engine rankings” Ahhhh I understand, we could buy links but with nofollow tag? Right?

    Jacques

  51. Matt..

    I do agree to the fact, Spam can be easily detected.

    How can a search engine detect if the link with anchor text “link selling” in your post is a paid link or not?

  52. What’s up with the attitude, “I want to rank #1 without doing anything?” Why should creating a top ranking website be different than any other business? You start small and you build up over time.

    Everyone wants to rank #1 for “real estate”, “dating”, “viagra”, whatever. Give me a break. This is a global marketplace. You want to rank, you gotta build a quality website and market it corectly. Sure, there are tricks to beat the system, but the internet is still in its infancy and the tricks will only last so long. But even if you want to use the tricks, you need the cash to hire the people who know how to pull it off.

    If you were starting a business and wanted it to be successful, you have to have a great product, be a great marketer, get feedback from your customers and work day and night to keep improving it. Same thing with websites – Google or no Google. Welcome to the internet.

  53. [If ya decide to post my comment please post this updated one instead, thx]

    That was indeed a funny story! Gave me a chuckle too because I hear about all the “secret”, and undetectable spam techniques too. I even review a fair share of them for my readers. As you probably know, I’m no angel. I’ve used BH techniques when Yahoo was still number one. Yup, that’s how old I am :)

    Here is what I’m finding out to be true these days and I always share my observations freely to my readers as well. We are at a point now where good ol WH techniques are easier, and faster then good ol BH techniques! I kid you not! I began noticing this after your Jagger update. At least that’s how it is today. Tomorrow it could change.

    Any way, enjoy your blog, thanks for sharing and being straight with us.

    Jim
    aka
    Bud Wiser

  54. I know Matt that you’ve got a tough task. When you consider the number of spammers out there and the size of your team …

    … But there is still so much rubbish still in the index. It seems that the 301 scraper sites are still being listed, whilst others that have “excessive” internal duplication from their templates are suffering.

    The problem is that even humanly detectable but system-created spam is still out-performing human-created spam and even human-created non-spam.

    I’ll get my coat!

    Lee

  55. Undetectable is a bad word to use. They have to know this wouldn’t fly with any SE Google or otherwise.

  56. Obvious Man

    I wanted to be “Obvious Man” here…V7N says,

    “Contextual Links @ V7N are undetectable to search engines. “

    If the search engine cannot detect them, what is the point? They sell them as a way to build their search engine rankings, yet they say the are undetectable by search engines??

    Confusing words and I think it makes them sound like idiots.

    “Hey..buy these links and the search engines will find it and rank you high. Don’t worry though, the search engines can’t find them.”

  57. Matt,

    You say 7-8 weeks for a reinclusion request on average. How would someone know that the request had been acted on or any information? Do you ever get an email from google? (As a sidebar, I submitted one on Dec. 11th 2007 for a 30 position penalty site) I was just curious.

    Robert Earl

  58. Ian Turner

    Chris Hunt said
    [quote]Seriously though, I don’t see how you could ever detect the difference between “I’ve had really good service from this company(link)” and [I’ve secretly been paid to say] “I’ve had really good service from this company(link)”.[/quote]

    This is somewhat like reading a positive newspaper article about company X, do you know whether its a great piece of investigative journalism, or did one of the high power PR companies just pass the info and a big brown envelope to the journalist in question.

    …and in the modern world a couple of nice links in said article and you’re getting good inbounds from a highly respected news site to boot.

    (P.S Jason you’re in good company I couldn’t add up 2+6)

  59. “Ahhhh I understand, we could buy links but with nofollow tag? Right?”

    sounds like you’re still confused.

    nofollowing a link on your site to someone else’s means you don’t want to pass any link juice on to their site. the user names in our comments on matt’s blog are nofollowed because matt doesn’t know what you’re linking to, so he doesn’t endorse or support that link.

    if you sell link space to sites that you like or are a benefit to your users., there’s no reason to nofollow the links. only when you can’t vouch for a link, as with comment links that you cannot control, should you nofollow.

  60. George

    Clint Dixon,
    Read this post from Matt himself: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/text-links-and-pagerank/
    If I buy links to get visitors and NOT to get better ranking, how are they going to differentiate it? Are they going to say I am a liar and I did it becaue I wanted to scam Google? What if I AM telling the truth?
    I just don’t understand it. Do we all have to skip links and be FORCED to buy AdWords as the only way to get visitors?
    We should all skip linking! No links out and no links in, what are Google and MSN and other SE’s going to do when a huge part of their algo is worthless?

  61. Why no link to V7N? I’m pretty sure everyone here can find the service just from the reference, so surely a link would have been appropriate even it was rel=nofollow?

    MG

  62. Amit Patel

    Oh the links… so tempting…. but the rocks are at the SERPs… where Google says who ranks for what keywords… so you can look… but don’t touch.

  63. Matt, we were just kidding. We would never sell contextual links. That would be wrong.

  64. As I understand it, Google had no way to detect the links SearchKing was brokering on the basis of PageRank t hrough a different domain and brand. That did not stop Google from stripping the SearchKing domain of its Toolbar PageRank (and, presumably, of its Internal PageRank and ability to pass value through human-edited link pages).

    Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  65. hello ,
    it is classic !!!!!!! , I would like hearing more from you in the future , currently , I work for SEO .I am new in this field but I am interesting in it,I wish I could get more help from you guys .thanks ^_^

  66. Great story!

    I wonder how the site then went about proving that “they wouldn’t do it again”. :)

    As for V7N
    From what I’ve read of V7N’s program (read Jordan McCollum’s comment, January 24, 2007 @ 10:31 am for the gist of it) there is nothing about the V7N links which would stand out in any way from other natural contextual links from other sites and blogs…

    And John Scott’s pretty smart, so I doubt he’s going to do something stupid like create big link spikes to certain sites.

    As a result, I’d be surprised that such a “natural” linking strategy WAS detectable.

    BUT what about the more obvious spam?

    It seems a lot of more highly visible search engine spam, and overt SEO, is going undetected..

    I’m talking about on-page issues…

    Chris and lots0 are spot on about this…

    But lots0 – not all of it gets penalised after being reported either…

    eg – About a month ago, I came across a site which used an unordered list of over 20 H2 tags (plus a list of links) which seemed to help this site go from nowhere to ranking #1-2 for a highly competitive search term.

    But the OL of H2′s was hidden away in the NOFRAMES content of a page, followed by the SEO weasel words:

    “Web Crawler Links to framed pages to allow correct indexing of website as recommended by Google”

    Reported.. and over a month later they’re still #2

    An ordered list of keywords in H2 tags is fairly easy to detect, and seems to be giving these sites a BIG boost in SERPs… Plus the site seems to have been given the “thumbs-up” after being reported.

    Is this an example of spam being detected, but not penalised?
    Is it OK to give your site a boost using a list of keywords in H2 tags, and hide these in NOFRAMES content?
    If not, how do other sites compete on SERPs without using similar tactics?

  67. OK, I think SEO Speedwagon has detected some form of “undetectable spam”, or maybe it’s just “undetectable sneakiness”… http://seoblog.intrapromote.com/2007/01/one_text_link_i.html

    Anyway I can’t figure out how the page with one sentence has made it to the number 4 spot (actually they are today number 3) in under one year with one link and NO CONTENT. Anyone?

    If you have an answer I’m sure Erik at SEO Speedwagon would like to know too…

  68. The links are reviewed by both the V7 staff, and by bloggers.

    We’ve rejected and refunded some orders, and bloggers can reject any link.

    Google’s standard of editorial review is met not once, but twice.

    Funny how Matt singles out V7N, while being oddly quiet about PPP, ReviewMe, Text Link Ads, etc.

  69. Hi Matt,

    The never ending fight against spam – a noble fight. I wonder whether this is the reason for the apparent massive increase in sites (especially the newer ones) being binned to supplemental hell? There has been alot of talk on the google webmaster forums about good, previously listed content ending up in supplementals within the last month.

    The basic trend seems to be that these sites might be ending up in supplemental because their CMS creates duplicates (ala wordpress archives for example), which in turn make google think they’re being spammed, which in turn leads to Supplementals.

    Your previous missives about supplementals spoke of the fact that they aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and can be built up by white hat seo techniques like building backlinks. I’d have to say that, in a lot of cases (one example would be a blog) the backlinks actually only start to build once the content is searchable, so those of us that have rapidly evolving sites designed to answer ‘questions of the moment’ never ever get listed, even though they provide great answers and unique information.

    I for one would love some clarification from Google about Supps. You can see I write about it on my site, http://www.utheguru.com/optimizing-wordpress-to-stop-duplicate-content-penalty/. My basic feeling is that the big, older, more well established domains are getting bigger and the smaller ones are getting smaller because they never get a chance to get links because they are supp’d

    Could be worthy of a future article – are we getting supp’d because G thinks we are spammers, or are we getting Supp’d because of some other reason? It’s a massive problem that’s diluting the value of Google, for research purposes imho.

    All the best,

    D

  70. spamhound

    If Google just started discounting blogs from the main index and had a separate search area just for blogs, then a lot of the nonsense that goes on with blogs would stop.

    When I search for something, I’m usually looking for factual information or a product and not somebody’s ramblings on a blog. If I want to read a blog, I go to the blogs I like and read them. Like Matt’s.

    Blog spamming is a virus that could be easily controlled by removing blogs from the main index and not giving any value to the links from those blogs.

    The team at the Plex have enough brain power amongst them to program the algo to figure out what is and what isn’t a blog.

  71. So Matt…. since no one else asked the question, I loved to know….

    Did you ever email the guy back from and say “the eyes of Google see all that you do?” ;)

    Cracked me up “SHIT!” who the heck says that to their clients in an email no less!?

    LOL

  72. Matt: That was nice advertizing you gave John there.

    John: Don’t complain about the free advertizing.

  73. Spamhound, I agree and I disagree – I agree that there is a lot of crap written on blogs, but I disagree that all of it is crap – blogs are just a different, generally more ‘folksy’ way of presenting information. I find a heck of alot of useful information on blogs.

    Your second point, about not giving any value to links from Blogs is another thing about the (apparent) algo of Google that I find flawed (apart from the growing incidence of supp’s). That is, that backlinks are considered more important than forward links.

    In my daily life as a (currently bloodywell studying again) computer and communications engineer with a fairly tangential degree (agricultural science) as well, I’ve learnt a fair bit about gathering information. Obviously, in science in general, the tradition has been that knowledge is built up through lit review and original research. The original research is then recorded in peer reviewed papers. Any good scientist knows that a good paper is one that references to as many other papers about the topic as possible. This means that that paper can be a first stop for anyone wanting to know what work has been done before in the area of research.

    If you take this model, and apply it to the google algo, the lit review is the google search, the peer review is the comments, the paper is the blog, and the references are the forward links.

    Google is about information, and building knowledge. For hundreds and hundreds of years, humanity has built knowledge using the above peer review system. It works.

    So, what am I getting at – 3 things –

    1. Blogs are pretty damn close to the peer review system, closer than static pages, IMHO.
    2. By concentrating on backlinks rather than forward links, Google risks penalizing new knowledge rather than encouraging it.
    3. Google needs to think about incorporating forward links as well as backlinks in its algo, to provide more balanced content and direct people to places where all knowledge is at their fingertips.

  74. Sorry – to tie it all up, so that what I have said ties up and doesn’t seem tangential to the topic – the fight against spam is one of those ‘tipping-points’ that Matt’s spoken about before – many of the strategies adopted by Google to fight the spam problem, if you look at them objectively, seem to me to come dangerously close to also fighting this kind of peer review – and this includes ‘no-follow’.

    I think we need to seriously weigh up the +ve’s and -ve’s of the spam fighting techniques used lest we damage the web in the process.

    Cheers,

    Doc

  75. Don

    I liked this statement from JLH above…

    “spam detection game has got to be a lot like fighting terrorism”

    Does this mean that Matt is the Jack Bauer of the Intenet? :)

    Don

  76. Spamhound said:

    If Google just started discounting blogs from the main index and had a separate search area just for blogs, then a lot of the nonsense that goes on with blogs would stop.

    Spamhound – I think Google learned long ago that far reaching over-reaction via algorithm tweaks can really 1.) mess things up and 2.) piss people off. Are you aware that many use blog software for business? WordPress for instance is a CMS that can be turned into a regular website or even shopping cart. To ban or separate ALL blogs would be foolish.

    You better get used to blogs, they are here to stay and I happen to enjoy the extremely important human conversation with its future value to democracy and the crossing of borders.

  77. John Scott, you said “Funny how Matt singles out V7N, while being oddly quiet about PPP, ReviewMe, Text Link Ads, etc.”

    In fact, I talked about them in the post immediately before this one. Here’s what I said:
    “- Yet another “pay-for-blogging” (PFB) business launched, this time by Text Link Brokers. It should be clear from Google’s stance on paid text links, but if you are blogging and being paid by services like Pay Per Post, ReviewMe, or SponsoredReviews, links in those paid-for posts should be made in a way that doesn’t affect search engines. The rel=”nofollow” attribute is one way, but there are numerous other ways to do paid links that won’t affect search engines, e.g. doing an internal redirect through a url that is forbidden from crawling by robots.txt.”

    Todd, neat to hear a similar story from a different perspective. :)

  78. Andrew

    Matt, you say Google can find spam such as contextual advertising in blogs, but strangely Google misses far more blatant spam that is totally filling up the SERPS (try searching anything related to web design).

    It’s like you’re shrugging your shoulders and saying “see that tin can on the wall over there? Google can shoot that from 50 metres away”. Meanwhile Google keeps missing the barn door from 10 metres away.

  79. Karon

    Page Rank is dead…… Long live Cutts Rank!

  80. rob

    Actually, I’m thinking of developing a cool new blog plugin called adverlinkwords . Bloggers will be able to just plugin their advertisers desired words and all subsequent words in the blog text are then instantly changed and linked to the site/sites that they want, they even include an onmouseover user warning that advises its paid status. Advertisers buy words in blocks of 10, with links randomised through archived or newer posts, the vertiser decides, its all about choice”

    Um…j/k of course :D But, not outside the realms of possibilty.

    The key question is one of will bloggers be willing to stake their trust or authority for a quick buck here or there? Or will they take the gamble that getting caught is unlikely, with the exception perhaps of a high profiled caught example or two.

    >SEJ
    a blog with 1,000 archived posts could easily make an extra $5,000 to $10,000 this year if V7N can attract enough interested advertisers.

    Footprintnote

    For a person looking to get link juice, it could well be kinda tempting, but I think that statements like those above are akin to saying , ‘hey here we are, we are a big fat duck,come shoot us out of the sky, thats us just there, the big yellow one”

    Technically its an interesting idea; I dont think its undetectable though. Too many flags of historical reference, and thats just for starters.

  81. It is always an honor to have your tricks detected by the great Matt himself, so these link schemes must be very happy.

    The biggest honor is introducing something spammy that requires a noticeable algorithm change on Google’s side. It is a pitty that you will never find out that you were the cause. Matt, please mail me if I cause a tiny algorithm change in the future.

  82. Ian Turner

    [quote] To ban or separate ALL blogs would be foolish.[/quote]

    I disagree with you this one Aaron – personally I think that 95% plus of people wouldn’t even notice if you seperated blogs off into their own area. Surprising though it may seem to us, there are many people who use the internet who still don’t know what a blog is.

  83. MaxD

    If people want to pay for posts what is the difference from paying for advertising in a magazine? At least the site they are paying for should be worth it, otherwise why would they be paying?

  84. See if this guy knew anything at all he would have cloaked these pages :) D’ohh. No not really. That would be teribly imoral and everybody knows that cloaking doesn’t work.

  85. It is data and everything is detectable.
    Competition is open for all and users are there to report on each other.
    I will call it a Self Sherif System.

  86. aron said [quote] To ban or separate ALL blogs would be foolish.[/quote]

    IAN said [quote]I disagree with you this one Aaron – personally I think that 95% plus of people wouldn’t even notice if you seperated blogs off into their own area. Surprising though it may seem to us, there are many people who use the internet who still don’t know what a blog is[quote]

    Arons right and your totaly wrong blog software is just such a briliant tool for building small websites that just ingnoring “Blogs” is asking for trouble.

    Your going to tell a small business “oh you cant use theis great tool to build a website you have to pay big bucks to develope a custom site” – doesn’t that seem unfair and unethical?

    Oh Matt i have an interesting link sellign scheam i came across looks very dodgy – mor details later after i have found out more.

  87. Philipp Lenssen said:
    “This clearly is Hollywood material…”

    How about:
    “Google Is Not Enough: The Day when the SEOs Threw Down the Gauntlet to the Blogosphere”

  88. Stefan

    Matt you must be kidding.

    I can’t understand you telling “we’re far ahead the spammers” and seeing the google index full of spam with rather old spam techniques.

    In my opinion google is still just talking about useful methods but all that kicks are still hand made.

    sorry, just my 2 cents.

  89. It is just like a war.Lets see who win.PPP,blogsvertise and other teams have been using this method from partly long time.But this time v7n is doing it in a different way and very carefully.i hope this will gain momentum.

  90. What if I was a publisher and got 15 links to place in my blog. I reject 10 but the other 5 I consider really good stuff that my readers should see. I place them on relevant articles in my blog that increases the user experience.

    What is the spam here?

  91. I think Matt you should not consider this as spam as how can you detect it

    its undetectable even when Google Bot spider it

    yours view is very wrong and you have to accept it that its not a spam!

    __________________________
    Bigoole.com-Worlds largest Directory
    “Search for Directory” there

  92. Matt,

    Great story thank you, given the importance of SEO, it is difficult for companies not to get tempted to indulge in some blackhat practices to “get in the game”. We know it doesn’t work and is definetely detrimental in the longterm. However, for companies with no search presence, the longterm isn’t their top priority and I would speculate blackhats are unlikely to tell clients that their longterm future could be damaged through working with them!

    Since we are on the subject of spam…

    One thing that is frustrating about the algo is that it prefers flatter structured websites. To my mind this goes against your mission statement. Big sites that cover a lot of information in great detail need/should have a decent heirarchy, to allow users to be able to see where the information belongs and how the information has been broken up.

    However, Google ranks pages higher up in heirarchies better than those deeper. Therefore I have seen numerous sites effectively using 301s to make the url that should be “/../../../gotcha” display as “/gotcha”. The breadcrumb can still be correct, but it is a deliberate cludge designed to show the “increased importance” of the “/gotcha” page. To my mind this is a messy cludge, but currently one that is really effective.

    Do you regard that technique as spamming? Is the reason that the algo discriminates against pages lower in the heirarchy is that big sites would then dominate too easily?

    Thanks,

    Richard

  93. It is spam because Google don’t get its share for adwords in this case. It seems that Google does not decides SPAM or NOT by quality, usability & accessibility. But they decide on the basis, if Google got its share or not.

    >> Quote:
    Jim Westergren Said,

    What if I was a publisher and got 15 links to place in my blog. I reject 10 but the other 5 I consider really good stuff that my readers should see. I place them on relevant articles in my blog that increases the user experience.

    What is the spam here?

  94. Gomer

    “I don’t always tell the funny ones, but I share this one to make a point.”

    Sorry, I think you share these stories to try and scare us into submission of what Google wants us to do. Passive aggressive PR. Let’s call a spade a spade.

  95. What if I was a publisher and got 15 links to place in my blog. I reject 10 but the other 5 I consider really good stuff that my readers should see. I place them on relevant articles in my blog that increases the user experience.

    Come on Jim Westergren, you are smarter than this. ;-o

  96. Cool. Considering I still run into people who look at me with a blank stare when I tell them what I do (Search engine marketing? What’s that?), in my book, catching a black hat SEO is a good thing. Don’t want us to get a bad reputation!

    And Matt has such a fun way of doing it.

    Go for it, Matt!

  97. Doug Heil

    Actually, I think the idea of Google, Yahoo, and MSN simply not counting a link from “any” blog is a good idea. Why screw with it? They don’t need “blog link juice” in their algos anyway. The idea of websites and linking out to others had zero to do with search engines until just a few years ago. It was all about the “visitor” and getting visitors from any and all other websites. And that is actually why anyone should be wanting to get incoming links in the first place.

    A blog out there that is linking to another blog or another website of some kind should be linking to them because they want to give their visitors a good resource. No other reason. It would be an easy thing to simply discount all links in blogs. Would it stop the blogs from linking out to others? No way. Why should it? Would it stop these link mongers from scheming and hurting the poor site owners who buy into this kind of crap? Yes it would.

    We all know the exact reason this V7N thing is even being started. There is no other reason. It’s the same reason the other pay per posts firms started. It’s nothing new and not a surprise. Forgetting about blogs and link juice would be the way to go. There will always be blackhats who thrive on gaming the se’s. There will always be other sites who thrive on outing those blackhats. Personally, it makes no difference to me as I do thrive on it, but what I do not like are the innocent website owners who will eventually get hurt because they think all they need to do to get noticed is find some newest trick on the market. Soooooo many places out there who preach and teach these tricks. Soooooo many others who will sell their ad space to these same blackhats in a heartbeat as long as they have some money to hand over. It’s all a vicious circle that seems never-ending. It would be in the very best interest of SERP integrity for “all” se’s if they simply discounted ALL blog links everywhere. Problem solved. :)

  98. One fasinating thing I’ve learned from consumerreports.org, is that phishing has cost people over hundreds of millions of dollars.

    I’ve looked at some of these ebay look alike sites, and a lot of them come from foreign countries.

    Some urls to look for:
    ebay.com.someothersite.com/pages

    That someothersite seems to be overlooked as people don’t understand subdomains.

  99. Shii

    No doubt in my mind it was a search engine savvy competitor who turned you in, because it’s undetectable to spiders. First time the search engines have found my doorways.

    I think this person didn’t quite understand what SEO means. He was probably just using script kiddie doorway-generating software.

  100. Pete Williams

    Hi Matt

    Good post, but on the V7N post:

    Please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    My company (well me, as I’m responsible for the web site) have taken both your own and AL’s comments about good honest content to heart. We have a blog and white papers where the good content goes, but out of those two the blog is more important. Our subject is IT related (possibly dry and impenetrable to an non-industry person).

    I always wondered who would link to us, and was a little bit skeptical when you talked about ‘organic links’ – I didn’t see it happening.

    You know what? People are linking to us – people and websites I’ve never even heard of. I don’t know until I see the reference in the web log.

    A lot of these links are coming from other bloggers. The best surprise I had this week was seeing that some Portugese guy had linked to us AND took the time to translate an article into Portugese.

    Please don’t over-react and start discounting all blog links. I have heard that Google have taken some drastic action in the past, but it wouldn’t be fair to those working on content. We’d get hammered too, and ultimately the spammers win.

    The amazing thing about Google is that we are being pushed up the rankings. Even though these links don’t all go to the home page, and the anchor text is often our URL or ‘click here’ or ‘interesting blog’, somehow Google is still getting the message.

    So there!

  101. Maybe you could have a conversation with the Gmail spam team, who seem to think there is a lot of undetectable spam. You know, real tricky spam that says VIxAGRA (ooooohhhhhhh, tricky!).

    Why can’t those engineers use the power of the database to kill the spam? If 500 mark someting as spam, then it probably is.

  102. Lew

    Matt,

    This story kinda reminds me of my kids when they were little. They would walk past me with something behind their back like a cookie, staring me in the eyes the whole time while I was sitting on the couch or something like I wasn’t able to see them. The whole time I’m looking at my son thinking, does he really think that he has me entranced or something? Ahh, the mind of a 2 year old. It’s funny when people think they are invisible, and really believe that nobody can see them, they attract the most attention of all.

  103. Max

    This is why I just do not bother spending the money on these SEO groups..

    I have one site that all I do is write artices, have free listen links for a big name radio show using affiliates that have free listen links, and many other things on the site as well.

    I use methods that are proper by google.. and follow the rules… and lots of time and hard work it eventually pays off. so far things are shaping up as per my page rank based on using googles rules and playing by their rules.

    Max

  104. Ian Turner

    [quote]Your going to tell a small business “oh you cant use theis great tool to build a website you have to pay big bucks to develope a custom site” – doesn’t that seem unfair and unethical?[/quote]

    I have no objection to blog software being used to build a business website and I have seen good extensions to blog software in the last few months, but that is slightly tangential to the point I was trying to make. The concept of the blog as an online journal which was its initial premise is more news media related than general information, and Google already has a seperate News search facility.

  105. I think the main difference between these two examples, is that in 2002 you could expect Google to advise what the problem was if asked, and 2007 you can expect they will likely not.

    Worse, it seems Google only advise about very VERY blatant and bad violations,, so if it’s a combination of problems resulting in a large penalty, but not total removal from the Google index, then Google will not advise why, instead just referring webmasters to Google guidelines, which of course most webmasters will claim they abide by.

    Most don’t of course, but often unwittingly so, and an email from Google pointing out the particular breaches would be of great benefit.

  106. Michael

    Michelle,

    Worse, I hadn’t received any mail from Google after I submitted a reinclusion request.

  107. Ian Turner: FYI, if you want to quote someone, <blockquote> is the correct tag. [quote] is a vB-proprietary tag. No harm, no foul, though. Just saw you do it a few times and figured I’d give you a little tip.

    As far as discounting blogs, removing them from the main index and putting them in their own index, etc., I don’t think you can do any of that for a few reasons:

    1) Someone pointed out earlier on that people are using blog software (particularly WordPress) for commercial websites. I’ve seen this as well, and I’ve even seen a “designer” who not only uses them on his customers’ sites, but openly boasts about it.

    Now, while doing so is completely asinine and also manipulates the software in a way it was never intended, I’m not sure that separating blogs is a valid solution. Some perfectly innocent people get caught in the crossfire there, and that’s never a good thing.

    2) What if there’s a blog (such as Matt’s) that actually operates on the premise of providing a useful website and some quality information? Think of a Google newbie who might want more information…this is as good a spot as any to get it.

    Extend that example to something beyond Google. I’ve seen tech tips, baseball advice, and all sorts of good stuff that I’ve found on blog sites (as well as a whole bunch of monkey crap.) Others probably have too.

    As far as discounting the external links go…well…that’s tough. I can see an argument either way on that. Personally, I’d lean slightly against it just because of the number of blogs that are completely legit and above the board. We tend to forget that we don’t represent the majority in here, and most of the majority couldn’t give two fifths of a damn about being found in Google or what SEO implications a text link has or whatever. They just want to write about how their cat coughed up a hairball so that their family and friends can all read it and wish they hadn’t.

    If there’s a solution, it’s one of two things:

    1) For John Scott/V7N to present the links in such a way as to have no SEO benefit whatsoever. Whether they’re Javascript links, embedded in a Flash, whatever the case may be, it doesn’t matter. Make them pure advertiser links.

    2) For big G to covertly establish a blog and register for the V7N service and gather information pertaining to the offending advertisers and publishers. Yes, that would be doing evil…but I’d be willing to forgive ‘em, and I’m sure some of you would as well. :D

  108. Dave (Original)

    Another scam by John Scott that will take down all the innocents and uniformed and leave him with money is pocket. Hope you enjoy your blood money John….in fact I know you well.

    Get a real job John and stop preying on the uniformed!

    Shame, shame, shame.

  109. Jimbot

    I think it would be ridiculous to discount or seperate links from blogs, (or the blogs themselves). Blogs are really just a type of CMS. After kicking blogs to the curb, what type of CMS would you go after next?

    Rightly or wrongly, the trend is toward making it Easier for the common Joe to publish content on the web, not Harder, and people just have to accept that. There are a lot of crap blogs out there, but also crap sites of every kind.

    BTW, people have been buying and selling links on non-blog sites for years.

  110. Neeraj

    Why doesn’t Google just stop disclosing PR to webmasters? If no one knew PR of individual sites, majority of the link buying/selling would cease.

  111. I am still waiting for the day that webmasters around the world wake up and say, “Hmmm…wouldn’t it be easier to just build a good, functional website, and stop trying to beat some of the smartest minds in the world?” (Smartest minds being Google employees, not the French, for those of you who may be confused.)

    Lew, I like the kids analogy. My 2 1/2 year old will climb up on the counter, use his belly to balance on the edge of the counter, grab cookies out of the cookie jar, and then realize he needs help to get down…he will hang there until his ribs are stinging, and then call for help. He’ll have a handful of cookies, a guilty look, and a poor excuse. “Look Dad, cookies!”

    Yep, undetectable…just like the good old blog and forum spammers. The advertisers should only be allowed to be .info sites, too! ; )

  112. That is so freaking hilarious!! I posted about this story on my blog!

  113. Last time I checked, we live in a free market society. Now, if you want to call paid links spam, you had better start improving those Google algorythms, and catch those “evil” individuals who pay for links on websites, as well as the even more “evil” compaines who broker them.

    Of course it is going to be seen as spam from Google’s point of view, as their search rankings are weighted hugely towards the number of links a site has pointing to it. That doesn’t mean it is spam from other’s point of view though! Isn’t the real issue here the fact that search engines take short cuts by using links as the base indicator for where a site should rank (and don’t try to tell me that isn’t the case). It should be a factor, but not to the extent it is now.

    I think Google is making enough money for me to avoid feeling sympathy for them on this particular issue. ;)

  114. Randfish from SEOMOZ regarding this post (Thu (1/25/07) at 11:13 AM ) said in his blog …

    However, I disagree that all paid links are detectable – there are some that fly under the radar so deeply that even mighty Matt has never found them.

    It seems that everyone is saying that buying links for traffic is OK, but buying links for improving SERPs is not. My 2cents trying to simplify a very complex issue. ;)

  115. Dude…easy on the vitriol. You’re gonna get yourself into trouble. (Even if you are right in principle.)

  116. Bob Dunton

    Sorry Matt Its great to say that google can see all links and spam
    I have found one site with hidden text and kw density from 47%
    I am writing from germany
    how can this site be on first place for this kw for the last months
    I have sent a spam report however they dont seem to have much effect

    However what I do understand the google concept brilliant if people would spend as much time building sites with great content instead of finding ways to cheat the competition and the surfer the web would be better for everyone

    one more question everybody know ebay amazon is it really necessary that they get listed for every product

    thanks from germany

    hope you can understand my English
    is find a mistake I will let you keep it

  117. Dave (Original)

    I would be surpised if Google credits any links where the self-promoter can drop a URL at will. FFA, forum sigs, guest books etc are all worth zip and I’m sure there are many others as well. Hardly a “vote” when the candiate can vote as many times as they like. More like a phone poll :)

    Also, links in footers must be dead give-away!

  118. Nitin

    Directory owners are selling links openly all over the net for a long time. Links from directories still manage to help in SERPs.

    It has become big business now..register 30-50 domains , buy hosting from different from different hosts, get a decent PR and start selling links.

    Google hasn’t really managed to control directory spamming; it is difficult to believe that Goolge will be able to detect blog spamming now.

  119. nice, v7n is selling something with a wrong information, so must be stopped. Its a webmaster help forum, i expect them to COMPLY with google rules

  120. Well once easy way to detect the blogs is for Google to set up a lot of websites and start buying links.

    They have the money for it so…

  121. Everyone knows that a webmasters job is to figure out how to gain more visability. Sometimes it is easy to break a rule or two along the way, but you try to make decisions that are “safe”… V7N is run by some pretty knowledgable people, so I’m sure they probably set an example for many…

    Just surprised that if you are going to do something that we know is borderline, then actually sell it as a service – blogging about it and publisizing it probably isn’t the best of ideas….

    Undetectable… … well, not the best of words… maybe not the best of methods either.

    nontheless – interesting read.

  122. Matt, hypothetically – if you were not working for google and were indeed a similar SEO expert, wouldnt you be coming up with similar tactics? Moreover, what tricks would you use? ;)

  123. Mike J

    I learned about Y7 inc from this post. Never heard of them before. I signed up with them as a trial. They responded that they were refunding my money:

    “Hi, we are currently not accepting mesothelioma related sites. My sincere apologies for any inconvenience.”

    I wonder if they are trying to stay under the radar now.

  124. Hmm – Let’s see now. I am no “expert” but I believe SEO means “search engine optimization”. In my book that is not the same as ” website optimization or product promotional optimization” . To me it means “make google like this website” Now I really have trouble with all you guys that class yourselves “White Hats’ ,whatever the hell that makes you.. You are ultimately trying to influence Google with something that you – in your own mind refuse to label as “tricks”. In my mind if the techniques you are calling “SEO’ do not relate directly to selling the product you are promoting on that website, then it’s all in the same class. You are trying to trick or influence the search engines.
    I say “get off your high horse”. Admit it all of you – you will employ any “trick” you can get away with. In the end some are “allowable tricks” and some are “not allowable tricks” but all meant to accomplish the same thing. They are designed to influence search engines and they do not directly improve the website or product promoted on that website.
    I am just an old retiree at home that dabbles with websites and gets a bit riled by the hypocrisy at times.
    Tom

  125. A contextual link, on its own, within a page or blog post may be completely undetectable as a paid link.

    People seem to forget that Google has (and other search engines have) multi-site trend information at their disposal – so, they can (and will) look at the emergence of a multitude of new inbound links to a target site and/or page, and the sources of those inbound links, with increased suspicion (read: reduced trust).

    If Google doesn’t have inside access to lists of sites buying/selling contextual links, combating this kind of stuff requires looking at overall patterns across the entire web – and we know that search engine companies indeed have the tools to do this.

    The big problem I have with all of this: the search engines may identify a source link incorrectly – and put an ‘innocent’ site (one not selling links) on the list. And the webmaster will never know…

    I think this is going to raise the paranoia level of webmasters/authors. “Should I add a contextual link to that new site that’s getting recent buzz? What if they’re buying contextual links? Will I be penalized?”

  126. Dave (Original)

    Tom Henricks, is not rocket science. If you stay within the SE guidelines you are not a spammer, if you go outside them, you are a spammer.

  127. Jimcat

    Matt,

    Understand that Google is fighting hard to stop spam. However, the effort seems much less for non-english website. E.g. in Google HK,

    with a chinese keyword “債務重組”
    http://www.google.com.hk/search?hl=zh-TW&q=%E5%82%B5%E5%8B%99%E9%87%8D%E7%B5%84&btnG=%E6%90%9C%E5%B0%8B&meta=

    or english keyword “iva”

    the top ranking results are mainly occupied by one law firm, and they own different domain names. Each of those websites provide similar or same information (sellling pitch).
    e.g. they own: theiva.com, iva.com.hk, http://www.ytt.hk, 898.com.hk,yiptsetang.com.hk, china.yiptsetang.com, 898.typepad.com, http://www.iva.hk, thebroke.com, http://www.bc.hk, and etc.

    These domain names occupied majority of the top 40 rankings. So, I leave no choice but must visit those sites.

    In addition, website such as avantbizwebdesign.com, http://www.avantbiz.com are owned by a web design firm and uses external CSS to hide keyword stuffing, and link building for their clients can occupy top position for keyword “web design” several years.

    Hope these kind of problems can be fixed soon.

  128. Daniel Vaughan

    Tom is right.
    Every seo tricks or try to influence Search Engines… Sorry guys but I disagree with all that stuff.
    The only important thing a spider, robot or human eye should see is content.
    It seems the commitment of search engines, is missed.
    Perhaps, this is going crazy.
    And content has not to be millions of words in black! Just clear to say what you offer.
    Real sites, with good and clear content, are in low positions, and sites, that can buy links and they do (buy or exchange…is the same) ranks high. “SEO Gurus” in a way or other tricks search engines. Allowed tricks, or not allowed…tricks at last.
    A big organization, made step by step.
    Be honest…Can anyone of you say you do not use tricks for get better positions? and after that, come here to be the good boys.
    Spamming search engines? yes, and the whole crazy world of “be top ten emails”sent by SEOs? optimizer software(???Oh my God) and many more things like that.
    Everybody talks about this all the time, how to rank high…but who was the first..hen or egg?. Real content or tricks?
    What really *really* matters?
    The “be good” claim, altough is still there, became confused.
    Just clear content is relevant and nothing else.
    There’s a whole business around SEOs, and you are all day taking a look and wondering why Google, Yahoo, or Msn is not ranking your site as it should. At last I’m doing the right thing! Today is not enough, and you all know that…
    Sometimes you try a keyword, and it takes you to a page with supposed more relevant results…
    They are plenty of ads! Pay per click! …
    And where is what you’re looking for? so, something’s wrong. Optimization is easy (or it should be), the right keywords, title, meta tags, etc. and….content with no tricks!.(sorry gurus! you know it’s easy.)
    All this is about telling to the search engines what you are related to, or what you offer.
    The main-off-the site factors seems to be more important these days. And they’re not.
    So..If you have enough money or contacts (links), you will rank high.
    I wonder…
    Search engines world,
    1.-are made for SEOs, for making money and selling magic software?
    2.- or to give the users a tool to find what they are looking for?

  129. Walkman

    Here’s the dilemma: assume that these links are NOT detectable right now. Are you willing to take the chance of having them there 3-4-10 years from now as tools get more advanced or someone spills the beans on buyers? I am not.

    Also, if you need to email google for a reason, an engineer can easily see the patern, especially if you have many links from similar blogs. To sum is up: for a good website do not try it. See Pascal’s Wager for more info.

    iPod

  130. I feel like saying a word or two regarding Tom Henricks’ fundamental criticism of any SEO.

    It is a common phenomenon that outside observers actively shape what they observe. Think of how ratings agencies and stock-market analysts influence the behaviour of large corporations by applying the logic of their industry to the companies they comment on. They co-determine the way a company is being perceived in its own maket.

    Google “observes” websites and comments on their value according to its Google logic via search results. Those “comments” have proven to be valuable to many actors in the field (i.e. internet users), and thus exert a strong influence on how websites are being perceived. Google results co-determine what a website “is” in its world (i.e. on the internet).

    Therefore it does not only make sense, but is absolutely necessary for a website to understand the lens through which Google looks at websites. If, for instance, your website has great text content, you wouldn’t want to present it in flash. Flash may look nicer but will result in “underselling” what you have. And you would certainly like to make sure that Google understands what you feel describes your website and its offerings best, wouldn’t you?

    In short, the whole game is about communicating properly to the relevant stakeholders – and Google is one of them. It’s not about using tricks to fool them.

    Best regards,

    Christian

  131. Unfortunately these things work, as I have been reporting a site that uses these sort of linking scams to Google once a month for a year at least now. My client, a competitor to this person, now askes me why he should not use this technique himself.. after all it works for his competitor, and even with me reporting them.

    Matt, I cant post links, but they are a rafting company in BC.
    spammy links are at /links/links_computers_internet.htm

  132. Hi Matt.
    Here’s a question for you: what’s Google’s official policy on Detectable Spam: Aka paid for links which are clearly purchased for the purpose of pagerank?

    I’ve written about it here:
    http://www.nsharp.org/live/2007/02/12/how-to-legally-purchase-google-pagerank/

    And I’d like your observations/comments

  133. Hi Matt,
    First I wanted to say I love your sense of humor and edge of sarcasim in some of your posts- that aside:
    Concerning content spam:

    Pages like
    http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-cw.html
    http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-dr.html
    http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.com/data-recovery-software-mn.html

    My question/comment is this – usually I suppose a website that employs content spam (pages like above with no real value to the reader) – I suspect this type of page makes up the bulk of their website, making the website virtually worthless. However, what about a website that for the most part contains many pages of worthwhile good unique content but also contains pages like the one above? ( I do realize pages of bad content should always be removed)

    The reason I say this is because I have such a site shown below:

    http://www.health-goji-juice.com/

    It was recently removed from the Google Index I believe for just such a reason- while I had spent many, many hours of hard work writing and placing unique content – (the site has even had several magazines reference the site) I also had used software I had purchased to develop a number of pages like those above in areas only indirectly related to the website. I had created them over two years ago over the period of about 3 months, but then stopped after someone told me that those type of pages may get me in trouble with Google. I did however leave them out on the site not thinking too much about them as those particular pages didn’t get much traffic. When the site was dropped from Google I removed everyone of those pages and applied for reinclusion.

    The purpose of this comment/post is two fold – to make people aware that using software to or simply creating pages of little or suspect content is a mistake.

    And also to ask if there is anything else I can do at this point to get the site reincluded in Google? I submitted a reinclusion request about 6 weeks ago.

    Thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
    James

  134. Michael Paul

    I have reported several sites previously for interlinking web rings and doorway pages and they are still in the search results.
    Recently i noticed another webring had got to the top for several search terms using these methods and buying text links on unrelated sites, i have reported it but am getting really peed off when i see that google continually let sites like this through.

  135. Matt,

    Thanks for your time considering this question. We are having trouble ranking for our own company name. When we type in our company name in Google, our URL comes up on the fifth page. In the past, we have ranked fine for our own name. This is a new one, and we can’t figure it out. Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated.

    Andrea Stone

  136. Barrett

    I just recently started watching this new blog stuff after it was brought up around the office and my understanding was that the “no follow” tags took care of any ranking effect in my still naive understanding…..
    So I got to poking around a bit on http://technorati.com and found a massive effort underway by a competing website in producing a large amount of blogs to promote their site as if it were real people talking about how great they are. In my focused view scenario I can tell exactly how bogus most all the freaking blogs are th precisely correspond with new products or changes at their site ! Heck how many bloggers go to the trouble of posting pretty images directly from the site in discussion and lay out the page so well you know good and well it isn’t somebody just banging out a blog and throwing on some pictures….

    Upon checking the source code out I saw that the originating blog spam has pure link and NO “no follow” tags – only any follow replies in the blog.

    I really really hope that Curry’s comment is effectively in play regards trend info!

    “People seem to forget that Google has (and other search engines have) multi-site trend information at their disposal – so, they can (and will) look at the emergence of a multitude of new inbound links to a target site and/or page, and the sources of those inbound links, with increased suspicion (read: reduced trust).”

    I left our url out of the post due to my paranoia if it’s appropriate and or wouldn’t want the competing site to find this and have the satisfaction they got me spooled….and trying to keep this totally generic and without any bias.

    All of the blog stuff for us is totally legit and natural ! (unless of course a sudden trend blogs about how bad we suck start showing up OMG )
    When I compare us to that stinking copy cat site along side some other prominent related sites; they stick out like a sore thumb with all their perfectly crafted blogs about how great they are…..AND we have more blogs about us than what sites we would have expected to have tons of blogs !!!

    Ok now I went and gave you my yahoo addy due to my paranoia and probably cuz I haven’t eaten yet all day…. Heck we are nearly walking distance from a google office if you wanted to check us out, meet me and see what all we do in the dirt world and on our site.

    Gosh I’m rattling on, but anyway I think we’ve got a really good unique snapshot for what is an example of blog spam stuff even though it is self serving… but you know it’s like the other place is lying and misleading others with their tatics to try and promote themselves to the the first page at google with us.

    I’ll be glad to provide you our site info etc if your interest is peeked and time allows.

    Thanks.

  137. Joe

    I still can’t figure out why my blog got penalized. I thought it was because my feedburner feeds were producing all of my content as feeds so I got the duplicate content penalization but I don’t know for sure nor can I get a response from the reinclusion request but I’m sure they are busy with all of the spammers using the reinclusion requests.

    I rememember the days when the scraper sites were using Traffic Equalizer and Directory Generator. The Google spam team had those programs figured out in about a month or so and those sites disappeared quickly. I know because I used T.E. but the harm they do to all parties invloved are really not worth the quick dollar you get by using them. Imagine going to the grocery store where you go down the isle looking for milk and all you get is a bunch of scraper site ads all in your way and you have to weave through them just to get that nice gallon of non organic homogenized pasteurized vitamin D milk. It took me a little while to learn this so I gave it up even though the money was good and decided to create useful content and I can tell you I feel 1000 times better about myself for doing so and will never do crappy things like this again. As many people say, “It’s not always about the money”.

  138. If you want to punish scrappers, then punish them all:

    CNN
    MSNBC
    BBC

    and other “hot news” sites as they are all scrappers. Most of them scrap stories from AP. AP should be really the one on top when you search for latest news. AP is the one who truly makes the news and find them.

    Why CNN, MSNBC etc not getting punished for scrapping?

  139. Rob

    If your spam detection is so good, why do you keep putting http://www.cholula.com/ back in the system. It is stuffed with invisible key phrases at the bottom of the page. It even ranks well for the key phrase hot sauce. It was taken out of the index and then put back in. “Probably some hot sauce fan at google”.

  140. First time poster here-

    As a beginner/intermediate level seo, it is hard not to buy into some of the claims. So far I have stayed away from anything that sounds to good to be true. But when “everyone else is doing it” and seem to be doing well with same of the link buying techniques, it is difficult to “draw the line”. Is there a google list of do’s and dont’s – Never mind I will “google it” :)

    Thanks

  141. Rob:

    I see that Cholula is out of the SERPS for “hot sauce” again.

    Google has ignored 95+% of my spam reports. I see that I’ll have to start posting them here to Matt’s blog instead of through the official (broken) process to get some action.

  142. Hi Matt,

    Nice stories thanks for sharing, you know people think they are smarter than the search engines and so… :)

  143. carrion

    Since this post is about “undetectable spam” here is something still undetected: xrumer. This bot is used to spam forums and blogs for years to increase spammer’s page rank most of the times. Its spam is not hard to detect and still it remains undetected.
    For example all new registered users have “Location: Tramadol” / “Location: Fioricet” etc., things that are not common for normal posters to have. This week all forums were spammed with this bot using message “this forum moderated by human?” – http://www.google.com/search?q=%22this+forum+moderated+by+human%22 .
    Probably the author is making a new list with unmoderated forums and blogs to sell a new version.

  144. What about ‘unpaid’ variations of links embedded in content? I received a request from another site to have them write free articles for my site, in exchange for my leaving their embedded back-links intact. I’m not sure how you would detect that, but it’s certainly spam.

  145. Now this was a good read that just showed up on a business search. Sometimes sometimes finding something like this on a random search is like a belated Christmas present.

  146. I guess there is always a new method or software that comes out that promises it is going to get great SERPs but if they work, they don’t last long normally. This is just short term stuff.

  147. Interesting article, there seems to be a launch every few months for some software that promises short cuts to getting great results.

  148. I see our competitors buying links, doing all sorts of tricks and yet they are still ranking at the top for key keywords. Its hard when customers say why are they there and we cannot bad mouth them for what they do as that in itself is bad business practice. Maybe one day they will loose there ranking.

  149. Jaime

    Hi Matt could you please tell me if this is considered spam, Here. Basically this website has multiple domains all targeting the same keyword linking to each other and the leave comments on sites like the linked site given which is a news site that is not a nofollow. The comment is nothing but an advertisement for their business it helps the viewers with nothing but yet they get a backlink … is this allowed, can we all do it cause right now these guys are not being penalized. I’m sure if the spam team looked into their network you would see something.

  150. One of the problems white HAT SEO practitioners face is the transparency and accountability of people purposely manipulating search engine rankings. Unfortunately there is no court of law for SEO. I am hoping for a fast interactive system where flagging of penalties where webmasters can flag report infringements and know what penalties they received after all they have got all the benefits of the traffic.

  151. This post is going to get a new life via a convoluted path from a current article. Will be interesting to see how many comments it gets.

  152. SEOs keep refining their link building practices, but Google keeps getting smarter and smarter… How long until Google +1′s become the be all, end all in search?

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