31 Jul 2008

Waiter? I didn’t order this Spamburger…

In the hotbed of interconnectedness we know as the internet, a webmaster quickly gets used to the idea of other sites taking his link and/or content (hopefully also with links) to post on their site. In fact many times he will even ask for specific sites to do this and, if he’s lucky enough to get someone to agree, there’s generally nothing that could be better for his ranking endeavors.

However, since search engines use links to measure the relevance and quality of websites, there are potential hazards to having your link placed indiscriminately. Sometimes, though, there’s not a whole lot a webmaster can do to prevent this from happening, such as with “content theft” wherein extremely low quality sites take something directly from yours and fill it with spam links to pharmaceutical, financial and other questionable sites. Usually, they’re also kind enough to retain the links that were originally there, creating spam backlinks to your domain. For legitimate sites that put time and effort into creating valued content, this is a problem for a number of reasons – the worst of them obviously being the anti-SEO benefit.

Having spam linked to one’s site is bad enough, but when those links are also from your own content, it adds insult to injury. While it’s true that spam sites generally have their links devalued, thereby reducing their overall linking impact, having them as a link neighbor puts your own rankings in a precarious position. If someone were to investigate why you have such a bad backlink and they even found your content at that location, it goes a long way towards harming your overall reputation, even if your SERP rankings remain stable.

Officially, most of the Googlers out there deny that a spam link can actually hurt your rankings but most SEOs don’t believe that, and justifiably so. Unfortunately, there aren’t any easy fixes for those bad back links, but Google Webmaster Alerts is an extremely good way of keeping track of occurrences of this scenario. As an example, take a look at this blog post we were alerted to, which is obviously originally from our site: http://remwdfyl.blogspot.com/2008/07/how-higher-search-engine-rankings-can.html.  This site is just awful.  They stole our content, added spammy links and worst of all they left in one link to us!  Is Google really smart enough to know we did not request or place this link?

Since it’s relatively easy to steal content from just about anywhere, there has historically been only a single effective (and very cumbersome) way to deal with the problems it creates, and that is to inform the offending site, or in the worst-case-scenario their hosting service and advertisers. To do this for each instance of stolen content is undeniably labor intensive and it also doesn’t stop the problem from recurring. In its popular Webmaster Tools, Google has a feature for reporting spam of this type which also works fairly well, but certainly doesn’t speed up the process. If all goes well and your complaint is taken seriously, the site with your pilfered content will be de-indexed, which takes care of the major detrimental effects. For a full overview on the process of dealing with unwanted links (your own or from others sites) in Google’s results, have a look at this excellent post on the Official Google Webmaster Blog.

In the end, content is a vulnerable asset by its very nature. The more work you have available, the more likely some of it will be used without permission. If there is any concern about keeping the exclusivity of each effort intact or simply trying to keep “bad” links from pointing to your site, then taking action with the site itself or using a spam report are the only options. With any luck, most of these ugly instances of thievery can be dealt with quickly and efficiently so that the credibility of the original remains untarnished.

1 Comment

  • Itsme Sep 24, 2008

    First let me admit that you probably know 100 times more about SEO than I do.

    I think the point that you raise is a classic one, but if google downgraded you because of the sites that link to you, wouldn’t you then be able to sabatoge a competitor by getting them lots of backlinks from bad neighborhoods. I have never seen anyone claim that they have actually done this.

    Perhaps you could pick a PR(2) website and get it lots of bad links then see if you could get their PR down to 0. Then if you can, you could create enough good links for it to get it back up to a PR of 2 or even 3, so that order is restored in the universe.

    If you, or someone, could do this then it would prove or disprove this theory (or at least be a step in that direction).