Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Advice for spammers

I must confess: I don't know how most of the internet based business works. But from what I read, it seems that "pagerank" plus "traffic" is all you need to earn tons of money without actually doing much of value. There seems to be whole operations, called search engine optimizers(*) (or SEOs) devoted to changing a site or a set of sites so that they appear in the top Google search results.

How it works, I'm not sure. And it has not interested me too much in the past. From what I understand so far, these SEOs trick Google into displaying in its top results links to sites that are merely a collection of ads, plus some content literally ripped of from somewhere else. The idea is to leverage the enormous scale of the internet so that even if only a small percentage of users click on your ads, you get a respectable amount of cash in reward of your hard labour. If you're thinking of how spam mail works you're right, this is exactly the same logic. One gullible user in a million is likely enough to pay for all this in ad revenue.

If that's not fraud, it is pretty close. At the very least, they are polluting Google search results and giving its customers less useful results only to get a slice of that valuable traffic and ad revenue and probably violating a few Google terms and conditions.

The problem is, the Internet is so huge that even a company with the resources of Google cannot completely stop this. More so, Google is always striving to eliminate manual intervention in anything in as much as possible. Which is something that creates a never ending arms race between fraudsters and Google. Entire sites and organizations are devoted to second guess what the latests updates to Google ranking algorithms means for their customers so that they can keep appearing at the top search results.

I wish someone with the actual resources to quantify it could estimate the cost of this kind of activities. Probably the sheer infrastructure costs of those operations, plus the time wasted by Google users on useless search results would be more than enough to end poverty in a couple of countries. Each year.

Sorry, going off topic here. And flawed logic: while poverty could be eliminated from a country, how SEOs would pay the rent? The idea will shift poverty from one place to another, with the only hope of getting a more valuable return from one group than the other. Which opens another completely different debate that this blog is not really prepared to enter.

What is really interesting to watch is the arms race. Each time Google refines its ranking algorithms trying to defeat the cheaters SEOs trying to return links that are actually useful for the user, cheatersSEOs change their tactics to remain undetected.

One of the ways of increasing your relevance has been, since the original PageRank publication, the number of sites that contain links to another site. Over time, Google has changed the original algorithm, sure, but there are cheatersSEOs out there that are convinced that external links still adds value.

As blogger allows commenters to enter a URL for their site, there is really no other way than cheatersSEOs of explaining some of the comments I'm getting in this blog. So far, blogger has been pretty good flagging them as spam.

But I keep thinking that some of them could actually be relevant and useful. So let me clearly explain the guidelines for comments being accepted on this blog.
  • Comments should only absolutely agree with the points made in the post. The purpose of the comment is only to praise on the following areas:
    1. How clever, clear and structured the blog post is.
    2. How the post is magically synchronized with the hot topics in the industry.
    3. How appropriate and relevant to the problem the reader has at hand. In its infinite wisdom, the blogger always chooses the topic that is most interesting to the reader in this precise moment of its existence. Both of course for personal and professional dimensions of life.
  • Any dissenting comments will, shortly after posting, realize their enormous mistake and post immediately an apology that summarizes the qualities emphasized in the first rule.
  • Logic arguments are allowed as long as don't conflict with the first rule.
  • Passionate discussion is allowed as long as it supports what is stated in the first rule.
Above all, there is a meta rule that has to be always met. Even when it contradicts the first rule. Mind you, you still need to maintain certain level of internal consistency in your comment. As a recent example, take  Delhi Sexy E***rts (sorry, no link provided). I no doubt that its employees are really improving their lives by reading this blog. Even find the topics discussed interesting and engaging -perhaps there is, after all, a level of affinity among the professions, again a topic for another discussion. But please, do not mention how good you found the different tabs in the site. This blog does not use tabs. Please.

Remember, anything not following these rules is automatically flagged as spam.

Before the flames start yes, I know, there are people out there that call themselves SEOs that are not interested in making you jump to a site at any cost. Yes, there are SEOs that just make sure that your site is correctly structured so that search engines can index it really well. But compared to the other kind of greasy SEOs, they are in minority. Proof? Quick, what is the average signal/noise ratio of your latest Google search? How many times have you given up on jumping link after link ending up in different pages that contain exactly the same text? My advice for these "white hat" SEOs: find another name for your profession. SEO is becoming quickly an undesirable term for a resume.

(*)See, I know so little about how internet business works that perhaps SEO does not actually mean that. Maybe its short for "Search Engine Organizers". Or "Search Engineer Operations"

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