Die, Content Spam, Die!

March 4, 2011

My Twitter Stream is full of people praising or doubting Google’s recent algorithm changes in its latest effort to curb rising content spam. In fact, we all have received fake comments on our blogs or e-mails linking back to dumb pages full of keywords whose only purpose is to clock traffic numbers to drive up ad revenue.
I wish there were a way to make companies more aware of how ingeniously spammers are trying to game the Google algorithm and, by extension, Bing’s and any other search engine. Computer logic still has difficulty grasping what the human mind deals with easily on a regular basis without difficulty. Ontologies, which I have discussed previously, are effective constructs that the mind uses to represent fuzzy concepts.

“Happiness,” “peace,” “fun” are difficult to define precisely. However, while we can have heated discussions over, for example, “What is happiness?” the purpose of such discussions is usually limited to philosophical speculation. The fact that we CANNOT PRECISELY DEFINE what is happiness does not prevent us from pursuing it, from making it such an important part of our life, and to recognize when we do not have it.In other words, we can USE the “happiness” concept, even though we cannot DEFINE it.

The ideal search engine therefore has a twofold challenge in its drive to be the navigation system of the average Internet user:

  1. Understand what he or she is looking for (often a fuzzy concept)

  2. Point him or her to the best places to find it.

And number two is where spammers hit. They build a reasonable ontology of the fuzzy concept, then load the bogus site with these keywords, sometimes scraping content from legit sites and ranking it by keyword frequency. Fooled by the repeated appearance of keyword(s), the search engine thinks that the bogus site has a lot of content that pertains to the search and ranks it high.

Of course, the user is never fooled for more than a split second, but it’s enough to drive up unique visitors and page views.

When I speak about this subject, I always challenge my audience to go one step deeper: go back to your webmaster, I say, and ask him about your site “bounce rate” — i.e., the percentage of people that come to your site and say “Whoops! Not what I was looking for” and leave immediately.

It is not rare for websites to have bounce rates around 90%, meaning that 9 out of 10 of those hard-earned (and sometimes paid-for) visitors actually come by error and, presumably, will never return. Scary, isn’t it?

I sure hope that Google succeeds in its quest to keep search engine results pages clean, helping to make sure clients and agencies play by the rules and earn a place at the conversation table by providing quality, relevant content that people will find interesting and worthy.