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Location: Manchester, Lancashire, United Kingdom

On a quest for knowledge

January 20, 2005

Search engines unite

It's World War Spam
Come across this on PC Pro News this morning, Search engines unite to fight spam, Google, Yahoo & MSN have joined forces to "attempt" to fight spam.

The type of spam we are talking about is the type you find on most forums, blogs and guestbooks. The search engines as well as a few big blogger sites such as Blogger.com are showing a united front (there is always a first time) and will now recognise the following code in the HTML of a link.
< href="http://www.spam.co.uk" rel="nofollow"> My Great Website < /a>

Note the rel="nofollow", this will instruct the search bots to ignore the link without ignoring the rest of the links/content on the page (unlike the META tag nofollow). Meaning no PR will be passed and the anchor text will not be parsed creating a link of no value to the person spamming.

This has got to be good news for any forum/blog owners out there that have a spam problem and may help to stop the pesky spammers. This is all well and good but you have got to ask if this alone will prevent what seems to be the unpreventable. How will any would be spammer know that many of the links they are generating are of no value and lets face it "most" spammers are using spam techniques because of their ignorance/arrogance to the web community and a small number of the remainder are quite simply some of the most savvy webmasters online who don't mind breaking a few eggs!

If the last statement is true which I believe it is, most spammers won't even no that such tactics are being used while the less ignorant others will simply look at the source code to determine if the target site is worth spamming and if not move on to the next. The real clever spammers will not be affected, it’s the old catch up game that the search engines are playing and unfortunately the seasoned spammers are not one or two but several steps ahead the game. With spammers creating large networks of sites that are built purely to be used for harvesting large quantities of links that point to the spammer’s main site.

The World War Spam Front Line

Surely this is where the front line of the World War Spam should be focused, fighting the spammers who are clogging up the search engines main arteries with spam blood cells which block the good types of blood cells trying to reach their rightful destination. You see for nearly every genuine website you visit there is several spam sites with the sole intention of making a certain site more visible by pointing tons of relevant links at it. The worst part is that it’s not difficult to create your own network of spam sites for link harvesting and the only personal cost involved is your time. With more and more networks being created everyday and the complex cross linking structures some of the stealthier ones use, its hard to see how the problem can be combated affectively without the chance of harming genuine sites.

Stealth Networks

I wrote an article some time ago about creating website networks for link harvesting and tactics people are using to protect the network from being discovered and penalised by search engines. The basic element being used is to include not only links to the network in a strategic fashion to eliminate the chances of the entire network being discovered but to include links to other sites outside of the network that are considered to be quality sites and other relevant sites. So as these types of networks get harder to discover, how are the search engines going to eliminate them.

It’s Linking All Gone Wrong

When Google introduced link analysis for first time it worked and the theory was sound, basing their algorithm on a type of voting system where each web page has a vote and the strength of the vote is determined by the number and strength of votes cast to that page. The system worked and a highly relevant search engine was the result but unfortunately as people worked out how the system worked they also discovered it was easy to influence. As Google became the number one provider of search results holding the largest share of internet traffic, webmasters needed to rank well on Google or lie at the bottom of the SERP’s with little to no traffic. In affect, Google became a victim of its own success, creating the most relevant search engine to date but one that was probably easier to influence it results than the rest. The situation we are in now was simply inevitable.

The idea would have been great and worked well to this day if wasn’t for the fact that people will always try to out wit search engines to their own advantage. The whole ethos of link analysis was based on the concept that if a webmaster reads something they like or believe is relevant to their site on another site they will link to it, which fundamentally is how linking should be conducted but due to link analysis, links have now become a commodity. You have probably seen sites that sell links for ranking purposes and some of these services (not all) are in control of these types of large networks and will simply add your links in exchange for cash. Put simply, if you want your site to succeed and bring new customers from search engines you need links and it’s only the competitiveness of the market sector you compete in that determines the amount of unnatural links required (and £) to be placed high on the results pages.

Summary

My personal view is link analysis is killing the internet and needs to be changed; we need another way of determining the relevance of a site for the search query made. The search engines need to tackle the problem at its source rather than focusing on the symptom. Until a new type of algorithm is created that doesn’t rely on links, links will be exploited creating link spam instead of being something that benefits the internet as a whole.
There is Still Some Hope

The fact that some of the search engines have opened channels of communication and have begun to look at tackling the massive problem of spam is good but its going to be a hard job and I believe that the solution to the problem is located a lot closer to home than they imagine. As the relevance of search results largly determine a search engines market share and spam is lowering that relevance, I think it is safe to say that an all mighty war has begun.
Welcome to 2005 and welcome to World War Spam.