It's a question that comes up all the time, but there hasn't been a good answer to it. There are painstaking ways that you can analyze your competitor's Web site for signs of elementary cheating, such as hidden text, keyword stuffing, and other simple forms of search spam, but don't bother. The search engines do a reasonably good job of sniffing those out themselves nowadays. But what about the big time search spammer? What about someone who has set up an elaborate network of linking sites all designed to rank his site higher and your site lower? How can you catch someone like that in the act of cheating at SEO? If it is your competitor engaging in such tricks, it is a burning question.
My friend Ted Ulle pointed me to an announcement last month that might help answer that question, where a partnership was announced between search tool vendor BrightEdge and the search engine blekko to combat search spam.
Image via Wikipedia
Not many details emerged from that press release, so we'll have to wait and see if this is real progress, but it is a start. I can think of several things that such a tool might be able to do:
If you're thinking to yourself, don't Google and Bing try to catch all of these things? Yes, they do. But they are doing it with algorithms only—the cases that are most egregious are the only ones that get spit out for human analysts to review. They can't look at everything and the algorithms are not foolproof. If blekko's algorithms are any good, the human analysis of these possible spam problems can be "outsourced" to people willing to do it for free.
It is yet to be seen exactly what BrightEdge has implemented here and just how magical the blekko algorithms are at uncovering search shenanigans. And it isn't clear how Google and Bing will respond when provided reports on bad behavior. It's possible that they will take them seriously and investigate, but it's equally likely that so many bogus reports could be generated by people using such a tool that they will be largely ignored. You can imagine a situation where anyone runs a check and then send whatever is spit out to Google, rather than using that as a jumping off point for real investigation.
If we marketers use these tools to cry wolf, don't be surprised if Google and Bing quickly ignore our cries. That would be a real shame, to me, because I think this is a great idea. It's the social approach to spam. Give people the tools to police their competitors and there is a more level playing field for everyone.
Regardless, I will be quite interested in what is delivered here. I'd love it if those who start using the tool would post their experiences here. And if anyone has deeper information than the intriguing press release, please post that, too. I can't help but think that this is a new front in the war on spam that Google and Bing overlooked: crowdsourcing. We'll see if it works.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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