Die, content spam, die !

My twitterstream is full of people praising or doubting Google’s recent algorithm changes in their latest effort to curb ramping content spam. In fact, we all have received fake comments on our blogs, or emails linking back to dumb pages full of keywords whose only purpose is to clock traffic numbers to drive up ad revenue.

I wish there was a way to get corporates more aware of how industriously are spammers 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 (about which I have discussed previously) are very effective constructs that the mind uses to represent fuzzy concepts.

‘Happiness’, ‘peace’, ‘fun’ are difficult to define precisely yet, 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 s/he is looking for (often a fuzzy concept)
  2. pointing him/her to the best places to find it

and #2 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), Google 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 the 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 >90%, meaning that 9 out of 10 of your site 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 SERP results clean, forcing Clients and Agencies to play by the rules, i.e. earn a place at the conversation table by providing quality, relevant content that people will find interesting and worthy.


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