Following an overnight traffic drop due to the “Panda update” we began investigating the potential issues of why the site was targeted. The main observations we found on WebmasterWorld from colleagues was that low quality, commonly duplicated content would be affected. At first we dismissed this as a potential cause because Freshtrends had been manually creating unique product descriptions for all products for years. Aside from Google Analytics, we looked for more clues of where our rankings had been lost and started grabbing chunks of text to use as queries – This is when we noticed that thousands of long tail phrases (resembling product title pages) such as:
“3mm Blue Zircon 14kt Yellow Gold Prong Set Labret”
Would bring pages upon pages of spammy search results instead of the actual original Freshtrends page containing that information. We were literally seeing the majority of the first 100 results comprised of nothing other than spammy domains within the .tk and .co.cc extentions. Here are a few examples and screenshots or SERPs:
How did this affiliate fool Google?
1. Using .tk and co.cc domains he was able to mass-generate free and unique domain names. This meant that he could practically add a domain name per product offered on the site and create domain names that closely resembled all the words within a product title (including sizing and product variations).
2. The Affiliate then scraped all unique content from the original domain and added fake comments using a random twitter feed. Sometimes random Youtube videos were used. This fooled Google bots into thinking that it is an active page with comments and unique content. See Google Cache for one of the SERPs.
We contacted Commission Junction about this user, and they promptly had him removed. Since then all the domains we look at are returning 403 errors and are being purged from the SERPs… But as of this writing there are still copies in Google’s cache complete with the JS scripts that are used to cloak.
We also contacted Google about this. It seemed impossible to us that the first 100 search results for a product title could actually be spammy URLs with a .tk extention. I mean we’re talking about Google here… in 2011 – these look like prototypical spam sites from years ago and they’re dominating the SERPs.
Throughout the course of this Bing hasn’t shown any problems. In fact Freshtrends.com is on the top result for the query and no other .tk domains are on the 1st page. Perhaps Google’s caffeinated indexing has gotten so fast it can’t keep up with itself, and hasn’t got the time to account for quality… even after an update proclaimed to deal with just that.
Everything in this blog post was printed with the permission of Freshtrends.com, as they would like to see as much light shed on these shady practices as us. Has anyone else seen any recent egregious examples they’d like to share?
About the author: Augustin VazquezLevi is co-founder of AOD Media Group and actively writes about Web Analytics for a number of publications.