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On The Receiving End of Link Building Campaigns

by Tom | 30th, January 2012

We’ve blogged before about ways to reduce website spam:

However the inevitable was going to happen at some stage or another. Like a swarm ants spammers always find ways through the cracks and we’ve been hit with quite a few recently. (Big shout out to our excellent moderators and users who report this stuff quite quickly!) As webmasters and communities if you ever stop your efforts they will win — given enough time.

Bad quality link building (the focus of this post) is the sort you would pay a small fee for and someone will run an automated tool designed to make forum posts and blog comments on as many websites as possible linking to your website. There are plenty of tools out there designed to do exactly this. The objective is to game Google’s algorithm with the goal of improving the linked to websites position in search results.

What’s particularly interesting is that from some points of view the link building service isn’t regarded as spam. Naive webmasters and business owners will purchase these services under the guise that it’s a legitimate above-board SEO strategy that is just one of those things you need because they are told it’s what everyone else does, and they will be at a distinct disadvantage if they don’t also engage in it.

On the other side of the coin are webmasters who operate sites that are spammed, and the users who use these websites will perceive it as nothing but spam.

Both points of view resolve to the same action, a website being junked up with content designed only to improve search engine rankings by attempting to piggyback off your hard earned reputation. It’s lazy, greedy and is attempting to solve a problem the wrong way at other people's expense.

Why should people be annoyed? Firstly it wastes everyone’s time. Admins on the sites and volunteer moderators as well as users who accidently view the spam and take time to report it are all having their time wasted and will experienced a degraded overall experience as a result. As individual isolated events critics will dismiss these complaints as minor inconveniences and inexpensive for us, but that's nonsense! Due to constant spamming, the hours and hours over time of physically cleaning up the spam adds up. This is time that could be spent doing anything else far more productive. Also time invested in building preventative measures can be significant. Ethical website owners are the ones who ultimately end up paying for these link building campaigns.

There are ethical link building campaigns and people who offer these services but unfortunately they are drowned out by the bottom rung link building sellers who prey on people's greed and ignorance. The people who buy these link building services often turn a blind eye to what they are actually paying for or are oblivious to it. Either way they are the consumers that are funding a huge arm of the spam industry and it might be beneficial to everyone if they are made aware of the industry they are actually funding.

As site owners sure we can add more gates, tests and preventative measures. We don’t really want to though as this tends to impede the experience of legitimate visitors. As mentioned in the previous blog posts adding barriers such as CAPTCHAS is in our opinion generally a bad idea for accessibility reasons. Nofollowing links of course is a safe way to reduce effectiveness of the spam but in regards to actually stopping spammers it’s very ineffective. Actual human spammers aren’t uncommon any more either, and they are immune to just about everything you can put in their path.

Thankfully Google appears to be very proactive in reducing this spam market. It’s in their interest, and it’s in the interest of anyone who searches on Google. They are improving their algorithms to reduce the advantage these types of spam yield. It’s unlikely any of these link building spam campaigns will result in any long term benefits but I’m sure the people selling these services will tell you that they do. It’s easy for sellers of links to dress up a failed link building campaign as a glorious success with creative metrics and a naïve customer. As long as people think it’s a good idea they will continue doing it regardless of if it actual works or not.

People need to stop seeing these automated link building campaigns and services in any way other than outright spam. Link building campaigns are the campaigns that deposit spam in generous quantities all over your website. We need to find ways to stop naive SEO customers funding this part of the spam industry.

These link building spammers should be met with the same level of contempt that email spammers are met with, they are on the same moral footing yet for some reason they seem to operate in the open with very little contest to their ethics.

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EgoAnt 6,419 rep

Have you tried CloudFlare? I'd be curious to see if this helped at all. I know it has reduced a significant amount of garbage on my site, but my site also isn't as high profile a target as yours is.

Monday, January 30, 2012 at 4:41:49 PM
tavitooo 5,234 rep

I have a blog and I get a lot of spam in my inbox and no way to remove despite having CAPTCHA :(

Monday, January 30, 2012 at 4:50:07 PM
Bigheti 17.3k rep

I agree! And as developers with high morals should be proactive and report any type of spam. Thanks for the ethics for the Scirra site.

Monday, January 30, 2012 at 4:55:09 PM
Armitage1982 3,344 rep

Spam is a plague ! Really.

I also have quite a few problems with the forum I want to setup for my game where peoples could share experiments, bugs, feedback, levels and skins. But actually, the forum isn't even linked anywhere and I already have a bunch of spambot while having 3 questions and a captcha for registering new users.

Lately, I remove one question, add another easy visual captcha and register to an honey pot website for spam, hope it will be enough. This is strongly anoying and for no real use except maybe web rank or stuff like that. Can potentially ruin an indie business.

I sympathize with you guys...

Monday, January 30, 2012 at 5:53:54 PM
Velojet 21.2k rep

I'm glad to see such a balanced approach being taken. An important factor is vigilance by moderators - so I'm glad to see that a topic started a few hours ago by a link spammer ('How to increase traffic by buying website content') and that I identfied as spam has already been taken down. Good going!

Monday, January 30, 2012 at 7:31:22 PM
TheJanMan 4,470 rep

Hmm how long did Scirra's "anti-spam system" remain indestructible? I'm guessing you'd have to figure out another way of blocking these dirts which is kinda annoying.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 11:15:46 AM
vine99 1,942 rep

I run several blog sites and the spam is terrible on all of them, even with spam filters. I understand that some website owners are unaware of the black hat nature of the service they buy, but I feel there site should be punished in all search engine rankings if they use such services. There is no excuse for it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 12:01:34 PM
Tom 54.8k rep

@TheJanMan it's ok, it's not out of control. We just have to keep on top of it.

@vine99 it's a difficult problem, for example if you punished people for using link building services then theoretically a competitor could pay for us to be promoted, meaning we get punished!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 12:11:51 PM
mikepixie 3,295 rep

The guys who make drupal have an excellent system called Mollom. Basically if it detects that a post may be spam (using their blacklist db and some AI) it will ask the user to fill out a captcha. Otherwise you are free to forum!

They are also able to show analytics which is quite handy and fun to look at.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 4:33:28 PM
ZakkiOrichalcum 2,164 rep

Off topic: I think there is a bug in the program for the forums. I have tried for the last couple of days that I haven't been able to log onto the forums. I can log onto anywhere else in the website but it won't even let me go to the log in screen, just perpetually keeps me as a guest and all I had was a question. :(

Thursday, February 02, 2012 at 12:31:16 AM
cybtec 1,077 rep

If you really want to stamp out spam you need to cripple the spammers tools. Spammers send out software to search the web for email addresses. If you want to flood the spammer with fake email addresses that will clog his process then add the following link to the bottom of your main page

<a href="">
This link kills spam</a><br />

When the spammer's software comes to your site, it will follow this link and get 10s of 1000s of fake email addresses, basically corrupting his database.

Payback is good!

Thursday, February 02, 2012 at 12:43:48 PM
TheJanMan 4,470 rep

@mikepixie I think Facebook had something like the captcha thing. I'm not sure if its still operating there but whenever you post a link while chatting, you'll need do the captcha thing before it gets received by your friend.

Thursday, February 02, 2012 at 2:18:40 PM
mikepixie 3,295 rep

@TheJanMan Here are the Mollom libraries if you or anyone ever wants to integrate the system with their site:

Saturday, February 04, 2012 at 2:29:36 PM
zubairsomro 2,029 rep

good thinking i really like that idea.

Monday, February 13, 2012 at 10:14:44 AM
arcalaus 9,225 rep

I like how scirra avoided spam without captchas, and I would be sorry about they having to use this anti-spam technique.

Captchas are difficult to undestand for some people:
a) Visually impaired people using screenreaders.
b) Not-so visually impaired people requiring high-contrast colors, or simply being unable to distinguish between red and black (10% males and 0.20% females have some kind of color blindness or will experiment it as a result of aging).
c) People unable to distinguish a cropped q from a cropped g

Since not all people in categories a, b and c speaks english, some of them can't use sound captchas.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 6:34:36 PM

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