Syndic8's Search Engine Spam

Hot on the heels of the recent WordPress fiasco, it looks like Syndic8.com is doing something very similar. Charles Coxhead pointed out that the popular RSS feed index is hosting hundreds of thousands of junk articles, designed to lure search engine traffic to context-sensitive text ads.

Unlike WordPress, the links aren’t hidden; they’re in plain sight at the bottom of nearly every page, added in late November 2004 according to Archive.org. Also, it’s unclear how much the hosted subdomains are benefiting from Syndic8.com’s pagerank of 7.

Here’s a list of the sites I found, with the number of articles indexed by Google and Google pagerank. At current count, over 194,000 articles are indexed.

credit.syndic8.com: 27,700 (PR7)

debt.syndic8.com: 8,780 (PR3)

glasses.syndic8.com: 6,310 (PR6)

insurance.syndic8.com: 38,400 (PR7)

jewelry.syndic8.com: 4,010 (PR3)

loans.syndic8.com: 37,400 (PR3)

marketing.syndic8.com: 14,500 (PR6)

mortgage.syndic8.com: 10,500 (PR6)

personals.syndic8.com: 21,700 (PR4)

training.syndic8.com: 25,500 (PR6)

Do people really think this is a legitimate form of advertising revenue? Jeff Barr and Bill Kearney, the two Syndic8 leads, are both smart guys and they seem to support the practice. But why? Gaming search engines makes the web less useful for everyone. As Leonard put it, “It’s a simple question, right? Is what you’re doing making the world a better place or not?”

Maybe I’m in the minority here. I’d love to hear what everyone thinks.

Update: Interesting discussion in the comments, with feedback from Jeff Barr and GoogleGuy. Jeff comments, “I fully realize that there are lots of ways to fund a ‘public resource’ site like this, and I simply chose one that worked and was available to me.”

Google representative GoogleGuy adds, “This is absolutely webspam… syndic8.com’s choice to ‘rent out’ subdomains to spammers and link to the spam from their home page will directly impact their reputation in search engines.”

May 6, 2005: Philipp Lenssen reports that Syndic8.com was removed from Google’s index entirely. By e-mail, a Google engineer also confirmed that the Google AdSense account for Syndic8’s ad affiliate was terminated.

I agree with Aaron Wall in the comments, who states that it’s Google’s responsibility to make sure people aren’t cheating AdSense. If their quality control for the AdSense program was more rigorous, this wouldn’t be an issue. They’re passively supporting this practice by allowing people to profit off it.

May 12, 2005: Jeff Barr posted a public response on his blog. My response is in his comments.

May 25, 2005: TDavid posted an hour-long audio interview with Jeff Barr, which covers the history of Syndic8.com and a detailed discussion of the advertising issue. This is a great listen with many insights into Jeff’s frame of mind.

He mentions that Bill Kearney warned him about the subdomain advertising deal: “Bill was actually a fairly cautious person. He said, ‘You know what, we’ve got to be a little bit careful here, Jeff.’ And me being a bit naive or maybe a bit too enthralled by getting checks, I said, ‘You know, I think this’ll be okay.’ So I went ahead and accepted that advertiser.” Another new bit of info was that the subdomains were actually provided by multiple advertisers.

As I said originally, I still maintain that Jeff is a smart guy who made a poor business decision, and I think that comes across in the interview. For him, it sounds like a cautionary tale he wants other people to learn from. “Basically, spreading out this story and telling people what happened and these are the things where you need to be careful… I think there’s always room for people to learn.”

57 thoughts on “Syndic8's Search Engine Spam

  1. “It’s a simple question, right? Is what you’re doing making the world a better place or not?”

    That’s a pretty naive view. Sadly, most people will be asking “Is what I’m doing making the world a better place for me?

  2. I think that people are able to “rationalize” a lot of things, so an open debate about the question you pose will (hopefully) make people that are not yet facing that question more sensitive to the topic. But I doubt the people that already jumped on the bandwagon will change their mind on this.

    To your main point: I do agree with what you say, that it is in the end harming all of us. But in general there are no “sharp” boundaries, no very visible line to cross between SE-spamming and Advertising, but unfortunately it seems that more and more people seem to be pushing the idea of what is ok further and further.

  3. Well, that’s lame.

    You just drank all their Google juice though, so I guess they got what was coming to them.

    p.s. Your RSS feed just went crazy… all your entries are dated Thu, May 5, 2005 3:53.

  4. Andy, We’re in a new form of capitalism now, using Adsense is a unique way to make a little money off of what many of us put our time into for free. Sure Kottke quits and everyone sends him money, post up a basic generic article with Adsense ads, not disturbing your readers, and everyone wants to chase after you like the Frankenstein monster.

  5. The interesting part of these stories are that such incidents (WordPress & Syndic8) are “exposed” and dealt with like a criminal offense in the mind of most bloggers, webmasters etc.

    At the core the issue is different. Everyone wants to make money for living. Matt decided to promote his software with Open Source model. It gave him lots of publicity, Google juice and volunteers. However at the end of the day he suddenly realizes much of it doesn’t equate to $$ (read cahing!).

    So what does he do? He is forced to choose among the lesser evils and makes a judgement call. The web by and large feels he has made an error in judgement and he complies and retracts.

    Is this such a big deal? The reason it is made such a big deal is because several thousands of frustrated webmasters are trying to make a liing with AdSense and they are looking for scapegoats to blame their inability.

  6. Angsuman, that’s a bit hard to stomach. My analogy has been that it’s like someone who wants to open a children’s toy shop, but can’t figure out a way to keep it afloat so they also decide to host a hard-core porn shop in the basement. Sure, it’s all legal, and the porn will almost certainly net them some cash, but it’ll drive away a bunch of their prior customers as well…

  7. What syndic8 is doing is actually worse than it looks. Check out mortgage.modernhumorist.com and mortgage.syndic8.com. Looks pretty similar to me…

  8. Chess: what you call naive, I believe other people call ‘ethics.’ People make their own decisions every single day of what they’re willing to do for personal gain.

    Mike: I’m sure the trackback and wiki spammers, and the email spammers, and the newsgroup spammers before that all said the same thing about this “new form of capitalism.” But in all these cases they were taking a shared resource or capability and making it collectively less useful for their personal gain. I don’t think we’re really looking at edge cases here.

    Angusam: I think at the very least it’ll be interesting to track the shift of what people think is ok. Perhaps the fact that the infrastructure is corporations (Google, Yahoo, etc) rather than a distributed architecture (NNTP, SMTP, DNS) makes it easier to justify, even if the cost to your fellow *people* is still the same.

    Sure Google can just slap your pagerank, but that’s effort being wasted just to try to maintain current quality instead of making improvements. Also, if you’re successful, you’re not only encouraging others, but directly funding the organizations that will spread more of these, making searches even *less* useful. In the WordPress case, there’s an additional irony to developing spam-fighting tools and suffering, and also simultaneously encouraging/supporting those very techniques, philosophy, and groups, but that’s a digression.

    I believe that what Jason mentions is at the heart of the matter: sure you can do it, but it’s tacky, and it *should* be seen that way.

    My question is, and this is *not* rhetorical, I’m genuinely interested, do the people who see trackback/comment-spamming, or email spam as wrong see this type of SEO as qualitatively different or not, and why?

    Also, I know there are 1st/2nd order effects to consider here, so I’m also interested to hear people’s thoughts on whether this type of SEO has a net-positive or negative effect. To me it seems clear, but maybe I’m missing something.

    Unknown: wow, part of me wants to think that there’s a DNS hack or something floating around rather than accept the alternative.

  9. I think the same thing as andy and leonard here everytime I see a wikipedia mirror covered in Google ads.

    Sure it’s legal (The FDL allows people to make commercial copies available), but it’s entirely lame. You’re just trying to eek out a few bucks off content that you didn’t write, in order to trick people searching for real information into finding yours.

    It’s pretty simple. Are you trying to make money by tricking random people into finding your site? If so, you’re not helping make the web a better place.

  10. The problem is that syndic8 was always run by a bunch of hackers with no business sense. Lacking a business model, they resort to copying SPAM.

  11. With comment/trackback spam, spammers are trying to put *their* ads on *my* site without my approval, it’s not the same thing. I’m not making any cash, it’s only the spammer making cash. Google is making money on either side, they sell the ads and then get paid for the cpm.

    The WordPress and now the syndic8 people are well into the rights of putting these type of pages on their site. Jason, I respectfully disagree with your comparison of this method of using Adsense/Pagerank with the porno/adult scenario. Now if they had pop-ups of these obscene ads, like a lot of the hacking/cracking sites have, sure..that would be a just comparison, but this is more in line with people putting a billboard on their property/building.

    What about googlebombing? You’re tricking the Google results in the same manner, only you’re not making money from the results. But yet we approve and give the virtual pat on the back to the people who use this method of foiling pagerank. It’s the “social cause” vs. profitability that you have the problem with.

  12. Disclaimers: I’m friends or acquaintances with the folks Andy’s identified (now and in the past) as using these techniques to make money with their sites, but I’m trying to look at this from the perspective of a person who just cares about the web as a whole.

    Leonard asked, “[D]o the people who see trackback/comment-spamming, or email spam as wrong see this type of SEO as qualitatively different or not, and why?”

    I follow the SEO community fairly closely, though there’s no love lost between some of the black hats and myself. It’s probably worth mentioning that the black hat SEOs *don’t* see a difference between this kind of content and their trackback and comment spams. That might be all one needs to know to make a useful judgement about this. From the standpoint of the search engines, they see both types of pollution as fairly analogous, as well.

  13. “The WordPress and now the syndic8 people are well into the rights of putting these type of pages on their site.”

    And everyone is well within their rights to say that what they do makes search engines worse, and that it doesn’t jibe with companies that love the web and want to make it a better place with their products. It’s pretty cut and dry to me. Webloggers are better than that, they make the web better by helping people share their lives online. Mucking up search results with crooked schemes plays opposite of that.

    “What about googlebombing?”

    It’s equally dumb and I don’t approve of it, even though I was one of the first to do it, albeit accidentally for the most part (if I knew it would really work, I wouldn’t have done it). I especially find the constant political googlebombs silly, wasteful, and pointless.

  14. Sorry to be late to the party, just found out about this discussion.

    Obviously, we do have some links to some sub-domain pages, each with a bunch of ads on them. A while ago one of my existing advertisers asked me if I would consider doing this for them, and after some thought I agreed. The advertiser creates the pages, and I point DNS and link to them.

    Some people don’t like this, and I do see your point. However, I don’t have any hidden links, I am not doing anything tricky. From my point of view I am able to fund the operation of my site based on the fact that its home page has a good pagerank.

    From my side, I am doing my best to build and maintain a useful service while not going broke doing so. I fully realize that there are lots of ways to fund a “public resource” site like this, and I simply chose one that worked and was available to me. The primary thing I care about is being able to provide a great service to my users. That’s what gets me up at 5 AM every day to work on the site. If that’s what “being run by a bunch of hackers with no business sense” means, then that’s fine.

    As far as the question about “making the world a better place,” that’s for the world to decide, not me. From my point of view, my site lets lots of people get a better perspective on what’s going on around them because they get access to multiple points of view as found in hundreds of thousands of feeds. I get emails like this just about every day and I am happy to do my part to help them.

  15. Jeff: Let’s be clear–what you’re doing is essentially duplicitous. You are, indeed, doing “something tricky” by artificially inflating your search engine ranking with irrelevant content. Don’t take my word for it–take Google’s:

    “Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, ‘Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?'”

    Alternately, there’s this advice from the same page:

    “Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or ‘bad neighborhoods’ on the web as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.”

    I suspect that Google, when made aware of your exploit, is going to frown upon it.

  16. From my point of view I am able to fund the operation of my site based on the fact that its home page has a good pagerank.

    It’s important to remember that PageRank only exists to make it easier to find relevant, meaningful content. If you try to trick the system by putting up linkfarms of meaningless text, Google searches are going to become a lot less useful. It’s already gotten pretty bad, and it’s sad to think people are so shortsighted. Someone will eventually find a better way to search the web, and that someone will probably end up being Google.

    This kind of Google-spamming is only going to damage your site’s ranking in the long run.

  17. It is easy to be a pundit when one can write posts under the cloak of authenticity. When income and expression are separated its easy to comment that “others are not as pure as me”, but what value does that add?

    Its not always easy to find a way to profit from doing things you enjoy. If a person finds a way to do that then does that make them a bad person? I thought the point of life was to enjoy it.

    >It’s important to remember that PageRank only exists to make it easier to find relevant, meaningful content. If you try to trick the system by putting up linkfarms of meaningless text, Google searches are going to become a lot less useful.

    Then maybe Google should put their customers ahead of profits and stop funding low quality content with their AdSense program, eh?

    Why do people feel the need to defend Google’s relevancy when Google knowingly funds content that undermines the relevancy of most all major information systems? It really shows just how bogus the ethics concept is.

    >It’s probably worth mentioning that the black hat SEOs *don’t* see a difference between this kind of content and their trackback and comment spams. That might be all one needs to know to make a useful judgement about this.

    It’s probably worth mentioning that people like you promoting sweeping generalizations about how other people think which segregates the web and makes it harder for people to make honest value added business models. That might be all one needs to know to make a useful judgement about this.

  18. Its not always easy to find a way to profit from doing things you enjoy. If a person finds a way to do that then does that make them a bad person?

    Yes, if what they’re doing is bad. The fact that you need money doesn’t excuse unethical or immoral behavior. We’re not talking about people stealing bread to feed their starving children here. We’re talking about people trashing the web so they can pay hosting fees.

  19. Does that mean you consider yourself black hat, Aaron? Or merely that you feel compelled to defend those who are?

    Your argument justifies essentially any unethical behavior as long as it’s fun. Do you think people who do unethical SEO have any obligation to those of us who built these tools and media so that people could use them to communicate? I do.

  20. It’s a bummer to point out examples of webspam in comments–the comment filters won’t let me post much in the way of details. Suffice it to say that there is a ton of duplicate content on these pages, and there’s no reason to have pages stuffed with phrases like:

    best mortgages uk best quote mortgage best refinance home mortgage loan rate bi calculator loan mortgage weekly bi monthly

    (Update: I removed the rest of GoogleGuy’s comment. It was hundreds of keywords like the above. — Andy.)

  21. Hah! Never mind people spamming for hosting fees. There are some who have complete outsourced operations cranking these out. You don’t do that unless there is something worthwhile to make.

  22. >Does that mean you consider yourself black hat, Aaron? Or merely that you feel compelled to defend those who are?

    Whatever I am is irrelevant. I generally try to do what I feel is right. It is all based on karma really.

    I get blog spam just like you. I am not defending anybody. I am simply saying that when we create these attack zones we need to look at both sides of the coin.

    Painting broad brush strokes which state that you know how other people think means you are bound to make errors or misjudgements.

    Did I tell you how all women, white, black, or asian bloggers think?

    Did I tell you how naive all blog software makers are to make their software so easy to spam?

    >Your argument justifies essentially any unethical behavior as long as it’s fun.

    This statement is great. In the past I told a former boss “if it feels good it must be right”.

    He immediately said that I was “sick and wrong and horrible”, only later to say “I didn’t know just how right I was”.

    Meaning if it feels bad to you, then you probably shouldn’t do it. Don’t let others determine what is right and wrong to you.

    >Do you think people who do unethical SEO have any obligation to those of us who built these tools and media so that people could use them to communicate? I do.

    1.) Who are you to judge what is right or wrong in another field of work?

    2.) What obligation do they have to you?

    3.) Why do they have an obligation to you?

    4.) When you generally ignore their feedback and call them scumbags why should they have the slightest inkeling of respect for you or your words? In the past I used to. It gets harder by the day.

    5.) I donated to MovableType back when they were new and still had a donors page. I bought multiple installs & licenses. In fact I didn’t get credit for my original license when I recently upgraded. I sent in an email for support which was never answered. I paid the full price of a new license and install anyway. I do support your lifestyle as your software does support mine.

    What I think you are missing is that there is no universal white and black. I have bought your software and recommended dozens of people to buy your software.

    If SEO did not exist your company would have made thousands of dollars of revenue from me and those who I recommended to your software.

    Start making a few good posts about some of the good things you have seen SEOs do if you want any of them to respect your opinions when you call large chunks of them scumbags based on arbitrary ethical guidance.

    To spin your ethics concept in another angle, isn’t Google an unethical company for funding that content. If not then why not?

    Imagine creating a perfectly honest on topic site and not being able to get by because Google funded webspam cluttered the web and prevented people from ever finding your site.

    How would you feel then?

    >That is not high-quality content.

    As a person I like you, but there are gaping holes in this PR spin stuff you are doing.

    I do realize that comments like these might get my site banned, but I feel it would be unethical for me to be dishonest.

    Why does Google run advertisements on “not high-quality content”?

    If Google views the content as crap why do they make their advertisers pay to support it?

    Don’t you owe it to your advertisers (and to the web as a whole) to have some quality control on your partner network?

    Until the recent CPM deal there was no way to opt out of any AdSense spam site unless you opted out of all AdSense sites.

  23. Sounds like most of the defenders of this textfarm/adsense trickery feel the ends justify the means.

    To me it’s more of a tragedy of the commons. If every site with a pagerank over 6 had linkfarms and textfarms, what kind of experience would you have using Google, Yahoo, or MSN a year from now when you’re actually looking for helpful, honest information about a mortgage?

    There are whole swaths of Google that are pretty much useless because of this practice (most travel-related searches are loaded with city-you-searched-for-a-vacation.com type of seo’d junk). I hate to see people I know contributing to that willingly.

    There are other ways. You can run your own adsense, you can run blogads. You can provide services to other sites for small fees. You can provide added tools and functionality for paid account holders.

    Think about this for a second: say you run a web service of some sort with tons of users and you come up with a few features that you offer as a pro package, for say, $5 a month. If you can get to 20k paid users, you just crested a million dollars in gross annual sales. There are tons of web services and sites with far more than 20k users, and it’s a lot of work, but totally possible to grow a web app into a million dollar a year business using completely sane and ethical means to get there.

  24. Aaron, out of respect for Andy’s site and this thread not being about you or I, I’ll defer our conversation to another time and place. Suffice to say, my statements are about black hat SEOs. People who use legitimate tactics that are respectful of the medium they’re participating in haven’t raised any objections to me about the statements I’ve made.

    If nothing else, the conversations on this page should convince you that it matters a lot to a lot of people, and I’d hope that most people care about the thoughts and feelings of a community they participate in.

  25. I’ve noticed that when SEOs justify their actions citing Google’s role in arbitrage, there’s the tendency to ignore the fact that this sort of gaming affects all search engines, and more importantly than that, *anyone searching for things*.

    You’re right Aaron, Google makes money on ad-sense regardless, and the advertising market-place will reach it’s own equibilrium. The point you’re missing is that most of us aren’t concerned that SEO is hurting Google, but that it’s hurting Google’s users, you know, *people*.

    But hey, if it feels good, it must be right. (btw, you might be interested in the term for the behavior you describe: http://www.bartleby.com/59/17/sociopath.html )

    Now, re:the exchange of goods and the money cycle: Using your argument, frivolous lawsuits are a good thing, because then participating lawyers have more money to spend. Now the answer to what the effect on net value is, is obvious. These torts are a drain on the legal system, and serve bupkiss in increasing GDP or QOL.

    I’m not unsympathetic to where your coming from, but looking purely from the arguments put forth, there’s a lot more rationalization than rationale going on.

    And, I’m by no means an idealist (and I mean come on, living in today’s politics environment really makes one appreciate the good old days of realpolitik), but imagine how much better things would be if we could be channeling the amount of creative energy on all sides in a positive manner.

  26. Let’s just hope that everything you do remains lily white and pure. You sure are going out of your way to point out the sins of other people and building a growing list of enemies, who would be pretty happy to narc on you in a heartbeat.

  27. >You’re right Aaron, Google makes money on ad-sense regardless, and the advertising market-place will reach it’s own equibilrium. The point you’re missing is that most of us aren’t concerned that SEO is hurting Google, but that it’s hurting Google’s users, you know, *people*.

    Right, and you hit the nail on the head with your earlier part of that post

    >affects all search engines, and more importantly than that, *anyone searching for things*.

    and what I was saying is that Google knows their link filtering technology is better than some of their competitors.

    Crap pages have a much greater chance of showing up in the just fresh from beta MSN Search than they do in Google.

    What I was complaining about is that part of Google’s business model is paying people to spam up other search indexes.

    It gets old listening to people talk about how this stuff effects the poor Google index when they are the ones sponsoring it.

    You want search quality to improve? Tell Google to stop sponsoring crap content.

  28. Content, who cares. What bugs me to death is that visiting one of those pages uses javascript to remap the back button on my browser to another domain for “credit info” or whatever it may me. Putting up nasty static content is arguable, but hijacking my browser is NOT!

  29. Google’s users are not their customers. The individuals and businesses who *purchase* adspace are their customers. Google provides a free service to their userbase which most love and appreciate. Their customers are their profits, not their userbase.

    Regarding “crap content.” It isn’t google’s responsibility to evaluate the content of a webpage. Indeed, I’m glad they do not and allow others (and themselves) to profit from the Adsense tool.

    Their perogative is compiling a meaningful search index. If they detect someone is exploiting their technique for doing this, they are free to administer punitive consequences. They realize that when someone is “gaming them” the result is damage to their userbase AND their customers (which are different populations that directly affect their own livelyhood).

  30. >Regarding “crap content.” It isn’t google’s responsibility to evaluate the content of a webpage.

    Their core mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

    I would say evaluating content is one of the core goals of making information useful.

    If you ever listen to their founders talk they really pitch the “for the user” angle. Generally their statements have been that advertisers will follow if they do everything right for the user.

    and, as stated by Matt above

    >There are whole swaths of Google that are pretty much useless because of this practice

    So it does effect end users. If it did not then people would not do it.

    >Indeed, I’m glad they do not and allow others (and themselves) to profit from the Adsense tool.

    So if you or I profit from bad sites then that is bad on us, but it is ok if Google sponsors web polution? Why?

    Feel like I am beating a dead horse. Sorry about that Andy.

  31. > Why do people feel the need to defend Google’s relevancy when Google knowingly funds content that undermines the relevancy of most all major information systems? It really shows just how bogus the ethics concept is.

    Getting all lawyerly here, I’d say that Google doesn’t “knowingly” fund content that undermines relevancy. Google may well “negligently” fund that content — that is, take an undue risk of funding it. Google probably even “recklessly” funds such content — that is, takes an undue risk with the knowledge that it’s taking such risks.

    But Google doesn’t knowingly fund adsense cheating, in the sense that in those cases I’ve seen in which Google found out about such gaming, Google pretty promptly shut down the offending site’s juice.

  32. This is not equivalent to comment spam or referrer spam or trackback spam, where spammers are using my site to promote their (mostly unethical) content.

    I said before> Is this such a big deal? The reason it is made such a big deal is because several thousands of frustrated webmasters … are looking for scapegoats to blame their inability.

    On second thoughts after looking more deeply at the syndic8 site yesterday, I tend to agree that syndic8 has really crossed the line this time over the need to earn versus the damage it causes. We do not need so much content on mort*e, especially so much duplicate content 🙂

    But seriously they are actually polluting the search space significantly and with bad content and high ranking, making it a bad experience for the users.

    We tend to pass the blame to search engines like Google or Yahoo, for not being able to filter these.

    But frankly if I were in Google’s or MSN’s shoes I see the significant challenge it poses in trying to isolate and deal with such issues, without individual’s highlighting it in specific cases.

    However I think they should be able to identify them to a large extent by analyzing content across domains for similarity score and using further filters on top of it. Then the top 0.01 % should be manually checked.

  33. This is a Google issue, not a Jeff one. As has already been pointed out, quality control on AdSense is minimal / non-existant. Wonder what %age of AdSense revenue is from garbage directory or scraper sites. I would hazard a guess that it’s 20%+ so it really does google no good to go removing it, especially when other engines like MSN and Yahoo may be providing traffic to those pages.

  34. They blackballed the site *and* killed the adsense account? Wow. I’m no fan of these content farm/spam things, but I would have much prefered to see syndic8 remove the material or have google just block the subdomains from their index than hearing they killed the whole site and their entire revenue.

    Wasn’t the adsense running on those pages owned by someone else (like the WordPress fiasco)?

  35. This really is not at all surprising to me. Many SEO/SEM firms, or simply websites looking for more link popularity, break out their site into multiple subdomains because of the way Google sees subdomains — as separate unique domains from their parent. It’s like a self-propogating PR machine if implemented cleverly, each subdomain feeding off the the others’ and each one’s “unique” content (probably fed 1/2 by legitimate sources & 1/2 by disguised advertising) helping in the “diverse” set of backlinks.

    Take phpnuke.org for example. Late last year it began placing links to spam subdomains on their homepage, like loans.phpnuke.org & credit.phpnuke.org. At the very bottom of those pages you can see a tiny little disclaimer that reads, “This website is in no way affiliated in any manner with phpnuke.org or its owner. This is paid advertising space..”

    But the method had a HUGE effect. Within weeks, phpnuke was pumped up to a very strong domain because of its increased link popularity generated by these subdomains and their associated link farms. It was coming up top in search results for irrelevant searches, but it worked.

    It also works for companies that structure their sites this way. A few for example (let’s do law directories because they tend to be a little more competitive in this way) lawinfo.com & findlaw.com both use it (and their high rankings reflect it).

    I’m not sure exactly when phpnuke they took the links down, probably sometime around the WordPress fiasco, but it went entirely unnoticed (probably because no one really gives a rat’s ass about phpnuke). I’m also not really sure what the purpose of my response is, other than to point out that it’s a common and effective (borderline black hat – depending on the site’s motives) site structuring technique that can be used to pump up a site’s PR.

    Personally, it annoys the shit out of me. I have a very low tolerance with sites that dabble in even slightly sneaky SEO tactics.

  36. Matt Haughey, the point of Google’s action is to discourage such behavior. They’ve always punished index spammers by excluding sites from Google. Syndic8 knew what they were doing, and it was a violation of Google’s policies.

    You seem to be saying that there shouldn’t be any punishment at all as long as they stop doing it. What sort of disincentive would that provide for the thousands of other sites tempted to embrace the same sleaze? If Google reacted as leniently as you suggest, they’d have nothing to lose.

  37. “You seem to be saying that there shouldn’t be any punishment at all as long as they stop doing it.”

    No, I’m saying if mortgage.foo.com was blackballed from Google, the ads would not make a red cent. Blackballing foo.com and pulling their adsense account that probably wasn’t even the one used by the subdomain seo spam seems a bit harsh.

  38. Oh wait, upon re-reading it, they pulled the adsense account of the textfarm spammers, not syndic8, which seems like a good move.

    When I read andy’s update it had the air of “I’ll punish you, your children and your children’s children!” about it.

  39. I understand that the mortgage.foo.com ads wouldn’t make money, but that would just put foo.com back in the same position they were in before they allied with the slime. To discourage the behavior, there has to be a risk that if you’re caught you’ll be worse off than you would have if you hadn’t tried it. Children and grandchildren are innocent parties, but Syndic8 wasn’t, correct?

    But maybe you’re saying that removing syndic8.com from Google was okay, in which case that would certainly be punishment.

  40. Kevin, I deleted your four comments because they’re argumentative to the point of trolling. Also, you didn’t leave your e-mail address. E-mail me if you want to talk about it.

  41. >But Google doesn’t knowingly fund adsense cheating, in the sense that in those cases I’ve seen in which Google found out about such gaming, Google pretty promptly shut down the offending site’s juice.

    There are many many many offending sites out there. I created an SEO tool that looks at co citation. The tool is sometimes useful, but sometimes is rendered useless due to being overburdened by scraper sites.

    Sometimes you have to see the issue first hand to appreciate how out of control the problem is. Search for a competitive term in Google (like search engine optimization, mesothelioma, or debt consolidation) and then enter the top 5 – 10 sites in a free tool called hub finder.

    An exceptionally large percent of scraper sites built business models based on AdSense. There is no way Google does not know of these.

    The quick and fast action on sites that are made public is an attempt to control public perception, but in the long run does nothing to solve the underlying problems.

    >But the method had a HUGE effect. Within weeks, phpnuke was pumped up to a very strong domain because of its increased link popularity generated by these subdomains and their associated link farms. It was coming up top in search results for irrelevant searches, but it worked.

    The cause and effect is backward there. In that instance the subdomains did not make the domain strong. The domain was already strong. The subdomains leveraged / exploited what strength already existed.

  42. I’m sorry to hear that they got banned. They have a FANTASTIC business model of making money.

    It’s pretty sad to hear so many people have so many opinions and judgements to provide on others and not on their own stuff.

    Well considering me, I’d like to be like them. Banned or not, money is there to be made and I’m gonna make it.

    You guys can keep getting angry, frustrated and keep complaining.

    Cheers !

  43. I’ve met Jeff in the past in person and talked to him at length and I do *not* want to sound or be just piling on here. How many of you have met and talked to Jeff or done business with him? Though I’ve not done any business with him before, he does seem like a real standup guy and Syndic8, this move aside, brings value to the web.

    For that reason alone, hopefully Google will figure out how to shoot the messages (spam) and not the entire website. I’m sure they are on it already.

    With that said, this was just, well, a *terrible* business decision. Just like the one Matt Mullenweg made but this one is tempered a bit by the fact that Syndic8 wasn’t employing hidden text techniques and hiding the spamatorial third level domains elsewhere on syndic8.

    Jeff’s penance post, which I just read, is heartfelt, seems genuine and I’m sure this situation was a very good learning lesson for him: don’t be seduced by the dark side!

    This is getting long, think I’l blog the rest.

  44. Angsuman said: “Matt decided to promote his software with Open Source model”

    I’d like to point out that WordPress was originally based on b2 (www.cafelog.com) which was already GPL, so Matt had no ‘choice’ in making WordPress open source.

  45. Andy –

    I just posted an hour long interview with Jeff Barr (waxy.org is mentioned) on this subject here: http://www.makeyougohmm.com/20050525/1918/

    It was originally broadcast live on our radio show on Friday May 13, 2005. I was going to email you about this, but thought, well, might as well update this thread if it’s still allowing comments on the subject instead.

    For those readers interested in hearing all sides of the story, then this, along with Jeff’s apology thread at his blog would be good places to start.

  46. Google’s Adsense program appeals to greedy webmasters that place profit before and over content quality, often physically placing the Adsense ads above the content, as if the ads are more important than the content itself. Google Adsense ads have become the Internet’s equivalent to the gigantic billboards seen next to LA’s high-traffic freeways, and above every major intersection. It is in Google’s cynical interest to remove high profile Adsense spam sites that attract discussions about the quality of its search results, and it will continue to do very well with the large mass of lower profile Adsense spam sites whose secondary purpose for Google is to appear above the actual product and service provider websites that may feel forced into buying Google’s Adwords links.

  47. I’m sorry to hear that they got banned. They have a FANTASTIC business model of making money.

    It’s pretty sad to hear so many people have so many opinions and judgements to provide on others and not on their own stuff.

  48. [ The problem is that syndic8 was always run by a bunch of hackers with no business sense. Lacking a business model, they resort to copying SPAM. ]

    Agreed with GUY

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