Gaming Google

If you’ve ever run a blog with any kind of significant traffic and a decent Google PageRank, you’ve almost surely encountered them before: Marketing companies who offer to pay you to write a post with a link to a certain website, often on the behalf of surprisingly large and well-established companies. It’s SEO 101: Google’s algorithms are built around reputation and trust, and links are considered an indication of trust. If enough high-PageRank blogs link to a marketer’s website, Google can be duped into ranking it higher for certain search terms.

A link by itself isn’t good enough, though: Google has known from the beginning that people would try to game the system, so over the years they’ve developed increasingly sophisticated means of detecting misleading links. They can still be beaten (in theory at least) if websites Google trusts with a high PageRank are willing to put that trust at risk by cooperating with black-hat marketing types who typically ask the blogger or website owner to post a credible-looking “editorial” along with a strategically-worded link.

Brandon and I have a stock reply for these situations – We don’t mix ads with content, but if you’d like to post a normal ad (identified as such) in the sidebar, let us know. We’re fine with unobtrusive, non-misleading ads, but we think it’s a violation of our readers’ trust to ever post anything that looks like real content but is actually an ad – not to mention that if Google ever caught on, they’d blacklist us in a second.

Which brings us to yesterday, when we were contacted with the following proposition:

Hi,

Could we purchase advertising on ffgeekblog.com?

We could pay you $80 for a guest editorial about my client’s site (http://www.direct.tv/direct-tv-nfl-sunday-ticket.html) and payment can be made by PayPal (or check delivered via FedEx US/Canada only).

I know time is valuable these days and I appreciate yours.

Sincerely,
[redacted]
Marketing Assistant

(I wasn’t going to redact any information about this person but had second thoughts when I visited their website’s staff page and discovered that she was in fact a real person. I’m not a total dick.)

So here we have the typical offer: For a ridiculously small sum of cash, we are asked to sacrifice our integrity and potentially piss Google off by writing a bullshit “editorial” about some website.

Brandon sent our stock reply:

[redacted],

The only advertising we provide on our blog is our text links on the right side bar. Let me know if you are interested in that.

Regards,
Brandon
FFGeekBlog.com

We could have just left it at that, but I felt like running an experiment.

[redacted],

Please disregard my co-blogger’s precious dabbling in ethical journalism. I for one would be thrilled to accept $80 to write an editorial for your client. Please provide the terms of the agreement and I will begin forthwith.

Lucratively,
Matt
FFGeekBlog.com

Ms. Redacted sadly seems to have been constructed without a sarcasm detector pre-installed:

Hi Matt,

Thanks for getting back to me. We are interested in an editorial around 400 – 450 words that includes a direct link to our clients site :
http://www.direct.tv/direct-tv-nfl-sunday-ticket.html

The anchor text we are using is:
direct

Once the article is ready please forward it to me for review. Once approved and place live, we can remit payment via PayPal.

Thanks!

Sincerely,
[redacted]
Marketing Assistant

What the hell? She thought I was serious? OK then, I’ll play…

Total Marketing is a company that makes money by getting bloggers to fill their sites with spam that looks like actual content. The next time you’re frustrated while searching for something on the web because 99% of the results are blog spam, you can direct your appreciation to companies like this one.

Now send us our $80.

(Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I used the nofollow attribute so as not to piss Google off.)