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Google Search Algorithm Exploited

googlelogoonwallRelevant. Fast. Spam-free. These were adjectives that described the Google search engine and were the foundation behind the reason Google has a massive chunk of the search market share. But could that stellar reputation be in jeopardy? Recently, it’s been discovered that spammers have taken advantage of the Google ranking algorithm and used it to their benefit, utilizing black-hat SEO techniques to have malicious sites rank predominantly under certain keywords. After repeated requests and many documented examples of this activity, Google has finally officially responded and plans to adjust their algorithm to combat these techniques, an exploit that seemingly is a by-product of Web 2.0 and what is called “link velocity”.

Let’s start by looking at the problem: Spammers are a very clever breed. They study search trends, ranking changes, and the inner-most functionality of major search engines like Google. Although they don’t have access to any information beyond what you or I could get, their livelihood depends on the exposure of their creations, and they certainly exploit a loophole when it’s found. Their creations are auto-generated malware sites peppered throughout foreign countries, made to look like legitimate informational sites. These malicious sites typically host what’s called “scareware” or “rogueware,” which are certain types of malware that installs fake software on a user’s computer that supposedly runs adware and spyware checks, but is actually built specifically to force users to surrender financial information to stop a constant, irritating nag screen. The scam works, and it makes the spammers a great deal of money. To get users to these sites, the spammers must make them look legitimate, and must make them naturally rank.

This is where the exploit comes in. Spammers look at recent search trends, specifically keywords hot in the news or other niche markets that are vulnerable, and they create hundreds of auto-generated pages with keyword-rich titles, and then utilize social sites like forums, directories and link-farms to create massive amounts of links to these sites. This is where “link velocity” comes in, and is the part of the algorithm most likely to be changed. Link Velocity specifically relates to the speed at which new links are created to a site. In the past, despite negative rankings factors like a young domain and foreign host, if a site had high link velocity, it could overcome these factors to rank well for certain searches. This is how the spammers exploited the algorithm, by creating all these links from social sites that were often times un-checked and riddled with comments filled with erroneous links. The sites ranked, and users were led directly to the offending domains. In some case, Google has more than 10 pages of spam sites for a particular keyword. Among the targets are Nissan and Ford motor companies, as spammers have utilized keywords relating to specific automotive parts, and recent news stories like the one about a man being reunited with his long lost daughter through a bulletin board system.

So what will change? Most likely, Google will consider the speed at which links are built towards a site very closely. Ranking probably won’t come as quickly in these cases, unless the links are deemed higher quality and more consistent. Also, Google will look closer at foreign hosted sites and URL significance to attempt to eradicate all the spam sites already identified. All in all, although the reaction was slow, it seems Google is taking the necessary steps to fix the problem.

More information is available on this breaking story over at Web Pro News:

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