Astroturfing: The SEO opportunists new best friend and why it needs to go [Updated]


This ain't no real ground roots support!

Well well well, what do we have here? The newest craze of the SEO mercenaries has really started to make it’s self known.

A brief history. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation – or in its most basic explanation’getting to the top on Google’) has been an ever changing beast. One where if an SEO team / operative haven’t moved quickly enough with the times, they will get left behind. Like the rest of the web, you can’t just rest on your laurels. This was clear when at the end of the first age of SEO, people had to move away from keywords. They used to be hidden in the source code of a web page and there just for the Robots (or spiders or google bots) and they would rank your page and site on them. Google then shifted after noticing abuse of this method. The abuse? Some one selling car tires, but hiding terms like ‘Brittany Spears’ in the keywords so that they turned up in other searches. What came after that? Well google started to ignore the source code and started to actually read the content. Thus came the second age of SEO, Keywords in your text. this meant that you couldn’t just randomly pop up in other popular searches, you just had to have the best copy-writing to ensure your site got noticed as having the right content. For a time, this worked.

Then the third age began. As Google be came smarter (The search engine, not the people. The people are already very smart!) it started to look for sites that had the ‘freshest’ content and links. Easy way to break that down; Links to your website, posted on blogs. Ahhh Blogs! Like this, with links going to other sites and in them selves regularly updated, became the tool. How did this start to get abused? The same way it does now. as this brings us up to date. Farming out the work for one. You get a number of proposed articles and comments and post them on blogs and news sites that relate to the topic of the companies concern. A lot of this work for UK companies has been sent out the middle & far east for their cheaper costs, but is clearly noticed in the way the comments are written.

But it’s not just shady SEO Mercs doing this, its large companies. In the last few days two separate cases have flagged up in my news feeds and annoyed the authors so much, they have posted about it.

The first, was on AllThingsD blog, where an American satellite TV network have been pushing out content from their marketing department ‘bigging up’ their services and other parts of their company in the kind of language you’d expect from a radio advert.

The comment that was posted was copy and pasted in to other blogs. As mentioned in the article above, AllThingsD are using Disqus (as am I now) and with it they can see who this imaginary person has been on other sites, and what they have posted.

The Second innocent was one that has cropped up on a number of film blogs about the upcoming Mirror Mirror film. One of two Snow White films to land in the near future from two competing studios. As Bleeding Cool reported, the actions of these marketing minions (or possibly one lone keyboard jockey) copying and pasting the same comments, generating, at least they hope, two outcomes. One; That they influence people’s opinion of the film and decide to see it in cinemas and Two: generate keywords from high refresh sites with lots of visitors.

[Update] More evidence in the film world as found by Bleeding Cool and others. Good work guys, the more we can highlight this, the better chance we have of it being canned – he hopes.

The key thing to remember is that as much as you may like to have you site on the top of Google, the cheap tricks only get you up there for so long. The algorithmic are getting better and the results smarter. Want to do the least work and still keep a good site ranking? Have well written copy, that relates to your companies products and services. Keep news parts of a website up to date and ensure your pages load quickly.

Build well, write better, keep fresh.

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