Microsoft Follows the Money to Find Spammers

The practice of search engine optimization doesn’t need to involve tricks and misdirection to enable searchers to find sites that fulfill their needs, and help them complete tasks on the Web. But there are folks who do attempt to trick searchers and search engines to profit from both.

When it comes to pages created and used to spam search engines, Microsoft came up with some interesting statistics in study conducted over the past six months.

Last October, the Live.com research team noticed three doorway pages showing up in the top ten search results for the search phrase “Cheap Ticket” and decided to investigate further.

When someone clicked on one of those pages, they were redirected to other pages recognized as being involved in spamming search engines. They also saw advertisements on the pages to which traffic was being redirected, from a company that they believed to be legitimate and not involved in misleading and misdirecting search engines.

Telling themselves that a reputable company wouldn’t buy advertisement services directly from spammers, they wondered if they could locate the middlemen who were responsible for placing those ads on those pages. The Microsoft paper, Spam Double-Funnel: Connecting Web Spammers with Advertisers , details the methods that they used to locate spam, and the domains that were being used to redirect traffic.

Some interesting observations from the study:

  • “Drugs” and “ringtone” were the two most-spammed categories (amongst those studied) with an average search-result spam density as high as 30.8% and 27.5%, respectively.
  • When sites from non-commercial top-level domains, such as .gov and .edu, show up in a prominent manner in the search results of spammer-targeted commercial search terms, it often indicates that the site has been spammed.
  • At least three in every four unique blogspot URLs that appeared in top-50 results for commercial queries (that they selected for this study) were spam (77% and 75%).

If you were able to read only one search engine related research paper this week, I would recommend this one.

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6 thoughts on “Microsoft Follows the Money to Find Spammers”

  1. I read this article with great interest. It may well be the best way of tracking down spammers is to pay them and follow the money trail. Ingeneous!

  2. Maybe MSN should look at their paid search results for spammers. They allow advertisers that are nothing but a collection of links, as does Google. Yahoo does the best job of weeding out garbage sites from their PPC programs.

  3. Maybe, Mike.

    They were looking at search results from Google, Yahoo, and Live.com during this research, so they didn’t leave themselves out of their inquiry.

  4. Hi Venta,

    I’m not completely sure that this study is really advocating a specific method to stop anything. Rather it’s a way of investigating, and maybe identifying who is involved in creating redirects leading to pages with scraped content and advertisements.

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