"This, in my opinion, is partly the fault of Google, who appears to be putting more emphasis on content rather than links."
Google has been under siege by search engine optimization (SEO) spammers who are abusing flaws in its search engine to rank a deluge of junk pages, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of keywords each, Search Engine Journal reports.
"This, in my opinion, is partly the fault of Google, who appears to be putting more emphasis on content rather than links," marketing consultant Bill Hartzer told the site.
The issue was first spotted this week by SEO expert Lily Ray. In a post on X-formerly-Twitter, she noted that searching "craigslist used auto parts" would overwhelmingly return spam pages after only showing two results from Craigslist. (Ironically, searching exactly for this phrase now returns Ray's post as the first result.)
And SEJ notes that many of the spam pages' domains were registered very recently. The vicious speed of the attack adds to growing concerns over Google's functionality as entrenched SEO tactics have become more advanced, with emerging technologies like generative AI increasing the ease and scale at which these schemes can be executed.
As of Thursday, searching for other Craigslist related questions still yields several junk results towards the bottom, but not as many as described by initial reports. It's unclear how many other search terms are still significantly affected — but it builds on a general sense that not all is well with Google's search results.
Search engines have long depended on backlinks, or links from one website that lead to another, to help rank results. Having a lot of backlinks from reputable websites essentially tells services like Google that a webpage is worth showing.
But with the right tricks, spammers don't need to rely on these coveted signifiers. According to SEJ, the spammers are instead abusing what's known as long tail keywords — basically longer phrases of very specific keywords that are rarely searched for — to boost the ranking of their pages.
Their specificity means that there are fewer results to compete against, so spammers take advantage of this by creating countless junk pages created solely to serve up these unpopular keywords.
The spam attacks also abuse the mechanics of local searches, which are narrowed down based on a user's geographic location. Junk pages can pretend to cater to random locations on top of spamming long tails in order to boost their rankings even further.
Investigating the trail left behind by the spammers, Hartzer created a link graph that revealed just how intricately connected many of these junk websites were to each other. According to his findings, the keywords appear to be driving the spam attacks.
"This pretty much confirms the fact that it's all being done with content, and not because of links," Hartzer wrote on X.
In response to another thread by Ray on the broken Craigslist search results, Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan said that the issue is "being looked at."
To be sure, Google will probably swat away this latest bout of spam like it usually does — but it's a seemingly never-ending war of attrition that only gets harder and harder to fight.
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