Search and Deceive
A Web trick catches a venerable law directory
Posted Feb 1, 2010 1:20 AM CST
By Rachel M. Zahorsky
For New York City-based lawyer and blogger Eric Turkewitz, “comment spam” is a common occurrence. Like graffiti artists, some commenters sprinkle Turkewitz’s popular New York Personal Injury Law Blog with unrelated gibberish accompanied by links that point back to their own websites.
The purpose is to boost those websites’ rankings on search engines such as Google when users search for keywords. Higher rankings mean more click-throughs and, often, more money.
Comment spam and other tricks to achieve search engine optimization, or SEO, are old—some nearly as old as search engines—and many have been countered in search engine algorithms. Still, with the big business SEO has become, the tricksters keep trying.
In December a comment on a 2-year-old post caused even Turkewitz’s jaw to drop.
“The comment, at first blush, didn’t look like spam,” Turkewitz wrote on his blog. “The sentences, however, had nothing to do with the post.”
And the html link below the unrelated sentences directed users to the international law firm directory of Martindale-Hubbell, one of the largest and oldest attorney-search companies, which touts Web 2.0 expertise to lawyers. Turkewitz says he found the same posting on several blog sites.
“What is most surprising here is that a venerable company is getting down in the gutter with companies less reputable,” says Seattle lawyer Kevin O’Keefe, who wrote about the incident on his weblog, Real Lawyers Have Blogs.
In response to O’Keefe’s posting, Conscious Solutions, a British marketing outfit, took responsibility for spamming Turkewitz’s blog to help increase traffic to martindale-hubbell.co.uk.
'DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!'
With the proliferation of social media forums and fly-by-night legal directories, lawyers need to be even more cautious when they enlist the services of outside sales and marketing firms to improve website traffic and search engine rankings.
“Lawyers make that mistake to reach out to companies that do search engine optimization,” says O’Keefe. His company, LexBlog, advises lawyers on ways to become better bloggers, including doing their own SEO. But the gains that law websites may enjoy from using an outside firm can become questionable. “Their sites start to do better, and the lawyers don’t have a clue that these companies conduct black hat operations [like comment spamming] to get those ratings.”
“If you are going to use social media and blog, you should never have somebody do that for you,” O’Keefe adds. He says the best way to raise your online profile is to publish valuable and credible content that engages readers in conversation and encourages them to reference those posts on the Web.
Google has addressed comment spam on its Webmaster Central Blog and dismissed the spammy link drops as a waste of time. The search engine giant has developed algorithmic ways to devalue these types of links, which makes the spammer’s effort useless.
To boost search engine rankings, the Google webmasters echoed O’Keefe’s and Turkewitz’s advice: Avoid attempting to trick computers that monitor keywords, and instead post valuable and credible content.
And for marketers who promise results through shady tactics?
“The only thing we can do about these services is to walk with our pocketbooks,” O’Keefe says. “If we don’t use less reputable companies, they won’t survive.”