What do spam and oDesk have in common and how do we stop them?

If you manage a blog or website of any kind then you have no doubt ran into the problem of spam.

Even if it is just a simple contact form, you have probably received some crazy gibberish about nike shoes, ugg boots, or male enhancement.

And if you run a network of sites, you most likely fight the problem of splogs – those devilish attempts to create a blog on your network for a quick link all in the name of improving search engine rankings. It’s called black hat SEO because it is unethical and violates the terms of being indexed by major search engines.

no spam

It is a mad game that like it or not we all are playing. Though only a few of us them are actually winning.

As with anything in today’s world, it is all about the money. A website owner wants more traffic so they employ link builders. The link builders make money from the website owner but most likely, the website owner doesn’t see any increased traffic. In fact, if the black hat tactics are discovered, search engine ranking could even fall, or the site be banned, and the website owner loses traffic!

Who else is losing money? Everyone that runs, owns, or manages a website of any kind. That’s because massive amounts of time, energy, and hosting resources are spent fending off these shenanigans.

Here are five steps we as netizens and WordPressonians NEED to take to put an end to these practices once and for all.

1. Spread the Word

To the average business or website owner, link building and other unethical SEO strategies sound legit.

More links to my site equals higher search engine rankings. Higher search engine rankings equals more traffic to my site. More traffic to my site equals higher sales or conversions. Therefore, more links to my site equals higher sales! Right?!

Erm. Maybe, but probably not if you are paying for the links.

Be warned, Google, Bing, and any up-and-coming search engine (is there one?) is learning all the time and getting better at distinguishing between good and bad content. You run the risk of being blacklisted and punished if too many links are coming from sites that don’t make sense.

There are some good and legitimate methods to get links for your site. The key is for links to be natural and to grow over time. SEO rule number one is that you are running a marathon, not a sprint. It simply takes time.

Education is key – we must all get the word out – so here are a few ideas on how we can make that happen:

  • Write a blog post of your own about this very topic – leave a link in the comments below if you’d like!
  • Tweet this post, share it on facebook, or email it to friends. There are links up there at the top to help ;)
  • Facilitate a session on good SEO tactics vs bad ones at WordCamps, conferences, local small business owner meetings, or anyplace else you can think of.

The thing is, if you are reading this post, then you probably aren’t one of the average business owners out there that would fall for something like this. In preaching to the choir here, we’re hoping you will help spread the good word.

2. Wear Protection

Not only are spammers annoying to deal with, their presence can turn away legitimate visitors to your site and really bog down your speed and hosting resources.

If you are currently not protecting your site against spammers, then you are in effect allowing their proliferation to continue and are just as much part of the problem as the bad guys here.

Every new install of WordPress comes pre-loaded with the Akismet plugin for a reason – protection against comment spam is more than just a good idea.

You will need an API key for Akismet, which is free for personal use and affordable for non-personal use.

anit-splog

Beyond that, there are some other great tools available. We’re rather partial to Anti-Splog and the Comment Spam Pack, both of which are available from WPMU DEV.

You should also check out these ideas, shared by our resident tip expert Sarah, for doing even more:

Surely that is enough?

You would think. The problem is that using bots, scripts, and automated methods for posting comments or creating blogs is so last decade.

Real humans are the ones scouring the interwebs leaving unwanted links behind everywhere they go, and they are getting paid to do so. They are also better able to get past all of the above protections that we just described.

That leads us to the next point…

3. Cut Off Their Heads

So far, we’ve talked about the demand side of the equation. If more people understand that not all links are good links, and they know that every site out there has protections in place to combat spam, then we can really reduce the number of website owners out their searching for these “SEO” services.

Now lets talk more about the supply side. These street dealers are allowed to sell their services openly to anyone that is looking for a quick SEO score.

Elance – the largest freelance marketplace where would be website owners most likely turn to find SEO services – actively allows for jobs of these nature to be advertised and paid for on their site. The average business owner might put up a generic job for increasing SEO and in turn choose the services of a provider that engages in black hat practices. All without the business owner really understanding it all.

If the WordPress community, or even better, the entire web development community, would stand up to sites like Elance and let them know that this isn’t ok, maybe they would listen? After all, the overwhelming majority of jobs on these sites are related to web development in some way. All of the job sites here, with the one glaring exception which we will discuss next, are a much better alternative in that they aren’t inundated with the types of service providers described here that partake in this inappropriate behavior.

Or perhaps this might be a situation where government regulation needs to step in – though that is a touchy topic and difficult at a global level.

It gets worse though, Elance’s largest competitor, oDesk, engages in questionable SEO strategies right on their homepage!

When I went looking for information on their terms of service (which isn’t any better than Elance by the way), I found this little gem hidden in the footer. See if you can spot the problem when you visit their site.

These links appear to be a site map clearly hidden for SEO purposes and clearly violate web standards and Google’s terms for inclusion in its index. Its time to boycot oDesk when looking for future jobs or for someone to hire – at least until they clean up their act and footer content.

Maybe they employed one of their providers and got some bad advice. Definitely not all providers on these sites wear black hats or practice unethical behavior – heck I’ve even been a provider on both sites – but both seemingly allow job listings and providers to openly engage in link building in questionable ways. The bad should be kicked right off the sites and we should hold both more accountable to do so!

Luckily, there is something you can do when you find examples like this besides not using their services. Move right along to point number 4.

[Edit: See oDesk’s official response in the comments below!]

4. Tell Mom and Dad On Them

And I intend to do just that.

Google is leading the fight against spam and black hat search engine optimization strategies in order to provide searchers with the best results possible. It is perfect too because this is the very place these link builders are trying to impress…muahaha!

If you find a search result that you think is questionable, or a site that engages in tactics like oDesk, then you owe it to the web to file a report with Google.

It is quick and painless to do and hopefully will lead to a better web and search experience in the future.

For the record, Bing has their own reporting site too.

5. Expect More From The Big Boys

Blogging providers such as WordPress.com, Blogger, Edublogs, and Weebly all explicitly forbid in their terms of service the  use of techniques specifically designed to increase SEO. This is excellent!

However a quick search in the WordPress.com forums, for example, shows there is still room to improve in this area. Many users report persistent problems related to spammers. And splogs aplenty can be found with a quick google site search.

Tumblr, quite alarmingly, doesn’t appear to have as strong of language outright banning these tactics on their site. Though perhaps it is just lost in translation of the legalese somewhere?

The point is that we as users of these sites must continue to hound the powers that be to increase protections and act quickly and efficiently to keep the sites clean of offenders. I can speak for one of the blogging networks mentioned, and suspect that the rest are fighting it just as hard as they can too. But that doesn’t mean we should go easy on them either. :)

Website hosting providers are also major players. Despite their recent elephant killing, GoDaddy does offer a spam and site reporting form.  Though when you visit the page you are lead to believe at first glance that it only has to do with email spam.

I gave myself 30 seconds to see if I could find similar reporting forms with other popular hosts – it was right on the homepage of GoDaddy. I failed on WordPress.org recommended HostGator and BlueHost. I did find an email on DreamHost.

We need all the big boys to help in the fight and make it easy for the general public to help police the web.

What else can be done?

Surely there is something missing from this post or something you disagree with.

Sound off and let us know in the comments below.

Let’s get this dialogue started and work together to stop spam, splogs, and black hat SEO in it’s tracks!