It's amazing what technology can do.
This morning, I went on BlogPulse and did a little egosurfing (define). My eyebrows raised when I discovered a blog called "Big Booty Cuties" had linked to me. Being a curious person (and wondering what I'd written that would engage those interested in attractive women with large derrieres), I clicked the link and held my breath as the page loaded.
Surprise! "Big Booty Cuties" wasn't a real blog at all but a splog (define), automatically generated from RSS (define) feeds including my name (as well as a bunch of other junk). When I checked back at BlogPulse, I discovered most of the links that showed up were spam.
Though splogs have been covered before a few times on ClickZ (Pete Blackshaw has a good piece on the subject), it got me thinking: what are the larger implications for publishing and advertising online if the problem is getting so bad?
And it is. A recent Red Herring study finds 44 percent of blog search results for popular brands were spam, and splogs now make up as much as 20 percent of the blogosphere. Research done at UMBC's eBiquity Research Group finds 75 percent of the pings (define) picked up by Weblogs.com are generated by spammers.
If you've spent more than 10 minutes online, you know spam in all its forms is a plague that doesn't seem to be abating. As marketers, we have to deal with this. E-mail has become less effective because of consumer attitudes and email client countermeasures. On the Web, legitimate advertisers must contend with the proliferation of pop-up blockers (both as add-ons and as features built into browsers), which have been welcomed by consumers sick of cluttered screens and lousy browsing experiences. We have to contend with consumer backlash as a result of spyware. Even advertisers that are generally considered ethical (including NetZero, PeoplePC, Altrec, Waterfront Media, LetsTalk.com, uBid.com, GreetingCards.com, True.com, Perfectmatch, Club Med Americas, and ProFlowers) have recently found themselves embroiled in controversy when their brands were promoted by spyware.
Considering the impact splogs can have on brands (evidenced by the amount of media coverage sites like Splog Reporter are getting), there's no question blog spamming tactics are a bad idea for any legitimate brand. But spammers using both automated and work-at-home schemes make it increasingly difficult for those who operate ethically to get our messages out. On top of that, search engine utility decreases as spam increases, making the whole online experience worse for everyone.
The potential damage for those who have turned to blogging, RSS, and online publishing is potentially even worse. These tools have been a boon to everyone who wants to publish, but they're threatened by spammers who turn to RSS feeds for easy pickings with which to generate content-free spam sites and link farms (define). As Doc Searls rightly called it, we're dealing with a cancer that must be fought at all levels in the industry.
The fight must continue with each and every once of us. We must all employ as much diligence as possible when we place ads with companies we haven't dealt with before. It's a good idea to check for yourself every once in a while on search engines and to use tools like Copyscape to see if any of your sites have been cloned by spammers looking to drive traffic. It's vital to examine your SEO (define) strategies (or partners you're using for SEO) to be sure they're not employing these techniques.
Fighting splogs and other malicious forms of advertising must be a priority for everyone who uses the Web, for business or pleasure. If the Web works for all, we all win. If it starts to become a wasteland of zombie sites and spam, everyone loses.
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT