First, a full disclosure. I run a humor site, ZUG.com, which for several years had one of the coveted top ten organic positions for the keyword “Viagra,” entitled The Viagra Prank. As this piece brings a lot of traffic to our site, I follow the Viagra SERPS with great energy and endurance, like Viagra users themselves.
Since we pride ourselves on following the two “golden rules of Google”—write good content, and promote that content ethically—I am always intrigued to see who stays on the first page of Google and who gets the, uh, shaft. (Sorry, I’m a comedy writer.)
Lately I’ve seen a disturbing trend where blatantly black hat sites are finding their way into the Google Top 10 for “Viagra.” Cloaking, redirects, false domains, spammy links—these guys are using every dirty trick in the book, and Google can’t seem to catch them.
Let’s break down a few of the top ten sites that Google currently returns for the keyword “Viagra,” using SEOmoz.org’s Linkscape tool to view the backlinks of each.
Google Rank #8: SafeMeds.com
SafeMeds heavily advertises their “generic Viagra,” which is illegal to sell in the U.S. But we’ll let that slide — what are a few broken FDA laws between friends?
What’s more problematic are the backlinks propping this site up at #8:
Here’s one of their quality backlinks from a site called HappyWithWeight, which is a 22-acre linkfarm. I haven’t seen this many links since I spent a week in a chain factory:
Here’s another of their backlink sites called GardeningAndPlanting:
The sites read like a parody of bad SEO practices, except for one thing: they’re actually working.
Google Rank #7: XLPharmacy.com
XLPharmacy also sells generic Viagra, but let’s not come down too hard on Google. That would require a costly “generic Viagra” filter, which could take years for humanity to develop.
Let’s look instead at the backlink profile, which includes these sites:
For example, here’s the site BreastsCancer.net (not a typo), which also has information on breastfeeding accessories, nursing bras, and—of course—generic Viagra. Something tells me this site may not have been created by anyone who actually has breasts:
Here’s BurgundyWineVarieties, which gives some fascinating information about Burgundy wines. Here I thought there were hundreds of different varieties, but apparently there are only four: red, white, French, and dry.
And of course, Cheap Viagra.
And I need to mention CigarsAccessories, whose one page of content still makes room for two generic Viagra links:
Google Rank #3: V-Medical.com
Comment spam apparently pays, as there are thousands of links pointing back to V-medical.com. Looking at their backlink profile, I could not find one legitimate link. I remember when the comment spammers really put some effort into their craft, but look at these kids today:
Here’s a typical comment, which is either in an undiscovered alien language, or someone fell asleep and banged their head on the keyboard.
All sarcasm aside (I can’t put all sarcasm aside, I’m a comedy writer), the biggest factor in Google’s ranking algorithm is still backlinks, which are easy to game by powerful link tycoons and their armies of offshore spammers.
In my opinion, the second biggest factor in Google’s algorithm is the amount of time spent on the site, or whether the person ever returned to their original search. This is not so easy to game—your site is either hot, or not. You can fool people into clicking, but you can’t fool them into staying.
Lately there has been discussion about whether Google might turn a blind eye toward paid or spammy links, as long as the site is relevant to users. This is the wrong approach. Even the best site propped up by spammy marketing is still bad for us all—it adds clutter to the Web, it misleads people, and it makes it harder to find the needle in the haystack.
The most relevant Viagra result is out there, but Google is having a hard time getting it up. But I have faith: eventually they’ll come up with better ways of discerning quality links, and more accurate ways of measuring user engagement. They’ll work at this Viagra problem, long and hard. If I know Google, they’ll bang at the problem, again and again, until every last user is satisfied.
And then, hopefully, they’ll offer us a cigarette.