Look Who’s Ranking Now: How Google Can’t Seem to Stop the Spammers

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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.

John Hargrave
John Hargrave is the Editor-in-Chief of comedy site ZUG.com, and author of the bestselling humor books Prank the Monkey and Mischief Maker's Manual.
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  • http://defoenet.com David

    Wow. I've guessed that this was happining but it's great that someone spent the time and energy to document it. Does this mean we are going to see an increase in black hat techniques again? I get enough of this junk in my email I hate seeing the same players going to the top of google

  • Daniel

    protip: when calling out practices against Google's rules it's probably best not to mention your own page which violates Google's rules.

  • Michael

    Great article! I love the quotes you created for this 🙂 This just proves that Google does not always take into consideration the consumer's best interest. It seems to easy for people to cheat the system while those who play by the rules suffer.

  • Alex

    It's really ironic that Google would be the first search engine to break ties with Pharmacy Checker (online pharmacies used to have to be Pharmacy Checker certified/approved in order to utilize AdWords or PPC), but many of the same rogue pharmacies that were banned from advertising can still have their way with Google's SEO by employing the above tactics. There's a lot of work to be done in this area for sure.

  • http://drivingonlinesales.com/ Wynne

    Google bot is far from perfect. Sure it is sophisticated and does some amazing things, but it's still relatively easily fooled. I'm sure it will become harder for spammers over time, but you're right the google bot doesn't seem to keep up with developments.

  • Moran

    I've what you describe here many times before. Eventually the spammy sites will get deleted but they will tons of traffic on the way and that will finance the next wave of spam, and yes bogus forum and blog comments carry a LOT of weight – nofollow or not.

  • http://www.seonoobie.com Maciej

    I think it is crazy that a company as powerful as Google can't seem to find a way to develop the technology to clean junk like this out of the search results.

  • LouGaskin

    Great researched piece. I also find this type of practice infuriating, as it's so obvious, yet unless new algo's are put in place that can detect this blatant spamming then we'll have to put up with it. Doesn't make me happy though, as it can only lead to more spam which in turn will result in newbies thinking this is the way to go, which will give SEO peeps an even heavier cross to bare than the one bourne a few years back.

  • unsociable

    Great article. Hope Matt Cutts reads this. One thing though, you say it should be very hard for people to game time on site numbers. I'm guessing there's probably a way, using either bots or really cheap labor and having them visit sites over and over and spend lots of time on them. This could be how such a site tricks Google.

  • http://www.searchreadyseo.com SearchReadySeo.com

    It definitely is great article. I keep hearing that Google is doing something about filtering out all the SPAM results as the launch of their new Search Algorithm but not much has happened.

  • pennyloafer

    It is extraordinary to me that Google is unable to control websites using the simplest and most violative techniques to promote their sites. There are many legitimate online pharmacies in the marketplace which are not visible to the end user.

  • http://www.clubnetsearchmarketing.co.uk/ zigojacko

    I've spent a lot of time just lately analysing my various clients' competitors backlinks and the same tactics are carried out whatever the industry/topic. I only hope Google do clamp down on it somehow and then see how many sites drop off Google. 🙂

  • http://www.clubnetsearchmarketing.co.uk/ zigojacko

    I've spent a lot of time just lately analysing my various clients' competitors backlinks and the same tactics are carried out whatever the industry/topic. I only hope Google do clamp down on it somehow and then see how many sites drop off Google. 🙂