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Friday, February 1st, 2013

Google Rankings via Hacking & Google Bombing

 

At StepForth we do not work with websites of an adult nature, and while we turned down the request for a proposal, a recent conversation with the owner of an adult site brought to light a very interesting blacker-than-black hat ranking technique that appears to be working. I just had to take a moment to share it with you.

Remember the old “Miserable Failure” days of Google bombing? The theory that if you built enough links with the same anchor text that your site would rank well for that anchor text? It worked great for a while. Then Google essentially shut it down. Or did they?

The webmaster that contacted us wanted to rank for a specific term, but was disheartened when much of his top 10 competition consisted of several low quality nearly identical sites that literally popped up overnight. Out of curiosity I decided to investigate and what I found was rather disturbing.

Yes these ranking sites were “Google-bombing”, but that wasn’t the bad part. It was HOW they were getting the massive numbers of links. Links were achieved via hacking unsuspecting sites and embedding links hidden via CSS! These webmasters literally hacked thousands of sites, embedded their links, and within a matter of days skyrocketed to the Google top 10!

I have seen many cases where a site had been hacked and links embedded, but this is actually the first time I had seen it working well.

Here is a snippet of some of the hidden code found on an innocent hacked website; div id=’hideMe’?. How obvious can you get? :

Hacker Hidden Link Source Code

All of this is freighting. First of all, Google bombing is not supposed to work, this disproves that. Second, the link profiles of the sites linked to in this hidden code is incredibly irregular showing immense growth over a short period of time all with the same anchor text. This is just the kind of link profile that is supposedly dangerous for webmasters; however, here it is working just fine.

Looking at the backlink data for one of the offending websites you can see there was a huge jump in inbound links at the start of December. Just days later they were in the top 10 (along with at least 3 other nearly identical sites all using the same technique).

Backlink Profile for Spamming Site

The blue line represents total backlinks (impressive that they had nearly 150,000 links to begin with). Throughout December their links grew with a peaked increase of more than 50,000 new links. As you can see at the start of January, after the holidays many webmasters returned to find their site had been hacked and they started removing the links.

It is only a matter of time before these sites see their demise as webmasters catch on to the hacks and hopefully Google also closes the loophole allowing this to happen. In the case of the above example, they appear to have slowed in their link growth attempts, but these sites are certainly disposable and the owners have moved on to pushing more domains to the top. As these ones are pulled from results, they will simply be replaced with others as the cycle will continue.

Disclaimer: I want to be clear here that the sites ranking in this particular top 10 APPEAR to be placing their links via this hack. It is not clear however, if the site owners are actually aware of this. There are a few scenarios:

1.) They have hired outside help, and that outside help is doing this malicious code injection without the knowledge of the client
2.) It could also be an attempted “negative SEO” campaign against these sites from a black-hat competitor that has (at least in the short term) backfired.
3.) The owners of these ranking sites know exactly what they are doing.

Additional Note: After much debate I have hidden any identifiable information. As much as I do want to share it with the world, there is a certain legal obligation to watch out for and I certainly not willing to open the door to anything that may take me down that road.

Also, to Matt Cutts, If you actually see this blog post and would like me to share the domains of the offending sites, I will happily do so, just drop me an email and I’ll fill you in with specifics.


6 Responses to “Google Rankings via Hacking & Google Bombing”

  1. Xpert PHP

    I have gone through the article and its really very surprising for me as I am also an SEO guy but cant go down to these level. Google must take strict action against such manipulations.

    Thanks for sharing such shocking facts along with examples.

  2. Glasgow SEO

    When I first read your headline, I expected to be reading about automated software. I’m amazed that it was possible for them to do that!

  3. Touch Point

    It’s amazing that a site owner or an “SEO” company would do such a low, dirty thing, but it’s just as amazing that the tactic worked and Google hasn’t noticed it yet. I hope they do soon.

  4. Ecommerce Partners

    Thanks for the eye opening article. Can’t believe this technique worked. Like you mentioned Google will definitely catch on and find a way of shutting this practice down. As well they should SEO isn’t an overnight solution but a practice that takes time and energy. They need to focus on creating unique content so sites will want to link to them naturally. This practice will hurt their sites in the long run when Google eventually penalizes the site.

  5. John Smyth

    WOW! It really is surprising the lengths people go to for good Google rankings, albeit short term.

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