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Last month Google announced the launch of a secure beta version to help all of those searchers out there who are uber-concerned with security and privacy. The secure version currently only works for standard searches and has not yet been rolled out to image search and other features.

For those who are deep into their analytics, this may have an impact on the data you are analyzing. Today you will likely see little to no evidence of this, but in the future it just may have an impact and start to confuse the heck out of you. Read more…

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Monday, November 24th, 2008

Is Google Under Attack?

It’s 9:20 am PST on Monday November 24th, and access to Both Google AdWords & Postini, appear to be down. It seems strange that both Google services would be down without any formal notice stating a maintenance outage. Read more…

At some point, most people have had some sort of encounter with internet scams, viruses, spyware or other security problems. Hackers and scam artists are a pervasive reality in today’s world and making assumptions about security is unwise. A pay per click account makes an attractive target to a technically savvy criminal and gaining access to someone’s account allows them to promote their schemes at someone else’s expense.

Originally trained in Network Security, I have always taken such precautions very seriously and now even more so, since a recent fraudulent act affected one of our client’s accounts.

Early this summer I arrived at the office on a Monday morning and proceeded to check my weekend mail. Two emails caught my attention right away. The first from AdWords, informing us that the client’s credit card was declined and the second, from the client asking ” What is the campaign “Qwasde” – Campaign #1″? Read more…

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Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

To trust or not to trust…

I’ve had people ask me why I dislike using Internet Explorer so much.

I suppose part of the reason for my distaste is the behaviour Microsoft has displayed in the past and present. Forcing the use of their software has never sat well with me, particularly when the software in question is always so full of holes. Internet Explorer is infamous for bugs, ranging from major security flaws to simple annoyances and everything in between.

I just don’t trust software that has always had so many obvious as well as not so obvious problems. Read more…

A screenshot to Monty Python's SPAM skit available on YouTube“Spam Spam Spam Sausage and Spam!” The words from the hilarious Monty Python sketch play unbounded in my mind every time I hear the word “Spam”.

Unfortunately these days the inedible version of Spam is far from funny as it clogs our Internet and wastes our valuable time filtering through garbage email. Some of these emails just happen to be scam Spam about a “Yahoo Lottery” that claims the recipient has won the Yahoo Lottery and these emails go on to request everything from social security numbers to credit card information in order to claim said prize. Well in case you didn’t know there is no such thing as a Yahoo Lottery and Yahoo has had quite enough of hearing about it. Today Yahoo pronounced on the Yahoo Anecdotal blog that the company has decided to go after these spammers without mercy. Read more…

Last week I wrote how Google had removed literally thousands of malware sites from its search results. (see Google Results Malware Free?)

Shortly after that post, Google had put out a request to its users to help them fill in the gaps and completely rid the results of dangerous websites. Google posted the request last week in its Online Security Blog Read more…

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Friday, November 30th, 2007

Google Results Malware Free?

Google has taken steps to remove malware websites from its search results, according to a ComputerWorld article released Wednesday.

Alex Eckelberry, CEO of Sunbelt Software Distribution Inc released the news Monday that Google had removed more than 40,000 malware sites from its search results. While Google refused to either confirm or deny this, spot checks by Sunbelt researcher Adam Thomas did not turn up any malware sites.

Malware Frustration Syndrome - picture of woman screaming through computer screen Read more…

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Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Obvious Email Spam is Still Successful

This is an off-topic post that I felt could not be missed. The Register wrote today about a type of email spam that is extremely common and rather obvious BUT surprisingly it appears some Internet users are still falling for it. The article is worth the read if you have any concerns about what emails to read or not to read.

In Short
Emails that promise free games, windows security patches or updates, nude celebrity pictures, or anything that seems out of the ordinary should be deleted immediately.

A source in the Register article “recommends PC users do not open executable files attached to email messages from addresses they do not recognise or trust and to ‘refrain from opening any message that purports to feature nude celebrities’.” Read more…

According to a fascinating release from search marketer Dan Thies, Google has been aware over a year now (that he knows of) of a method to destroy a website’s ranking. The method is called proxy hacking.

What is a Web Proxy?
First, it is important to understand that in their simplest form proxies are servers that act as a relay for Internet requests. Web proxies are often used to allow people to surf the net anonymously by forwarding their requests for content and then delivering the content to the users. This is similar to sending mail to a person through the post office except that in this case there is no return address or any identifying information. For a more detailed explanation here is Wikipedia’s definition. Read more…

A June 28th article by Forbes magazine called “The Saboteurs of Search” discusses “negative SEO” which is best described as purposely disrupting competitor rankings. The article has caused waves in the SEO industry as marketers debate the effectiveness of the noted tactics.

From my point of view and experience these tactics are employed and I know there is a serious market for negative SEO because I have personally been asked to offer the service many times in the past. StepForth, however, does not offer negative SEO services with the exception of Google Insulation noted below; which we have previously use to help clients defend themselves against negative publicity appearing in rankings.

What are the Tactics of Negative SEO?
There were several tactics mentioned: Google Bowling, Tattling, Google Insulation, Copyright Takedown Notices, Copied Content, Denial of Service, and Click Fraud.

  • Google Bowling: XYZ is dropped off the search engines because their competitor framed them for breaking Google’s guidelines in an extreme manner. An example would be to create, overnight, a 1000% more links for a competitor (than they already have). The key would be to produce so many links at once that Google’s spam trigger would have no choice but to catch it. There are various ways to increase the chances of this happening but I would rather not describe them – after all this is not a tutorial.
  • Tattling: Is XYZ (the competitor) doing well because they purchased links? If so, and it is something you can prove, then it is entirely within your right to tell Google using their spam report form.But will this work? It is touch and go whether your complaint will actually do anything in the short term because Google often collects these complaints and then upgrades its algorithm (if possible) to clean out other offenders using the same techniques; a more efficient process. That said, as Matt Cutts said in this video about link buying Google is not above occasionally using manual methods to clean out spam so you might get lucky and see an immediate result.
  • Google Insulation: Is there negative press in the top 10 about your service? Perhaps you have a competitor that just won’t budge out of a top position? In either case a Google Insulation strategy is designed to raise the rankings of other websites that positively discuss your company/services/products in order to oust competitors out of the top 10 rankings. In its raw concept I believe this tactic is ethical because it is smart competitive marketing and a great tactic for reputation management (a hot topic these days).
  • Copyright Takedown Notices: If a person desperately needed to drop a competitor out of a top position it could engage in a legal action that requires Google to drop the ranking for a period of time based on copyright infringement. The problem here, of course, is that this tactic exposes the perpetrator so that they can be sued by the offended company if the accusation is baseless. Here is where you can submit a copyright infringement notice to Google.
  • Copied Content: Due to the fallible nature of Google’s algorithm it is possible to ‘steal’ away the traffic to a competitor’s particular content (say an article just published) by publishing it on your own site IF your site is more entrenched than the competitor’s.You see if Google is presented with two websites which have the same content it will be forced to choose which site is the original creator. The website with the longer history and/or the highest reputation will often win out and the loser will often find their content ranks lower (if at all).
  • Denial of Service: This is the most evil and clearly illegal tactic for removing a competitor. Denial of service attacks (DoS) are conducted by sending a large number requests to a competitor’s web server at one time. The result is the competitor’s server will either be too jammed with requests to function properly or it will simply crash from the burden of so many requests – effectively taking the competitor’s website offline. Evil indeed.
  • Click Fraud: Click fraud is no different than stealing money from a competitor. This is how it works: people maliciously click on ads to purposely eat away at a competitor’s ad budget; even on a small scale this can be damaging to a competitor. The most aggressive click fraud is when a network of computers with specially created software is used to maliciously click on a competitor’s pay per click advertisements in order to waste their money and destroy their advertising campaign.

Should You Be Worried this is Happening to You?
It is highly unlikely that the negative SEO techniques above have been or ever will be used against you. If, however, it does appear to be happening to you then contact us or another reputable web marketing company. At StepForth we will see what we can do about reversing the effects by contacting the proper people or conducting a negating clean-up campaign.

Additional Notes on Click Fraud
The one issue that you could very likely suffer from is click fraud but not in the way you might imagine. You see click fraud appears to happen indiscriminately so just about anyone can have it happen to them; in my experience it is not often a targeted action. As a result, you should be keeping an eye out for it you are actively using pay per click marketing.

So how can you detect click fraud? The best way for me to answer this is to tell you what we use to monitor campaigns and detect click fraud: ClickTracks Professional. ClickTracks Professional is a website analytics program that (among other amazing things) compares the data it collects from visitors on your website with the data you get from your pay per click campaign and does a pretty good job of identifying suspicious click-through behavior.

If ClickTracks Professional determines there is a high probability of click fraud in your campaign you will be presented with a detailed report you can take to your agent at the search engine you are marketing with. If your search engine agent determines there is validity to the evidence it is likely you will get a refund or credit to your account.

Now for a little plug, I liked ClickTracks Professional so much that in 2003 StepForth purchased our own copy and we offer website accounts for as little as $150 per month which is 50% cheaper than the service that ClickTracks.com provides. If you are interested just check out http://stats.stepforth.com where we provide more detail and a service comparison chart.

NOTE: I had to think long and hard before publishing this post because I find many of the methods of damaging a competitor’s rankings horrifically unethical. That said, I believe that understanding these tactics is important in order to identify their use if they are applied against you.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Placement Inc.
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