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Target.com's Aggressive SEO Tactic Spams Google 241

Posted by kdawson
from the wide-of-the-mark dept.
eldavojohn writes "Greg Niland is blogging about target.com's aggressive near-spam search engine optimization, and is more than a little critical not only of how this affects the most popular search engine, but also why it will probably persist. If you want an example, search for 'Exercise Bike Clearance' and click the first link."
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Target.com's Aggressive SEO Tactic Spams Google

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  • by master5o1 (1068594) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @03:37AM (#30533362) Homepage
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Inda (580031)
      My first result is http://www.fitness-equipment-clearance.co.uk/

      What is the problem here?
    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Well I can report that I tried it in both Bing (got Durham Sports) and in Yahoo (got Overstock.com) so apparently this BS is only being done in Google. I guess this just gives me one more reason for keeping my Yahoo search over Google.

      I never did get why folks liked Google search over Yahoo search anyway. The "more" tab (the little blue down arrow under the search box) is just too damned handy. You get used to having the more tab and pretty soon other search engines will just drive you nuts. I just hope

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        The thing is.. this is an article about over SEO pages designed to 'game' google's pageranking.. obviously its not gonna work on yahoo or bing.. since they use different algorithms , and frankly given google's market share its obvious that marketers would game it.. same way malware writers tend to aim for the low hanging fruit that is MS windows or IE. Google search won vs Yahoo because it was far more inclusive of more pages (there was a time when yahoo was still a directory edited by hoomans) they also h
        • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:54AM (#30534632) Journal

          Uhhhhh...what ads? if you go to the actual search page [yahoo.com] there isn't any ads, nor has there been as far as I can remember. The problem is folks seem to get This Page [yahoo.com], which is often the default page for things like AT&T DSL, for the actual search page when they are two completely different sites.

          The funny thing is, as much as I dislike the "home page" of Yahoo, working on PCs for many years I have found the older folks just eat it up. They treat it as "the paper" and will often spend quite a few minutes there reading headlines, checking their Yahoo Mail, looking at stock quotes or checking their horoscope, before every venturing onto the "real" web. So considering how many customers have that set as their home page and have a royal fit if you dare change it, well they must be doing something right there.

          But I stand by my original statement: If you ever use the "more" tab (little blue down button below the search box) you will quickly think other sites just suck. To me that more tab is THE killer feature of search. If I type in something like...say "dark knight" I not only get the usual reviews and clips, but with the more tab I get profiles on the actors, interviews with the director (which I didn't even know who was before the more tab and whose interview I found quite fascinating) all sorts of springboards for jumping off of my original search. Google uses something kinda sorta like it at the bottom of their page, but it isn't nearly as complete and page placement matters.

          So while most may think Google is all that and a bag of chips I'll just have to stick with what works. Plus this SEO business shows that Yahoo Search is more like Linux-Less visible and thus less a "target" for malware. And competition is always of the good,right?

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by oldhack (1037484)

            ... I have found the older folks just eat it up. They treat it [Yahoo home page] as "the paper" and will often spend quite a few minutes there reading headlines, checking their Yahoo Mail, looking at stock quotes or checking their horoscope, before every venturing onto the "real" web.

            And then they come out to ./, telling us to get off their lawns, rambling on about their onion belt and whatnot.

            Crazy old people.

    • by nadaou (535365)

      Interestingly if you change the search phrase to "unsafe exercise bike clearance [google.com]" Target drops down to the fourth hit on the list.

    • by MikeFM (12491) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:20AM (#30534424) Homepage Journal
      It's obvious that these pages are just part of the built-in search and will return for any random search terms [target.com]. They're not doing anything suspicious. The only odd thing is that Google is somehow indexing the pages. It's more likely a bug in Google or someone somewhere thought it'd be amusing to create a bunch of links to Target for random search terms.
      • by sik0fewl (561285)

        It's hardly spam or even a tactic. It's just a query string.

        Not to mention that there are all sorts of searches on all sorts of sites that turn up in Google search results. It's annoying and generally useless. I wish Google would so something to fix it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by onepoint (301486)

        I would agree that this is closer to a bug than anything else.

        But good seo work will take advantage of any bug and I feel that they must have put someone in the SEO department and said " hey, let's try this".

        When testing ideas on SEO you always take a tiny non revenue non supporting section that you play with and see how the search engine's behave. the best thing that Google ever did was create the button on webmaster control for "see how we crawl" ... talk about properly learning the different tricks to fe

  • Easy response (Score:5, Informative)

    by bl968 (190792) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @03:38AM (#30533370) Journal

    At the bottom of every Google Search result page is a link titled Dissatisfied? Help us improve. Click it. Tell them the link is spam. Google ends up filtering them out of the search results, and we all win!

    • Re:Easy response (Score:5, Insightful)

      by techno-vampire (666512) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @03:44AM (#30533386) Homepage
      I hope every slashdotter reading your comment takes your advice. Target deserves to be slammed for that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kurt555gs (309278)

      I just removed it and commented that Target.com was spamming Google. I added that I found this on Slashdot.

      I wonder if the slashdot effect works with this?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I did the same thing, but when I went to the bottom of the page found this from google trends:

        16th most popular search in the past hour.

    • Re:Easy response (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @04:22AM (#30533496)

      Well, it is easy, but before we all do this, we should consider who the article writer is. The article is written by an SEO'er, and I can only guess that they are trying to compete on some terms for which Target currently outranks them. Why would we work to hinder one company's SEO work just to help another SEO'er?

      The entire article is just the complaining of a butthurt SEO'er because they couldn't get their own terms to rank. This shouldn't have even made Slashdot, since this isn't supposed to be the trolling ground for Internet Marketers.

      • Re:Easy response (Score:4, Interesting)

        by e2d2 (115622) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @10:10AM (#30534728)

        No the writer is pissed because those terms are linking to bogus result pages. If they were legit terms and the results directed to actual items then it would be a win for target and everyone else. But they are spamming the search and as a whole search results get muddied for everyone. It's a legit complaint IMHO. I want real results, not spammed links.

    • by El Jynx (548908)

      True enough. Also, doesn't Google frown on that sort of thing? Give it a little publicity and one of Google's engineers might just decide to get medieval on their portly rotund segments.

      • by erroneus (253617)

        Target is quite likely a [potential] advertiser with Google... I wouldn't be so sure they would be so quick to push back against big money like Target.com.

        Google's integrity is all it has as an advertiser, but it is still an advertiser.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by oreaq (817314)
      Or get the CustomizeGoogle plugin and simply remove target.com from all Google search results.
    • Re:Easy response (Score:4, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:26AM (#30534456) Homepage Journal

      If you log into google you get to just click to denote relevance of links, there's a promote button and a remove button. Legend is that google watches this information and ranks down pages regularly removed from results.

    • I came here to report the same thing! “Anal Massage for Lovers Vol 2” Wow.

    • Okay the google.com search for that query points to both Amazon and Target. Did target actually give a page containing those search terms to the google bot? Why would they do that?

      Is there a big generic library of "stuff people buy" which SEO companies use to send traffic to their clients sites?

    • Re:haha (Score:5, Informative)

      by supersat (639745) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @04:42AM (#30533568)
      Google for link:http://www.target.com/gp/search/ref=sr_bmvd_redirect?field-keywords=Anal%20Massage%20for%20Lovers%20Vol%202&url=index%3Dtarget%26search-alias%3Dtgt-index. Six sites are linking to it! It's showing up in Google's results because people are linking to it.

      Of course, the story is a bit trickier than that. People are linking to an old product URL (Target sometimes has humorous products on their site), which Target redirects to a search page when they no longer carry the product. Google indexes this redirect and treats both URLs as the roughly the same (you'll notice that the links you find above point to a product URL, not the search result URL).

      In many cases, this is a reasonable thing to do. People point to content they care about. They usually don't care what the exact URL is. If the URL changes, they likely still care about the original content. Target's redirection breaks this assumption, but I'm not sure there's a straight-forward fix. Perhaps they could return a 404 response (with the same content) when redirecting from a broken product URL?
      • by sopssa (1498795) *

        I think that's really the case too. Some of the url's also contain affiliate field, but they vary and some don't. So it's not done by a single person, nor is it done by Target.

        Just old links that rank well because of Target's and linking sites PR.

      • Re:haha (Score:4, Insightful)

        by spyrochaete (707033) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:26AM (#30534454) Homepage Journal

        People are linking to an old product URL (Target sometimes has humorous products on their site), which Target redirects to a search page when they no longer carry the product. Google indexes this redirect and treats both URLs as the roughly the same (you'll notice that the links you find above point to a product URL, not the search result URL).

        Good sleuthing there. It's a clever feature to run a search on similar products if the desired one is not found. It may or may not have been intentional for Target to pollute search results with garbage. However, Google's mission statement is "To organize the world's information and make it useful", and failed retailer SERPs are not information nor useful.

        This is hardly a new issue, though. Try looking for walkthroughs for a video game that has just been released and you'll find many SERPs full of "game123 walkthrough" links, only to click them and find a page with the content "be the first to submit your walkthrough." Misleading search users is a failure of Google's mission statement.

      • by interiot (50685)

        At one point, Target had mirrored Amazon's product pages [boingboing.net], which resulted in Target appearing to sell marijuana [boingboing.net] and an anus constricting book [boingboing.net]. However, that was FIVE YEARS ago. You'd think that Google would eventually figure out that these products are long-dead, and purge them from their index.

        Or does Google keep things around forever? Psychologists have discovered that forgetting old memories [wikipedia.org] is actually useful. Maybe Google should follow suit.

      • by metamatic (202216)

        It's showing up in Google's results because people are linking to it.

        So if we all link to the Target URL for a search for child porn [target.com], Target will become the #1 hit when someone does a Google search for child porn?

        Just wondering...

  • The "target.com" online store is run by Amazon for Target, not by the company that does the brick and mortar stores. (Long story.)

    So which of them is doing this? If it's Amazon, it's not exactly surprising -- spammers, patent trolls, and "search engine optimizers" sound like pretty much related categories.

  • by MikeFM (12491) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @03:57AM (#30533422) Homepage Journal

    The big question is how are these pages getting indexed? Generating them isn't wrong but there should be no links to them.

    • by hclewk (1248568)

      A Sitemap?

      • by MikeFM (12491)

        Of pages that aren't there? That'd be rather suspicious.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by cenc (1310167)

          I could see target using a database dump of searched terms in to an automated XML map that google bots are slurping up.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by MikeFM (12491)

            Could be although I'd think that kind of thing would leave a trail and not be overly beneficial. My guess would be someone else was trying to create some sort of mashup or steal content or some such or that Google is experimenting with indexing content hidden behind form submissions. (Bing does this.)

    • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @04:19AM (#30533490) Journal

      Generating them is wrong, according to Google [google.com]:

      Quality guidelines - basic principles

      • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as "cloaking."
      • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"
      • Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
      • Don't use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our Terms of Service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold(TM) that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google.

      Quality guidelines - specific guidelines

      • Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
      • Don't use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
      • Don't send automated queries to Google.
      • Don't load pages with irrelevant keywords.
      • Don't create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
      • Don't create pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
      • Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines, or other "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
      • If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.

      Emphasis mine, on the areas that Target is plainly and obviously not following. There's a bunch of other stuff listed which they might be doing as well, but I can't be bothered to look into it any further at the moment.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by glwtta (532858)
        Well, that makes it "undesirable to Google" rather than "wrong".
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jrumney (197329)

        I don't see how they are breaking any of those terms.

        It seems to me that they used to have a page for Exercise Bike Clearance which ranked highly for whatever reason. Now that the promotion is over, the page no longer exists and requests for it end up going to a lame search engine that can't even direct users to the page for full price Exercise Bikes, which would at least help target to sell something instead of annoying users and sending them straight for the back button. The fact that Google is still i

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MikeFM (12491)

        Did you read the article?

        There is nothing wrong with having a page not return results to a search. There isn't anything wrong with responding to the search terms from a referer. As far as I can tell they aren't hiding anything or participating in any kind of link scheme.

        The only issue would be if Target is somehow tricking Google into going to these pages for select terms. More than anything this seems like a bug in Google's algorithm.

  • Is anyone really surprised that the amount and ranking of spam goes up when you include spammy terms like "clearance" in your search?
  • by Tei (520358) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @04:48AM (#30533602) Journal

    But is on expect-exchange.

  • by Temporal (96070) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @05:02AM (#30533650) Journal

    This is obviously not intentional. If it were intentional, Target would be providing decent landing pages. For instance, Target actually sells exercise bikes. If they were intentionally spamming the term "exercise bike", why on earth would they be doing it with an error page rather than provide an actual exercise bike page? That doesn't make any sense.

    As for Google, I think it's a safe bet that they have zero interest in having these crappy results in their result list. There's probably some sort of bug affecting this. Perhaps Target recently changed their site and, in so doing, broke a ton of links that were perfectly valid before? If so then my guess is that these will disappear after a short time, once the ranking system catches up.

    Never attribute to malice that which is better explained by incompetence.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by whencanistop (1224156)
      I'm going to go with you on the unintentional options here. But it probably means that someone at Target hasn't really worked out what is going on yet. I mean - there are some quite sophisticated tracking technologies going on there, someone should know that there are people arriving at these random searching pages from Google and then working out if they actually sell anything from it. If people then click through to the actual exercise bike pages and buy stuff, then it will probably look like it is pro
    • by khallow (566160)

      Never attribute to malice that which is better explained by incompetence.

      Never attribute to incompetence that which is better explained by self-interest.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Never attribute to malice that which is better explained by incompetence."

      But punish both to deter others.

  • And I get 'http://www.alexa.com/hoturls?q=exercise bike clearance' which links to 'http://www.goodroi.com/why-google-allows-target-com-to-spam-results/', a post dated December 10, 2009 (thirteen days ago).

    No biggie.

  • Chalk one up for Bing

  • For both google and bing the auto suggest for "exercise bik" now comes up with "exercise bike clearance" as the top results. Pushing out the obvious top search choice of "exercise bikes"
  • This article is only 10 minutes old, and I do not see any of the aforementioned results clicking that link.

    The only results I get about "Excersize bike clearance" are all about how Target is spamming search engines! Interesting...

    There isn't a link to target in the first 50 results.

  • Misleading title (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:50AM (#30534610) Homepage Journal
    "Target.com's Agressive SEO Tactic Spams Slahdot". Probably will have hundreds of more visits just managing to be published in slashdot frontpage than with playing with Google algorithms. And after this history is enough discussed and linked everywhere, google algorithms do their normal work putting it to the roof. Why trick robots when people is more than willing to do the dirty work?
  • That would be an easy fix I think...

  • Next Microsoft (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harl (84412) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @10:32AM (#30534958)

    I've been saying it since they took away _exact_ text searching. They peaked. It's all downhill from here.

    Good thing gets big. Quality suffers.

    Sometimes case and special characters are what separates exactly what I'm looking for and pages of crap.

    Don't get me started on treating search terms an acronyms and returning pages that don't contain the search term but something, usually an entity name, who's initials make up my search term. Returning a page that doesn't contain my search term is a failure state.

  • As a comment on the original article suggested, Target just needs to block gp/search in their robots.txt file to prevent that crap from being indexed.

    In the absence of such action, Google surely has a way to block it themselves.

  • Maybe it's the holiday spirit talking, but I'm not at all bothered by what Target is doing. They're trying to game an unfair system just like everyone else. I'm far more irritated by the hoops that Google makes web publishers jump through. From writing SEO-friendly copy that is practically unreadable by humans, to deciding to penalize sites for syndication agreements, and, most of all, for being vague about exactly what they want everyone to do. Can't tell you how many times I've heard contradictory advice
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @01:15PM (#30536610) Homepage

    I just tried "exercise bike clearance" on Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, Baidu, AltaVista, and Cuil. Only Google picks up the bogus Target pages.

    The problem, I suspect, is Google's "site map" scheme, which allows sites to explicitly specify their page tree for indexing purposes. Those bogus pages don't have links to them, so the link-based search engines don't find them.

    A solution to this is for Google to detect sites with large numbers of pages in their site map that are similar and lack external links. When that's found, mark the site map as search spam, and index the site based on links only. That will drop all the bogus pages from the index. Webmasters will notice this via the webmaster tools and stop doing it.

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