Search, Advertising, Gatekeepers, & The Pending Online Security Wars

As email filtering gets better many of the true scammers of the web are shifting to distributing adware on websites. As terrorism is used to help politicians push their agendas, fear marketing and the concept of security are only going to grow in importance online as well.

Google vs Microsoft

Google already highlights some websites that might distribute malware in their search results and promoted research showing that Microsoft computers were twice as likely as Apache servers to distribute malware. In addition Google bought GreenBorder, perhaps to help them make an anti-virus / anti-spyware software program.

GreenBorder's Ulfar Erlingsson moved over to Microsoft Research. Microsoft is also pushing a suite of integrated anti-virus and anti-spyware service.

All Search Engines Link to Scammers

In May McAfee did a study on the safety of search results, noting that the paid search ads are far more likely to scam consumers than the organic listings by over a 2 to 1 ratio:

The improvement in search engine safety is primarily due to safer sponsored results. The percentage of risky sites dropped from 8.5% in May 2006 to 6.9% in May 2007. However, sponsored results still contain 2.4 times as many risky sites as organic results.

What is spam? What is a scam? Whoever is the trusted source for those limits gets to shift markets overnight. Google shows warnings near organic results leading to bad sites, but you never see that warning on an ad. The fact that the ads are over twice as likely to lead you to a scam as the regular search results shows the value of being trusted as the security police.

What People Forget About Efficient Ad Networks

Up to some point efficiency comes easy, but after you get to a certain point increased efficiency comes in the form of hidden risks, hidden costs, and outright fraud. It is a reflection of the nature of capitalism. Many of the tools that aim to protect you are hypocritical beyond belief. For example, SpamArrest, an email spam protection service, ironically spammed people via email.

How Valuable is Security?

As data collection gets more aggressive, and ad networks sell ads to scammers, being the company that is trusted for security is a big deal from a financial standpoint. Calling something unsafe gives ad networks another chance to monetize the user experience.

  • In the past Microsoft incorrectly labeled one of my sites as a phishing site.

  • My girlfriend just got a new laptop, and at the top of her IE browser was a huge Norton banner stating fraud monitoring is on.
  • Verizon recently launched a service that redirects typos so they can cash in, just like VeriSign tried to do.

How to Protect Yourself From the Security Wars

  • Use a short memorable domain name on a common TLD, so few capture typo traffic intended for your site

  • use home grown software if possible
  • keep your software updated
  • place community and interactive parts of your site on isolated domains or subdomains if they are known to get cracked (like PHPBB)
  • only link to trustworthy sites (if you have a community section keep it clean as well)
  • build signs of trust (links, subscribers, usage data)
  • minimize the amount of cursing done on your site or it might get flagged as being pornography, like mine recently noted by an SEO Book reader who sent me this image from the Kansas City airport
Published: June 27, 2007 by Aaron Wall in internet


June 27, 2007 - 10:26am

Hey Arron, nice article. The link to verizon doesnt seem to work looks like you may have posted the web address twice in the post.

June 27, 2007 - 3:17pm

Aaron -

Great post, thanks for informing more on these subjects. I'm really not surprised that the paid results would have more schemes in them. Natural is the way to go in most cases.

Gary Pool
June 27, 2007 - 4:11pm

Once again a post that makes me take stock of my chosen profession. When I live on my mountain I can always count on you to bring me back to earth. Good thing I use a Mac.

June 27, 2007 - 5:45pm

In a certain way your site is pornography: It undresses the search engines and SEO secrets ;)

June 27, 2007 - 7:26pm

This is a great post. I didn't know that search ads were twice as likely to have spam. My own thoughts and guesses were 1.5 to organic. As for domain names I am trying to have websites that short names that are memorable. Thats why I am trying to buy the nicknames people call me and still refer to me as, instead of buying long tail names that turn out to be 6 word phrases. Thanks for the post Aaron

June 28, 2007 - 1:11am

But SEO really turns me on...

John K
June 28, 2007 - 7:27am

"As terrorism is used to help politicians push their agendas"

I think global warming far outpaces terrorism as a tool for political manipulators.

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