Large Brands Double Dipping in Google's Organic Search Results

Jun 18th

Subdomain Spam

Since Google has been over-representing site authority in their relevancy algorithms many sites like eBay have begun abusing the hole with the use of infinite subdomains. These techniques not only effect branded search results, but also carry over to many other competitive keywords.

Creating Shadow Brands & Buying Top Ranked Competing Sites

While small businesses are worried about the risks of buying or renting a few links, some large corporations are launching shadow brands or buying out competing domains en mass. There are thousands or millions of other examples, so it is unfair for me to point any out, but here are a few for the sake of argument.

  • Monster.com has a near unlimited number of education related domains, with a near identical user experience at almost all of them.

  • Bankrate has a double listing at #2 and #3 for mortgage calculator. They also own the #1 and #4 ranked sites, another listing further down the page, and some entries on page 2 as well.
  • Sallie Mae offers around 100 student loan brands.
  • How many different verticals does Yahoo! cover the Nintendo Wii in? Off the top of my head, at least 9: their brand universe, yahoo tech, yahoo shopping, yahoo news, yahoo directory, ask yahoo, yahoo answers, videogames.yahoo, games.yahoo, etc. (and that doesn't even count geolocal subdomains for answers, shopping, etc.)

What happened to result diversity? When and why did Google stop caring about that?

Is Buying Links Ethical?

Some people may report paid links, but the fact that there is a mechanism to do so shows how effective link buying is.

Why is buying links bad, when using infinite domains or buying a bunch of sites are both legitimate? Why is it ok for the WSJ to publish this type of content, but wrong for me to do whatever necessary to compete in a marketplace cluttered with that information pollution?

The point here is not to say that big businesses are bad or doing anything wrong, but to show the stupidity Google is relying on when they scaremonger newer and smaller webmasters about the risks of buying a link here or there. The big businesses do all of the above, gain more organic links by being well known, and still buy links because the techniques works. Whatever Google ranks is what people will create more of, so long as it is profitable to do so.

If you create a real brand you can buy more links and be far spammier with your optimization with a lower risk profile, because Google has to rank your site or they lose marketshare. Create something that is best of breed and then market the hell out of it. If marketing requires buying a few links then open up the wallet and get ready to rank.

Published: June 18, 2007

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Comments

Joe
June 23, 2007 - 7:11am

Will the playing field ever be level for us? Really - one bad technique (or accident) and a small site can be blacklisted from Google for months. Thousands of blatantly obvious SEO manipulation techniques, and big companies get a pass.

Google had better wise up or the next "Google" will come around and wipe them out. If we all remember correctly, Google was the best because it focused on delivering fast, relevant searches without paid placement. If it begins to turn an eye when its big advertisers blatantly spam us, another group of kids in a garage is right around the corner.

Kirby
August 9, 2007 - 6:01pm

"Why is it ok for the WSJ to publish this type of content, but wrong for me to do whatever necessary to compete in a marketplace cluttered with that information pollution?"

Because you can't impact Google financially to the same degree as they can.

Metro SEO
June 19, 2007 - 12:21am

Hey Aaron,

Just to combine the link topics,

Two other small business owner webmaster issues that can combine your two points.

1) People clogging the information highway by duplicating their content by creating free blogs or article submissions on authority domains.

2) People creating personal pages on social lens sites(such as squidoo.com), or on their personal pages on myspace.com, or profile pages on authority forums, buying links to those specific pages that link to the multiple sites they own (and also probably to each other). (creation of a buffer zone in buying links).

Internet spam pollution using authority domains work for both the bottom of the barrel and the richest. I agree on your point that solution is needed ASAP.

pat
June 19, 2007 - 1:14am

A smaller and lesser known example of domain spam is HostelWorld.com who has hundreds, if not thousands of geolocated keyword targeted domains like...

http://www.hostelbarcelona.com/

Instead of just relying on their own Barcelona page...

http://www.hostelworld.com/findabed.php/ChosenCity.Barcelona/ChosenCount...

But it works! Google ranks both pages on the first page of results for "Barcelona hostels"

Pisses me off huge.

Richard
June 19, 2007 - 1:19am

Hi Aaron, hope you don't mind me posting this :-)

If you want REAL examples of how corporations are stealing the SERPS then have a look at the two below, for Abbey National and Barclays Bank.

Note how Abbey owns 7 of the top 10 spots ( www.abbey.com/, www.anbusiness.com/, www.abbeynational.com/, www.abbeyinternational.com/, www.jobsatabbey.com/ and www.jobsatabbeynational.co.uk/ - just look at the identical logo on each site.)

Then the dreadful Wackypedia takes another spot - it's got all of Abbey National's logos on the page, Abbey must be EVERSO pleased that it's keeping protest sites out. I wonder what size biz you need to be to own a page in Wacky?).

Abbey also owns the Adwords slot above the SERPS, even though it isn't advertising in the sidebar - in fact, nobody was advertising in the sidebar when I looked. That's the power of the trademarked name for you.

Now take a look at Barclays Bank.
They actually do this stuff even better. They own 8 of the spots in the top 10 SERPS, with Wacky pushing out another spot.
They're in the SERPS for www.barclays.co.uk/, www.barclays.co.uk/business/, www.barclays.com/www.barclays.com/africa/, https://ibank.barclays.co.uk/ , www.personal.barclays.co.uk/BRC1/jsp/brccontrol?task=articlesocial&value..., www.personal.barclays.co.uk/BRC1/jsp/brccontrol?task=articleFWgroup&site..., www.barcap.com/, www.newsroom.barclays.com/

(Again, check the identical logos on each site).

Barclays also own the one box, but not the Adwords above the SERPS - they're still stuck to advertising in the sidebar, even though they're the only advertiser there. Give it a little more time, guys, you're bound to get there one day!

It's the same old rubbish with the Alliance and Leicester - I think you get the idea , why go on? Oh, all right - www.alliance-leicester-group.co.uk/ , www.alliance-leicester.co.uk/,www.alliance-leicester.co.uk/loans/index.asp, https://www.alliance-leicestercommercialbank.co.uk/ , https://www.mybank.alliance-leicester.co.uk/index.asp, https://www.billpayment.co.uk/ , www.alliance-leicester-careers.co.uk/, www.alliance-leicester.co.im/

Clearly, Google rather approves of this method of stuffing the results.

I think it would be rather nice to get the occasional alternative viewpoint in there. It would be nice to see a protest site occasionally. Here in the UK the banks are embroiled in a slowly building scandal over bank charges - you go overdrawn, a few direct debits bounce in a couple of days, you get charged £50 per bounced item = £200 for four direct debits = spiralling financial oblivion. Check out moneysavingexpert.com and the bank charges subforum and all the fun and games going on in there.

But now it's gone all very cosy, with the banks suddenly cottoning on how to keep protesters out.

http://www.google.com/search?q=abbey%20national&sourceid=groowe&ie=utf-8...
Adwords above SERPS
No advert in sidebar
Onebox

Abbey National PLC Banking
Information about interest rates, mortgages and other services also offers e-banking logon for most services.
www.abbey.com/ - 1k - Cached
- Similar pages - Filter
Fixed rate mortgage, flexible ... - www.abbey.com/csgs/Satellite?cid=1127...
Current Accounts - www.abbey.com/csgs/Satellite?cid=1127562716386&pagenam...
Contact Us - www.abbey.com/.../GS_ContactoAbbey&c=GSInformacion
Online banking, Mortgages, ... - www.abbey.com/.../GSDistribuidora/GS_Home
More results from www.abbey.com »

Abbey : Online banking, Mortgages, Savings, Current Accounts ...
Banking
Abbey National plc. Registered Office: Abbey National House, 2 Triton Square, Regent's Place, London, NW1 3AN, United Kingdom. Registered Number 2294747. ...
www.abbey.com/csgs/Satellite?pagename=Abbey/GSDistribuidora/GS_Home - 21k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Welcome to Abbey
This site provides information for customers, shareholders, journalists, financial analysts and anyone interested in learning more about Abbey. ...
www.abbeynational.com/ - 18 Jun 2007 - Similar pages - Filter

Abbey National Business Banking Banking
Comprehensive information on business banking services and an e-banking logon for existing customers.
www.anbusiness.com/ - 17k - Cached
- Similar pages - Filter

Abbey (bank) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Abbey National plc (trading as Abbey) is the United Kingdom's sixth biggest ... The society became the Abbey National Building Society following the merger ...
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbey_(bank) - 39k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Abbey International
Abbey International offers a range of offshore bank accounts and services tailored to satisfy the financial needs of British expatriates.
www.abbeyinternational.com/ - 47k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Jobs at Abbey
Abbey is more than just one of the UK's leading personal financial services organisations; now, we are also part of Grupo Santander, the world's ninth ...
www.jobsatabbey.com/ - 13k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

abbey national
www.jobsatabbeynational.co.uk/ - 1k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Abbey National Mortgages - Compare Deals
Compare Abbey National Mortgages and Mortgage Interest Rates – Get Abbey National Mortgage quotes and advice for Mortgages.
www.fairinvestment.co.uk/abbey_national_mortgage.aspx - 24k - 17 Jun 2007 - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Beaulieu Palace and Abbey, National Motor Museum, BP Library of ... UK
Beaulieu - Palace House, Beaulieu Abbey and the National Motor Museum - and Buckler's Hard, offers the best day out in England!
www.beaulieu.co.uk/ - 4k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

http://www.google.com/search?q=barclays%20bank&sourceid=groowe&ie=utf-8&...
No advert above the SERPS
Side listing for barclays.co.uk
One box

Barclays Bank Banking
Find personal banking services with Barclays personal banking. One of the leading providers of personal loans, mortgages, insurance, current accounts and ... [Click for more information] Stock quote for BCS
www.barclays.co.uk/ - 29k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter
Online Banking - Log-in Step 1 ... - www.personal.barclays.co.uk/goto/pfs...
Online Banking - Welcome to ... - https://ibank.barclays.co.uk/
Contact us overview - www.personal.barclays.co.uk/goto/pfs_contactus
Business Banking - www.barclays.co.uk/business/
More results from www.barclays.co.uk »

Business Banking - Barclays Bank Banking
Find out more about Barclays Business Banking. Whether you are a sole trader or a multinational corporation, we have the business banking solution for you.
www.barclays.co.uk/business/ - 19k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Barclays
Proud sponsors of the Barclays English Premier League (new window. You are about to Barclays Bank PLC . Registered in England. Registered No : 1026167. ...
www.barclays.com/ - 22k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Welcome to Barclays in Africa
Barclays in the Middle East. UAE. Barclays in the Indian Ocean Islands ... Welcome to the Barclays Premiership - Find out more · News and Press releases ...
www.barclays.com/africa/ - 13k - 16 Jun 2007 - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

[ More results from www.barclays.com ]
Barclays Online Banking - Welcome to Barclays Online Banking
Banking
Providing online banking services to account holders of Barclays Bank in the UK.
https://ibank.barclays.co.uk/ - 15k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Barclays plc - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This bank traces its roots back to 1685 in London. The name "Barclays" became ... As part of the corporate reorganisation, the former Barclays Bank plc ...
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barclays_Bank - 80k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Community : Sponsorships & Donations
Barclays sponsorships and donations have supported hundreds of projects both nationally and regionally. The case studies published here are just a taste of ...
www.personal.barclays.co.uk/BRC1/jsp/brccontrol?task=articlesocial&value... - 11k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Barclays Bank Account : Current accounts : Barclays Personal Banking
Barclays Bank Account. Our standard bank account comes with lots of things we're sure you'll like. You can access your money 24/7 and manage your bank ...
www.personal.barclays.co.uk/BRC1/jsp/brccontrol?task=articleFWgroup&site... - 24k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter
[ More results from www.personal.barclays.co.uk ]

Barclays Capital
International investment bank with presence in all the major markets around the world.
www.barcap.com/ - 15k - Cached - Similar pages - Filter

Barclays Media Centre
Barclays Bank PLC ("Barclays") and Housing Development Finance Corporation Ltd (“HDFC”) are pleased to announce that they have agreed to sell their entire ...
www.newsroom.barclays.com/ - 18 Jun 2007 - Similar pages - Filter

unknown-seo
June 19, 2007 - 2:54am

Google needs to turn up the "affiliated sites trying to rank for same SERP penalty" dial again like it did earlier in the year.

Jenn Mattern
June 19, 2007 - 3:16am

People aren't going to stop buying links. There's nothing unethical about buying links either, unless you're so naive as to believe their sole purpose is for SEO. Do SEOs abuse them? Sure... they abuse just about everything they get their collective hands on over time before moving onto something else. But links were around long before they could lead to things like Pagerank and were valued as they are today in rankings. They existed as a means of getting exposure with another site's targeted audience, just as a television commercial does. It raises awareness, enforces a brand image depending on the link image or anchor text, and when done well they lead to direct traffic. There's nothing unethical about paying to reach your market... no matter what Google thinks. And frankly, people in general won't stop buying those links (and they shouldn't).

Andrew Johnson
June 19, 2007 - 3:31am

In terms of risk, Google could hit these guys hard. Let the "official" site rank number 2 or 3. #1 goes to Wikipedia, #2 goes to some critical blog, and 4 and on goes to everyone else. Then Google can really milk these guys on Adwords. May be they are laying the bait now, and as you've said before Aaron, "addicting them to free traffic."

The little guys can create new brands at the snap of a finger. You can form a new corporation, LLC, partnership in a couple of days.

Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, and Wal-Mart can't just change their names or the markets they work in. They are all at the mercy of Google. All Google has to do is nudge a few dials hire and their advertising bill doubles.

Lord Matt
June 19, 2007 - 12:27pm

I can not be sure but it seems to me that many of these dupes are very sophisticated affiliate program sites. The HTML and CSS standards, quality and even white space and server type differs quite wildly among the different bank websites. It looks to me like a series of very confused banks. With that much confusion you would not get me banking with any of them. No wonder phishing is such an issue.

Bryan P.
June 19, 2007 - 4:27pm

To any small business owner, this story is all too familiar. Big companies have millions to spend to build up their brand, just like the banks mentioned above, so when someone thinks "hey, I want to buy a DVD player", they think Best Buy, Circuit City, Amazon, etc. Often they know exactly where their closest store is and won't even think about going anywhere else, especially not the small electronics store that can sell the same product for $50 less, has been in business for 30 years, and has people who actually know about electronics because they also fix them.

That being said, if a company has built up a brand so much that people type that brand name into the SE, isn't it in the SE's best interest to list those sites? How relevant would they be if they didn't and instead listed some rant sites? IMHO, if you are trying to use another company's brand to get business, even if you have been successful before, I think your days are numbered. One day that company will wake up to what is happening and either buy the other sites or advertise the daylights out of it or just muscle it out with seo-craziness.

Take this to a non-online world and the previous DVD example. Do you honestly think you can open an electronics store across the street from Best Buy and be successful? You can't use someone else's brand and expect good results. In fact, it's becoming illegal in some places.

The topic of link-buying: The 2 reasons, I think, that Google does not want to count links is because

1) That is what they do - why would they endorse a company buying links from someone other than them? That's like NY Times telling people to read the NY Post.

2) It is an attempt to manipulate their rankings (in their eyes), which often times makes the SERP's more relevant, but more often does not.

I honestly look at paid links for direct traffic and brand awareness only, which, if chosen correctly, can have a good ROI. Any SEO boost is a bonus.

My personal rant: It frustrates the living daylights out of me to have to compete with big companies when I have a much better product. I chose the internet because it was considered "the great equalizer" where I COULD compete with them, but that is getting harder and harder each day.

Dean
June 19, 2007 - 5:30pm

Richard,
In a way I'm kind of glad that abbey and barclays own the top spots as I would not like a phishing site to be anywhere near the top ten in the SERPS.
If you search for terms like abbey national complaints or problems they do not dominate the SERPS in the same way.

June 19, 2007 - 7:03pm

You can't use someone else's brand and expect good results. In fact, it's becoming illegal in some places.

You can, and it is legal in most places, especially since we do not control Google. This post was not about ranking for one brand though...this post was about the variety of methods larger sites use to double dip in the search results across a wide array of search terms. Many of these techniques smaller sites probably can not employ.

Eric Itzkowitz
June 19, 2007 - 9:38pm

I believe it was at SES San Jose in 2006 (I forget the session name), where Greg Boser mentioned that most consumers would be shocked to know how many large businesses owned greater than 50% of the Top 10 results for their industry's most coveted keywords on G, Y and MSN.

Certainly, a lot of people cry foul upon seeing this, vehemently and loudly exclaiming, "This isnt' fair!" But, since when has business (or life) ever been fair? NEVER!

So, we can sit here pissing and moaning, or we can view this as a challenge to up our game. I don't know about you, but I'm going to choose the later.

GET THAT TRUST RANK UP!

Richard
June 20, 2007 - 12:37am

I was intrigued by the number of ways the banks have found to claim the top spots, which included use of subdomains. The banks themselves aren't so important; it's the subtext that a) big corporations are catching on in a big way to how the game is played b)you or I or anyone else can create as many unsubtle networks as we want because Google blatantly allows them.

Should big companies own the top 8 spots for their brand name? Google makes the rules. They'll try and create SERPS that help their customers and thus help Google's business. But I mentioned the slowly growing scandal in the UK because it doesn't get much bigger than that, protest-wise. It's got a lot of mind share. You think of a UK bank, you think, 'Bank charges! Rip off!' Any of the banks, all of the banks.

And yet there's no rant sites, nothing. A previous commenter mentioned something about the internet once being seen as the 'great equaliser.' To see SERPS like that across three banks depresses me, because Google so clearly doesn't think that way. Either that, or Google's been outwitted.

Jessie B
June 20, 2007 - 9:30pm

Totally agree.

google - "for sale by owner" KWS =

#1 forsalebyowner.com
# 7 salebyowner.com

Jaan Kanellis
June 21, 2007 - 6:15am

Yup complete double standard. I just posted this on WPN:

"Another point to this is that it shows that once you become "authoritized" by Google you can build minisite/blogs on different contests/brands/whatever to capture even more of the SERPs. While if Mom and Pop shops do this they are labeled as building a mini-network. Dumb, double standard."

PHP MySql Prog...
June 22, 2007 - 1:32am

Buying links is bad. Buying multiple sites to present like thoughts, products, or content is bad also.

The thing I like about the internet is it is almost an even playing field. Almost anyway.....

Once it becomes common practice to buy links and websites, only big business will rank.... This is bad for everyone.

October 6, 2008 - 11:53pm

Does it make sense to have 8 unique sites all offering a different experience but ultimately the same product? Why pay for ads that compete against yourself? Does it pay off in the long run by pushing all your competitors to the 2nd page?

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