Friday, 30 August 2013

Another Guest Post from a Non-Existent Blogger

A while ago I wrote a blog post about some underhand marketing techniques practised by snakeoil salesmen SEO companies. Specifically I wrote about ‘guest blogging services’, where a company makes a fake persona and offers poorly written guest posts to unsuspecting bloggers (posts that will invariably include backlinks to whichever website had paid for this particular brand of snakeoil optimization).

A couple of funny things happened as a result of this post. Firstly, I didn’t get any more unsolicited emails from ‘guest bloggers’. Secondly (and this might account for the first thing), my blog stats increased with a massive number of hits coming from the search ‘Guest bloggers wanted’. I assume that guest blogging services were carrying out these searches, looking for dupes to post their covert advertisements, but that they were scared off by the content of the post.

Ironically, this has had a great effect on my page rankings – so thank you SEO companies!

But I was starting to miss my fake little correspondents… there’s only so many times you can out ‘Nancy Parker’ on other blogs before it becomes boring. Sigh.

Fortunately, I’d misjudged these fine purveyors of snakeoil sustainable natural link profiles. Not all of them were bright enough to read my post – or, apparently, the second part of the title. And so, I was contacted last week by ‘joshua william’, who had read my blog thoroughly and thought he had an article that would really fit with my other content and appeal to my readers.

The title of this post?
Tips for Making Your Food Last Longer in the Refrigerator
The post itself is mind-numbingly asinine. It includes such vapid gems as:
When storing delicate herbs like basil, chives, cilantro and parsley in the refrigerator, make sure they are covered in plastic in order to get the best and longest life from them.
One of the biggest problems with cheese storage is that it dries out. By rubbing and with a light coat of butter, you can extend the life of your cheese in the refrigerator.
A Google search of some of the terms also reveals that the text has been used in almost the exact same form on other blogs, so it’s not even original banality. To top it all off, the post included an image of a refrigerator to be included, which had been lifted (without any credit or acknowledgement or shame) from a site called Fashion Bloggers.

So who on earth would send me such a bizarrely incongruous post? (NB: In case you've never read my blog before, I mostly post links to academic conferences, book reviews and random musings/rants about popular culture. Over half of my posts are, in one way or another, related to werewolves.)

The author, according to the piece itself, is Vince Bradley. Here’s Vince’s bio (cheeky embedded hyperlink removed, of course):
Vince Bradley is a kitchen appliance technician. He is specializing in stove and refrigerator repair. He likes to write and give advise about how to maintain kitchen appliance in good condition and also how to repair a broken home appliance. He is works for ********** [On reflection, I've decided not to publish the name of this company. They look legit and their only mistake was to trust a dodgy SEO company. I don't want this post to reflect in any way on their business practices.]
I don’t know anything about **********, but from looking at their website and their Twitter feed, I have no doubt that they are a real company. Given what they say about their history and their interactions with customers on social media, I believe they are legitimate and reputable.

But Vince Bradley isn’t. He doesn’t work for ********** – in fact, he doesn’t exist. At some point over the past year, ********** paid to have a new website built and made the mistake of believing they needed snakeoil SEO. Their new website features a fancy new blog feature, which is filled with posts written by… you guessed it… ‘Vince Bradley’. The posts on their site are almost word for word copies of the substandard copy being shilled around as ‘guest blog posts’.

Here’s Vince’s profile pic on the ********** blog:

I couldn’t find any reference to Vince anywhere else on the site, or, indeed, anywhere else on the web (except for an unpopulated and unused Google+ profile containing the same profile picture). A reverse image search threw up a few more pictures though.

Here’s Vince holding a clipboard:

Here’s Vince pointing cheerfully at something:

That’s right, ‘Vince Bradley’ is an image taken from the iStockphotos ‘Serviceman’ series.

I was planning on ending this post here, but there’s an odd little postscript. During my initial communication with ‘joshua william’ (the correspondent who sent me the guest post in the first place), I read his emails on my phone. I assumed (and, I believe, rightly) that ‘joshua william’ was an equally fake persona created by the SEO company.

When I opened his email on my webmail, rather than on my phone app, it turns out ‘joshua william’ also has a Google+ profile. Like Vince’s, joshua’s profile is inactive and empty. But it does have a profile picture:

I do love reverse image searches, so I was curious to know where joshua got his face from. It turns out this was a more direct piece of ‘face theft’, as this image is not taken from a stock photo site, but from an individual’s Twitter account.

The SEO company has lifted an image of Benjamin Mueller, an intern and journalist at the LA Times. I can’t see any connection between Mr Mueller and a dodgy SEO company, so I think this is simply a case of an image being used without permission.

A final little detail though… in checking out Benjamin Mueller’s identity and online profile, I came across a number of articles he’s written for the LA Times. One piece in particular caught my eye: a story from June this year about a California court’s ruling that Pelican Bay State Prison must return a confiscated novel to an inmate. The novel, The Silver Crown by Mathilde Madden, was deemed by guards to be obscenity and ‘liable to cause violence’ and so was removed from him. As was revealed in Mueller’s article, The Silver Crown is a werewolf erotica novel; however, the court ruled that despite the ‘less than Shakespearean’ characters, Madden’s book does possess ‘serious literary value’ and so cannot legally be labelled obscene.

Mueller’s article is a wry, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, look at the court’s ruling and the original confiscation of the ‘furry ménage à trois’, and the implications of confiscating reading material that (while not obscene) contains depictions of sex. I’m glad I found this story, as I hadn’t come across it when it was published in June. And I guess I wouldn’t have found it at all without the nefarious tactics of ‘joshua william’ and his snakeoil snakeoil peddling ilk.

So, in the end, everything eventually came back to werewolves again. There’s a nice lycanthropic inevitability in that.

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