Showing posts with label SEO nonsense. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SEO nonsense. Show all posts

Saturday, 23 September 2017

GUEST POST; or, Why You Can't Trust Anything on the Internet

From time to time, I like to post guest blogs written by people I know, sharing work that interests me (and that I think will interest you). While most of these are written by people I have invited, I also get requests from guest bloggers who want to contribute to the site.

I do get quite a few of these emails, and I don't like to dismiss them off-hand, so sometimes I like to look into the background of the person contacting me. So when I get an email like this...

My name is James and I'm a freelance blog writer from London. Most of my work so far has been focused around various cleaning, travel and marketing tips as that is something that I have had a lot of personal experience with.

I've taken a look at some of the guest posts on your site, and I must say that I really like how they're done. I'd appreciate it if I could have a chance to contribute to your website in the same way, the topics I have in mind are:
- Cleaning Tips: Cleaning Your Home For The Holidays
- 8 Helpful Cleaning Tips For Incredibly Lazy People
- 10 Cleaning Tips That Will Make Your Home Sparkle
- 5 Time-Saving House Cleaning Tips for your Staged Home
- 7 Expert Cleaning Tips You Need To Be Using
- Top 5 Speedy Deep Cleaning Tips

As mentioned, I possess a hefty amount of knowledge in this field so I really think that I could provide you with some quality material. I'm attaching an example of my work.

If you do not find these topics interesting for your community, please let me know, I am sure I can write a right content for your audience."
... I like to see what sort of work the writer has done before. I don't just post any old article on speedy deep cleaning tips on this site. I need to know that my contributors really do have the hefty amount of knowledge about cleaning tips for staged homes that they claim.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find much work by 'James Tolbert, freelance blog writer from London', so I had to try another tack. As a professional writer, James naturally included a headshot in his email signature:

I thought maybe if I did a reverse-image search, I might be able to find out a bit more about James's freelance work.

And wow.

Just... wow.

This guy is incredible. He's had a staggering career. Seriously. Judging by his picture, he's not that old. But he's worked all over the world, you guys. In so many different industries. And, oddly, under so many different names (I'm not making any judgement here - I also write under different names - but James has a lot of pen-names). Reading through my search results, I knew James was exactly the sort of fascinating character I would love to have write for the site.

So here's the response I sent him:
"Dear James/Rodney,

I'd love to have you write for my site - you sound just right. But I think you're selling yourself short by offering a rather pedestrian piece on household cleaning. A quick Google search shows me that you have much more to offer!

It'd be great to have a piece for my blog on your experiences as a computer programmer and author, and your work as a youth pastor. Or perhaps you could write about your work as an interior decorator in Mumbai? I'd love to know more about your role as an Operations Manager, and your experience of using a professional resume-writing service - how did this square with your own background as Marketing Manager for Resumes Planet?

Alternatively, it would be great to get a piece on your experiences of doing an MBA in France, or the time you took out dental insurance under the name 'Jorge V'.

I'd also be happy with a piece about wine or environmentalism - two subjects that I know are close to your heart. Or on the challenges of balancing running a digital marketing agency in Dallas, while also managing an Italian restaurant in Bangalore. That must be an incredible amount of work! You have so much energy!

I see you have a small cohort of colleagues that you enjoy working with on numerous projects. Could you write something about your work with Joseph, Ken Burns and John Rodney? I know you guys have worked together on both property development and entrepreneur support. How did you guys start working together?

Final suggestion: I'd love to know more about your work, under the name Roderigo Cervantes, as CEO of an avant-garde architectural design company.

I am fascinated by your company's approach to marketing, not least the decision to only use quotes from Moby Dick, War of the Worlds and Around the World in 80 Days as text on your website. (Could you also clarify - sorry for being confused - why, although you're listed as CEO on the home page, the 'Philosophy' page lists Vincent Vega as CEO, with Mia Wallace and Jules Winnfield as General Manager and Lead Architect?)

Anyway, lots of suggestions from me! Let me know your thoughts, and thanks again for getting in touch."
I'm going to wait until James/Rodney replies to ask him about all his other businesses. A cursory glance through Yelp reveals that he's sure got his fingers in a lot of pies (and I know that these must all be aliases of the same person, because Yelp has a policy of rejecting stock images for Business Account profiles).

Sadly, James/Rodney hasn't got back to me yet. Maybe I can commission a guest blog from Ken Burns, Joseph or John Rodney? I'm sure they'd have some crazy stories to tell.

If you would like to use James/Rodney's face for a fake testimonial, wine blog or Yelp business profile, you can download it here for free (please do buy the photographer a coffee).

To read more about my unending fascination with dodgy guest-blogging services, please enjoy these other articles:
Guest Bloggers Wanted (but only if you exist)
Another Guest Post from a Non-Existent Blogger

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.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Guest Bloggers Wanted (but only if you exist)

So... this is a blog post about blogging. How very postmodern.

I started this blog in 2010, and it was originally intended to be a website for a conference I was organizing (She-Wolf: Female Werewolves, Shapeshifters and Other Horrors). I soon decided that I could use it for more than just promoting the conference, and started to include various bits and bobs about female werewolves, then some book reviews, then some other CFPs. After the conference finished, it made sense to keep the blog going, and it slowly became my own personal site. The focus is still (kinda) on female werewolves, but it's now more just a repository for stuff in my brain or my inbox that I think other people might be vaguely interested in.

After about a year, I got my first 'guest blog' request. If you run a blog, you might be familiar with these. A 'journalist' or 'freelance writer' sends you an unsolicited email offering to write a blog piece for you. They give you links to previous work they've done and tell you that there will be no fee for their services. They might give you an outline of the sort of thing they'd like to write for you. Sometimes they'll say something kind about your site, or about how interesting they find your posts.

In my experience, these requests range from the almost-genuine to the sublimely ridiculous. I had one from a 'writer' who wanted to write something on education - that sorta fits with some of my posts. But the most recent wanted to write about a driving school in Manchester, because he thought it would be of 'interest to my readers'. Of course, this post (like all the others) would just have to contain one small link to another site.

In case you don't know - and as you'll see in a minute, a lot of bloggers really don't know this - these requests aren't really from freelance writers and journalists. Well, they might be in a way, but they're always a little bit economical with the truth. They are from SEO or advertising companies. The purpose of the guest post is to get that all-important 'organic backlink' without invoking the wrath of Google's mighty penguin.

© Thethirdman | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Stock Free Images

Here's how it works:

If you run a business and want your website to move up search engine rankings, you can pay for a 'Guest Blogging Service'. These are companies that will target bloggers on your behalf (usually using one or another form of analytics to target blogs with high rankings, appropriate content, etc.) The Blogging Service will then contact the blogger and offer to write a guest post containing a link to your site. I'm (obviously) not going to link to any of these sites, but do a search for buy guest blog posts and you can see how it works in practice. It is solely for the purpose of moving the client's website up Google's page rankings, and is not intended to be active engagement with either the blog's content or its readers.

Is it deceptive?

Not always. In some cases, the Guest Blogging Service is up-front about what it is doing. Some do employ genuine freelance writers to write content tailored to a specific blog. These people won't necessarily be specialists in a particular field, but they will go to some effort to research and present a decent piece of writing. Decent SEO companies say that best practice is to avoid creating fake personas, and to research a blog thoroughly before contacting. They also advise being honest with bloggers about the SEO/advertising purpose of the guest post.

However, only a couple of companies operate like this. Most just churn out and regurgitate content that vaguely fits with the theme of the blog. It may be copied and pasted from other websites (I've seen one that just took chunks of Wikipedia and repackaged them as a post). The same post (or very similar) may be offered to multiple blogs. At best, this content is vapid and insubstantial. At worst, it is plagiarized and could lead to copyright issues. The 'writer' of the piece will be a fake persona created by the company.

Introducing Nancy - one of the most prolific writers who doesn't exist

I recently got an email from 'Nancy Parker', a 'freelance writer and journalist' who wanted to write a guest post for my site. I'd had a few emails along these lines that week, so I was a bit annoyed. I decided to see what I could find out about 'Nancy'.

Just Google Nancy Parker Guest Post, and you can see what I did. Wow. That 'writer' sure gets around! I found posts on numerous sites about better blogging, how to promote your business and SEO, but also posts on chronic back pain, talking therapy for surviving 'difficult times', childcare, finding a good nanny, cooking cheap meals for the family... I have just found one of 'her' posts entitled 'Gather Evidence to Prosecute Cyber-Criminals with Tech Forensics'. What got me more irritated was the number of posts I found on book and writer blogs - from this so-called 'writer' - about how to write good secondary character, how to self-publish, how music can inspire writing. While the SEO blogs must (surely) have known what 'Nancy Parker' really is, the indie writers who invited 'her' to their site didn't. Some seemed flattered to have been asked.

None of 'Nancy's' posts contain any links (how clever!), but each one comes with an identical biography for her:
Nancy Parker was a professional nanny and she loves to write about a write about a wide range of subjects like health, parenting, childcare, babysitting, nannying. You can reach her at [webmail address].
Somewhere in that bio, either as a hyperlink or just written out in full, will be a link to a company called eNannySource. (This is the company that paid for the creation of 'Nancy Parker'.)

A lot of Nancy's posts come with a very fetching profile picture of the writer.

© Richard Cleveland apparently 
(though 'Nancy Parker' doesn't acknowledge this)

Nancy Parker is not a real writer - she's not even a real person

How do I know this? Well, for starters Nancy Parker has no presence on the internet outside of her guest blog posts. That's pretty rubbish for a freelance journalist and writer! She has no personal blog, and no social media accounts. Secondly, that profile picture does not look like a typical writer's headshot. It looks a little bit more posed and professional to me. One quick reverse image search reveals that it is, in fact, ripped off from this MySpace page for a freelance photographer.

Are bought guest blog posts a problem?

In my humble opinion, yes and no. They're a form of internet advertising, which is no bad thing in itself. Some bloggers are happy to include them, as they offer fresh content on the site and (if they're done well) talking-points for readers to engage with. Occasionally, guest blog posts are researched and well-written, though they are more likely to be generic. You can also take it as a compliment and a sign of your page ranking that the Guest Blogging Service viewed your blog as a good place to advertise.

However, they can also be deceptive. Bloggers are not always informed that the guest post they are publishing is, in fact, just a piece of advertising. And bloggers are not paid for offering this advertising space either. This leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable. The Nancy Parker childcare and nannying posts get under my skin a little too, as parenting advice from a non-existent person seems rather dubious. I'd also advise any bloggers to thoroughly check the content of a guest blog post before publishing to ensure that it doesn't include any plagiarized or copy-and-pasted material.

To be honest, I like to think of Guest Blogging Services as the bill posters of the internet. They aren't doing any harm, per se; they're just provided a service to companies who want to boost their search engine ratings. But the tactics they use to advertise their clients are irritating to those of us who own the metaphorical walls they want to slap their posters over.

© Arrow | Dreamstime Stock Photos 
Stock Free Images
PS I do, on occasion, feature guest blog posts. If you are a real person and would like to write something for the site, please feel free to get in touch.