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This is the basic scenario. One extremely competitve field has 3 major players, multi-million dollar companies. This company has spun off smaller sites (which in themselves are somewhat large) in a smaller category (dominating 2 categies and getting huge traffic).
The spammy part is, all products found on the smaller sites are all found in the main site, and they are all owned by the same company (even go so far as to say gift certificates are redeemable at each site).
But all sites are "unique looking", have their own 800#, etc. You can tell considerable work went into them. Would Google consider this spam? I know GoogleGuy said he would look into the abuse reports and there were not many coming in, so I am hoping that I'll get an answer of whether or not this is acceptable. One of the "spin off" sites even has a PR8, as does the main site. So Google obviously considers the site to be valueable.
If it is acceptable for one site owner or company to create multiple sites so long as they all look very different, appear unique, and are even useful to surfers.... but still sell the same products, then perhaps I will make a few more sites myself to keep up.
One thing we have to keep in mind: it may all be the same product, but they may not necessarily be sites from the same exact company. For example, there's one *major* computer company that sells their computers direct, but a good part of their sales are done through "business partners," some of whom operate internationally on a large scale and have been around for 30 years. This is perfectly legitimate. They're not affiliates, they're not distributors. It's just the way that industry works and always has.
That may not be the case in this instance, but the possibility does exist. It does raise, however, an interesting question about whether it's equally as legitimate for small, independent companies who sell products direct to do the same, even though it would be with a different business model.
Compound that with the fact that there can be 100 "companies" involved in privately arranged partnership deals not unlike affiliate programs who each have a unique 800 number, but all 100 of them have orders filled by the same fulfillment house with the same staff of CSRs who just answer the different lines with the respective company names.
Technically, this doesn't cross any lines or violate any search engine guidelines in itself. How the sites are done is a different story. What you're referring to is multiple sites from the exact same company, but is there a line where it crosses over?
How do we think this can be viewed, given the different scenarios that could be represented, bearing in mind that there could be more variations on this same theme. Maybe GoogleGuy would like to hear how we look at these issue. ;)
Imagine "Sports World.com" selling all kinds of sporting goods. They are the #1 site online selling sporting goods of every kind, involved in every affiliate program under the sun, in Y! shopping, passport, the whole nine yards. They spin off a completely unique site "Golf Mania.com", and dominate that market and are #1 in PR and traffic for that sub-category as well. All sites say they are part of the "Megalopolis corporation owned by John Doe". "Megalopolis.com" redirects to "Sports World.com".
Nothing is similar between "Sports World.com" and "Golf Mania.com", the themes, templates, contact us, priviacy policy, right down to the last detail. And to a large extent they do not make themselves out to be the same company. But when you examine a bit closer, you see that they mention they are owned by the larger company "Megalopolis.com owned by John Doe" and do not hide the fact at all, and that all "golf" items on the site are also found in the "golf section" of the sporting goods site.
So the smaller guy selling "sporting goods" like me, sees this and wonders why he can not make a "golf" site as well.
I guess I will get an answer one way or another from Google, either they will leave them in there, or they will penalize them, right? ;) It just won't be so clear-cut if they leave it in there, as to what they consider spam and what they don't, which makes my job that much harding in walking that fine line between what's right and wrong.
I just don't find it fair that multi-million dollar corporations are allowed to create sites like this and Mr. SmallGuy can not :)
Imagine "Sports World.com's" golf section, it is further sub-sectioned into all the name brands of golf products. On the "Golf Mania.com" site, all the same sub-sections exist, with all the same products (mind you, different photos and descriptions) for the same prices.
I remember a DMOZ editor in the DMOZ forums once said about affiliate sites which I thought made a lot of sense. If you can find the same products, for the same price on both sites, and there is absolutely no benefit for the user to buy from one or the other, there should not be two sites allowed for the same merchant or even another affiliate.
I would have nothing against them, if they dropped the "golf" products from their "sporting goods" site. But having 2 major powerhouse sites to compete against that pull in so much traffic for what is basically the same "core" content spun a different way is just not fair in my opinion.
There's a difference between ODP guidelines for acceptance and what crosses the line with how sites are done - and linked - for purposes of search engine indexing, though that ODP listing would have an effect on PR and ranking.
What I described is an actual brick and mortar situation (your bank probably uses their computers) with partner companies that offer the same products but have a different blend of other features, services and plans that are related and relevant and include other products, such as third party software. Those companies are looked upon differently than affiliate sites - they really are genuine independent companies and there is no cross-linking, they're in competition with each other.
What you're describing is a hub_and_spokes situation. The main site would be the hub, and the off-shoots - golf, tennis, baseball, bowling, etc., would be the spokes. They may or not get into ODP, but whether or not they get into trouble with Google could easily depend on how they're linking between the sites.
It's not that unusual. You can find a lot of affiliate sites that have been set up and inter-linked not for actual sales, but as networks of sites set up to pass Page Rank around and link within certain niches to elevate and support Page Rank for actual sites that are client companies. Those are a little different, because most of the pages stay under the radar and won't appear in the beginning of search results, so it's not that easily detected unless you do a lot of backtracking on back links.
I've seen one of those that actually uses third level domains that are interlinked with a whole network of sites and actually redirects to a major brick and mortar company. It's interesting to watch over time to see what happens because they'll eventually come under scrutiny. When they're noticed, people tend to get either angry or very curious to see what Google will do with them.
What you're describing with different templates, photos, etc., is probably to avoid duplicate content penalties. Sounds like some very talented SEO work was done there. ;)
The little guy can set up hub/spoke sites, it's a matter of optimizing them and getting the PR - and playing it safe enough to avoid angering the Google_Gods, whose wrath we've all come to know and fear.
Until something is inserted into the rulebook to the effect that having multiple sites is a no-no, then let it rip. If those sites trip over existing rules about interlinking, etc., then too bad for the site owner. Where spider-driven search engines are concerned, I don't see your examples as spam.
I do agree this is verging spam-report abuse, multiple high-quality sites but with different categories on each sites seems fine to me, but you call this "spam"... your definition of spam is quite tight!
I personally do not think any webmaster/site owner, etc, should be allowed to have more than one site dedicated to selling any given product. If there is bit of overlap with products, I might look the other way, but when you chop off a whole sub-category of your site, build another site around it and completely change all the content of the second site to be "unique", no matter how beautiful it is or how much money you invest in it, this is spam to me... there is no benefit to the user one way or another, and double the traffic goes to the spammer. Is this not the entire idea behind spam? To multiply your exposure and profits with absolutely no benefit to the user?
Otherwise everyone and their brother would be making multiple sites. Like I said, if he wants to make a "golf" site, a "soccer" site, etc, or remove all "golf" stuff off the main "sporting goods" site, then so be it. This multi-million dollar company now has 2 "sporting goods" sites, and 2 "golf" sites. What next month, 3 of each? Then 4?
I was just hunting around for some more in another semi-related field, and I came across one webmaster with 20 PR6 sites all selling the same stuff basically, there were about 4-5 sites overlapping each major search term. I reported all 20 URL's just now...
I can't see how Joe Surfer would want to visit any of these sites other than the "main" site. Can anyone who thinks this is right please explain to me how all these multiple sites selling the same products benefit Joe Surfer?
If this is allowed, then I guess I will have to make a decision... 1)open up multiple sites and avoid heavy cross linking to avoid penalites... or 2)be a good webmaster and stick with my one URL.
>>>>If there are thousands of one-page sites - that's spam, but 3 or 4 quality sites - that's like having a chain of several stores near by.
So it takes thousands of pages before it's spam? Let's imagine you were going to your local Footlocker to buy some shoes. They don't have anything you like, but there are 3 more footlockers in the same mall, all selling the same shoes, are you telling me you would walk inside each one to see what they had? :)
Imagine the year is 2455, and we have transporters like on Star Trek. You can instantly be transported to any store on Earth. Do you think there would be a need for multiple stores? (other than the fact you couldn't squeeze that many people in one store unless it was huge, but this problem doesn't exist online).
That's what the web is like, instant transportation to everything you need! You do not want to visit 10 sites that all sell the same thing. Come on now, where's the logic in that? ;)
Under your terms, I certainly am!
By your own definition, these sites are of high quality - unless they are stuffing the SERPs and excluding any competition I can see no grounds to report them. Maybe you are hoping to increase your own positions by booting them out. If so, that sounds like SE manipulation to me. Case of double standards? ;)
This whole thing about reporting spam is getting out of hand, and I feel reporting an instance such as this is a waste of a google employee's time if he has to check it out.
born2drv how can you say this "I personally do not think any webmaster/site owner, etc, should be allowed to have more than one site dedicated to selling any given product."
Can I ask why you think this?
I know of companies that have 100 domains all with similar if not identical content and a lot are competitors to me. Do I complain? No, why would I. I just get on with my job.
Look at so many high streets or out-of-town stores - they are so much the same and you could be anywhere.
People like to visit different places for new experiences. That includes online as well as bricks and mortar.
Make a difference, create something individual and unique.
Reminds me of some "SEO" companies that will make a whole new website for you for a few thousand dollars, selling all the same stuff. Is this ethical? Some would say no.
Would you be happier if the owner had set up unique companies to handle each site so ultimately you would never know they were the same people?
Just think the amount of time you have spent finding their sites, making sure they were the same owner, reporting them and now this thread. All that time could have been used to perhaps better optimising 'legally' your own site so that in the next update you may find yourself higher than them.
That's for them to decide not me. But if they are shopping for something and left store #1, I don't think they want to see store #2 selling the same thing, for the same price, shipped from the same guy, for the same shipping price, etc. etc.
Anyhow, I can see I hit a nerve, so I will let this rest, unless someone writes something that I just have to reply to ;)
Your proposition, that companies should have just one site per "product" is a little judgemental - you are assuming that everything is designed around "spam" rather than better ways to get people to find your product (and I'm not talking about doorways, keyword stuffing and other manipulative methods). You note quite clearly these are separate high quality sites, with the same products as the main site divided into categories - lets hope they aren't planning to create company divisional units, it could be spam.
Using you arguement, should Sony (for example) only select 4 or 5 pages on the entire web to insert details for their next product? Or is that OK because they're Sony and they're not stepping on your toes? ;) No it's clearly spammy.
Google wont remove or penalise sites manually, but rather use spam reports to improve their algorithms - I don't believe that separating topics onto separate websites is spam, it can enable the company to provide a node to have forums (for that product group), specific support (for that product group), and detailed information (yep, for that product group) where people aren't interested in other product categories. Listing them again on a central site makes all of their products available.
Using your rules, wouldn't many of the larger and quite pertinent manufacturers like HP, Sony, etc be spammers and therefore deserve a penalty? And of course thousands of other companies who aren't focussed on manipulating SE results.
I agree with this statement up to a point...
"I don't believe that separating topics onto separate websites is spam, it can enable the company to provide a node to have forums (for that product group), specific support (for that product group), and detailed information (yep, for that product group)...
<stop here, I don't agree with the rest>
... where people aren't interested in other product categories. "
Why do they have to duplicate the content? Is it not enough to have it in one place and one place only, and to promote that portion of the site more efficiently? make a golf.sportsworld.com if you want to seperate it more efficiently. Why make a completely different site in an attempt to fool the user into thinking they've found another place to surf for similar items?
If Sony wants to offer information that is fine. If they want to sell their new digital camera off their Sony Style site, good for them. If other dealers sell the same camera and COMPETE against sony, all power to them. If Sony wants to make a Sony Style store, a Sony ComeHere store, and a Sony Bologne store all selling the same goods, yes I have a problem with it.
>>>>>>my guess is you simply aren't happy with the ways and methods people are presently finding you on the net.
That's not true at all. In fact, I rank #1-6 now on almost all my search terms and compete well against the "sporting gooods" site on Google. Traffic shot up 300% over last month. Problem is, I want to expand my main site to include "golf" equipment. Having taken a quick look around to see who the big players are, imagine my surprise to see my good friend with the big bad PR8 selling "sporting goods" already in the "golf" market with another big bad PR8 site that I now have to do battle with. I do not want to stoop to his level and create another domain and just port over all my "golf" products on a second domain, especially if I am going to copy all the content from my main site.
On a sidenote, I realize most of everyone in here is probably on the top of their game, PR7-9, and #1 in their google directory category, maybe with muliple sites (otherwise where does all that PR come from, right?), so I am probably just a PR6 chump rookie speaking upon deaf ears of PR8 big guys. Maybe I should submit some WBW aliases next time I fill out a spam report? ;)
All joking aside, I think this is a problem, Google knows it, and sooner or later they have to combat it, just maybe not anytime soon due to the complexity. Anyway I look at it, it's just high-class spam, and right now all the players have diplomatic immunity :)
So it takes thousands of pages before it's spam? Let's imagine you were going to your local Footlocker to buy some shoes. They don't have anything you like, but there are 3 more footlockers in the same mall, all selling the same shoes, are you telling me you would walk inside each one to see what they had?
Nope, but if I can place a store near each enterance in the mall and move your store a bit farther - then I'm likely to get more customers into all of them combined. That's exactly how it works in your case with the sites.
In my view it's a good way of doing business. A smart way.
We all know what spam is and what isn't. And there is no point in debating about it. It's like one of the "off-line" controversies that never end, but inside - we all can tell the difference.
I just submitted 3 sites in the report abuse form for Google, which I consider spam. But I can see how surfers would not know the difference and even perhaps find them useful.
...shows that you already made up your mind and started this thread just to feel good about what you have done. Consciousness is a tricky thing :)
Think of it another way:
You have built several sites. Spent time and money. And one day, they all get dropped and you don't know why. (hmm, never heard that story before around here).
You wait a few updates and the sites are not back. You write google, and no response. All because one of your competitors (if that is the case) could not take it.
Again, we all know spam when we see it. All talks about it are just air. You know it, I know it, and everybody else knows it.
... then perhaps I will make a few more sites myself to keep up.
That's what you should've done in the first place.
Because right now, you are testing out your theories by risking other people's time and money.
Hmm, let me try to sink that guy.... if nothing happens to him after my spam report, then I'll do the same. How cool is that?
Why make a completely different site in an attempt to fool the user into thinking they've found another place to surf for similar items?
And yet earlier in the thread you said this:
they mention they are owned by the larger company "Megalopolis.com owned by John Doe" and do not hide the fact at all
Now what was the problem again? ;)
One site is targeting general sporting goods searchers while the other is targeting specifically the golf market.
If ÜberSports has a huge sports superstore at the downtown mall... are they unethical for opening a smaller satellite golf pro-shop called ÜberGolf at the golf course?
Save your ire for the folks that deserve it... those that use truly deceptive practices which don't serve either the Search Engines or the Search Engine users by providing irrelevant or ridiculously poor quality sites.
I personally do not think any webmaster/site owner, etc, should be allowed to have more than one site dedicated to selling any given product.
As a practical matter, Google has no way of knowing that John Doe owns both CoolWidgets.com and GroovyWidgets.com. So debating whether John Doe should or shouldn't be able to own multiple sites for a given product is a waste of time.
Google *can* look for excessive crosslinking and other SEO techniques that compromise the accuracy of its search results. But that's as far as Google can go in identifying "search-engine spam."
Our company actually owns 5 businesses (and growing).
We import products from Europe and South America.
On two of the product lines, the manufacturer requires us to maintain a website devoted to their product. There is no choice in the matter. Those websites then link to our hub site's shopping cart.
I believe the manufacturers have good reason to insure they have a presence in the United States and feel that a website is important in maintaining BRAND RECOGNITION. Some customers could care less about our hub site. They want to find the BRAND.
Our hubsite, on the other hand, is a one-stop shop with many different product lines. Often we have customers buy from several departments.
I am using hub and spoke linking. I have not created a crosslink network. I certainly hope this strategy is never penalized, because it would be a difficult scenario for our company to have to explain to our manufacturers.