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A business per city with an accompanying website. Each website has a links page. All the links on the site point to different sites in different cities. Every one of these sites is owned by the webmaster. The webmaster doesn't own any of the widget businesses.
A website for a particular city might be Dallaswidgets.com. You can find another 30-50 of those each with a city/widget name The links pages will describe different widget businesses in different cities than a couple of overall widgets sites such USwidgets.com, nationalwidgets.com, Professionalwidgets.net, etc.
The sites actually have a terms of website link describing how the webmaster's business provides 3rd party links to the site.
The problem is though that all of the 3rd party links are owned by the webmaster.
It appears to be link scheme in my eyes. Moreover all these "widget" sites have created a cascading level of importance for this widget topic. The end result is that these specific widget sites are controlling highest google rankings for basic searches for widget (and variations on widgets) and controlling local rankings for the many city/state regions ie Dallas widgets, Portland Widgets, Florida Widgets.
The individual business owners don't own these sites. They are all owned by the webmaster who gets paid for delivering leads.
I guess my basic question is ....does this smell and seem like a link scheme as defined by google?
If you think they should be treated as spam and just splipped through somehow, then your best option is to report it as spam through Google's spam report.
I have reported it through the google spam reports. I'm going to report it through google maps groups for spam.
I guess I should ask about your perspective. Do you see this as spam? One webmaster. No ownership of the businesses...lots of interlinking among sites all owned by the webmaster. I'm looking for opinions or experience.
Local search is what you're talking about here, and right now therer are many odd schemes going. People are leveraging everything from link networks to wild-card subdomains. If the content at the end of the tactic is truly useful and not boilerplated database auto-generated junk, that's one factor that should play into ranking decisions, to a degree at least.
However, I'd bet that Google (and other local search engines too) will not reward this particular approach for very long. I think it's a short term exploitation of a current loophole rather than a long-term, solid business plan.
It is both a potentially local issue and it arises on google serps. The aforementioned variety of sites; USwidgets.com, Nationalwidgets.com, Betterwidgets.net, Professionalwidgets.com etc. all show high for organic search phrases on a variety of terms; (ie widgets, widget, widgeting, etc.) All of those terms are vital in traffic for competing sites and businesses. The sites all interlink. Look for widgets in a particular city and say Omahawidgets.com will rank high as will the interlinked national sites such as uswidgets.com, nationalwidgets.com, betterwidgets.com--each one pointing to the one address or 2 local versions of web sites for omaha widgets. The national sites all have affiliate income and other income sources on top of dominating the various widget phrases (and longer tail widget variations) and crowd out competitive businesses and sites for searches such as widgets in Cleveland, New Jersey Widgets, Widgets New Orleans, etc.
The interlinking is vast and all goes back to the same registrants.
It is definitely a spammy effort on the local side. On top of the issues mentioned, there are some specific sites developed all pointing to specific business addresses; each one having a url for neighboring mid sized cities. That definitely violates guide rules in Google Maps.
Interestingly the spammyness and multiplicity of visibility of these interlinking sites doesn't show as much in other engines. I suppose the interlinking aspect, and the overwhelming volume of sites dominating this widget category is creating greater ranking visibility in google.
[edited by: tedster at 7:12 pm (utc) on Mar. 5, 2009]