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Google SERPs: What does Viagra have to do with chalkboards?

     
11:05 pm on Jul 10, 2015 (gmt 0)

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All I'm trying to find is a chalkboard with expedited delivery. My query is simple. The results are loaded with Viagra and other prescription medications. Heck, Xenical, is #4; page two is 50% prescription medications. Google is a POS search engine these days.

chalkboards "overnight delivery" [google.com]

I see Cialis, Xenical, Accutane, Viagra, Gabapentin, Deltasone, Abilify, and even seafood restaurants of all things. This is 2015. Clearly, the quality of the search results peaked around 2010. I am so angry because I've been searching for over an hour for reasonable results.

[edited by: aakk9999 at 10:28 pm (utc) on Jul 11, 2015]

12:23 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It is an interesting one.

Searching just for "overnight delivery" in quotes shows delivery companies (UPS, etc.)
Searching just for chalkboards shows chalkboards and sites selling chalkboards
Combining these two as per post above shows mostly Pharma sites
Removing quotes from "overnight delivery" and searcing for chalkboards overnight delivery retains only couple of Pharma sites and the rest of the first page of SERPs is about chalkboards.

I wonder what is the connection between chalkboard and pharma sites - it must be some connection as when searching for individual phrases as stated above, the SERPs are not connected with pharma at all.
12:51 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Well, Google AI's been getting pretty cocky with its synonyms lately. Do "slate" or "blackboard" or "greenboard" or "dry erase" or "graffiti" or the like connote pharmaceuticals perhaps, in some webspeak lingo?
1:00 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I suggest that you will see some of the connections that Google is apparently making behind the scenes if you search chalkboard and the non rural dictionary..
ATM G SERPs are reminiscent of those of 2003..easy to game..and with some "esotheric" results surfacing from time to time..;)
1:10 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Oh, dear. Way, way, way too much information.

I used Google to navigate to the dictionary and there was a search box among the sitelinks. That's new to me.

ATM = automated teller machine?
1:12 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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at the moment..
2:33 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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All I'm trying to find is a chalkboard with expedited delivery. My query is simple. The results are loaded with Viagra and other prescription medications. Heck, Xenical, is #4; page two is 50% prescription medications.

Maybe Google should be targeting spammers for execution and not mom and pops.

Google is a POS search engine these days.

I would agree, but a vast amount of the population will eat Big Macs, french fries, etc. knowing it will clog their arteries and kill them. Yet people still choose junk instead of what is or offers them better. Moreover, the Google fan base will defend this rubbish.

I just hope there are not any kids searching for chalkboards and finding this Google vomited junk.
5:32 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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chalkboard and the non rural dictionary

Eeeuw. I would have been perfectly happy never, ever knowing that.
7:26 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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OK, my initial reflex is that these sites have been hacked, and they return viagra and related products only to Googlebot. Checking a few of the ranking domains when I'm not coming off Google results suggests that this is so... the main domains are legit sites, and the pages returned by Google are not found unless you go through Google.

Why not other engines? Not enough traffic to be worth the trouble.

Guessing a bit more on the rest....

Why does it work? It's hard to rank just for "chalkboards" by itself, or just for "overnight delivery" by itself... but the combo is easier. Not very competitive. OTH, rankings on a search for 'viagra overnight delivery" would be much more difficult to achieve.

So, why "chalkboards"? Leosghost may be right about the slang part of it, but I don't think that's a Google AI ("artificial intelligence") connection. I think that would be a searcher connection... and there's probably a whole underground network out there that's spread the term. I assume that crobb305 is sincere about really wanting chalkboards for academic or business presentations, and not the other kind.

Perhaps also chalkboards are simply products searched frequently enough in combo with overnight delivery that they might get some traffic. Again, I think I trust Leosghost on his intuition about the slang targeting. I don't believe this is a Google AI thing at all.

What's the purpose of this exercise? If the slang interpretation is well known, or becomes well known, there might be a lot of money in it.

For just an accidental product search, hard to say. I don't know how much money they would make over time by accidental searches, but perhaps enough to make this worth the effort. Hacking was probably a button-push kind of job, so not that expensive.

If this is for random products... and initially I thought it might be, but I don't think it is... has this been done for other products besides chalkboards?

Beyond that, I'm sure as a proof of concept and to embarrass Google. Hackers used to hack sites and "spray-paint" who dunnit on the home pages of victims. Those were the good old days.

Incidentally, for the "chalkboards overnight delivery" search, WebmasterWorld is now #6, though I think I saw it on an earlier search at #4.

Other random notes... I'm not sure whether Google autocomplete is temporarily skewed, but if you start typing "viagra" into the Google search box, overnight delivery starts getting suggested pretty quickly, so that is a known desirable feature. I should add that these hacked sites don't rank on those direct drug-name searches. They're cloaked for this search... and as aakk9999 noted above...
...the SERPs are not connected with pharma at all.
7:38 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think it's far more likely that adding the quoted keywords "overnight delivery" skewed the relevance weighting. When you add that to the relative infrequency of a product or category page including that phrase, you get the reported results. Removing the quotes gives results closer to what you'd otherwise expect.
9:11 am on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think it's far more likely that adding the quoted keywords "overnight delivery" skewed the relevance weighting.
Yes, the phrase in quotes definitely skewed the results and caused the pages to appear as the spammers had hoped. Most searchers wouldn't be using those quotes.

As aakk9999 posted earlier...
Removing quotes from "overnight delivery" and searching for chalkboards overnight delivery retains only couple of Pharma sites and the rest of the first page of SERPs is about chalkboards.

I'm assuming that from the spammers' point of view, a spam campaign like this shouldn't require a phrase to be quoted, but right now it does. Maybe the spammers haven't gotten all their backlinks in place yet.

When looking at these in relation to normal Google results, I think it's important to note that the pages returned are on hacked sites and are cloaked for Googlebot. This is outside the range of Google's normal algorithm. It's churn and burn spam, and both the spammers and Google are constantly making adjustments.

Regarding hacked sites, here's a good reference thread...

Understanding hacked sites that rank in Google
April, 2013
https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4561487.htm [webmasterworld.com]

It might be helpful to quote part of a post I made in another thread, about why Google's normal algo doesn't stop all spam immediately....
The "normal" Google algorithm which ranks sites competitively, though, is not built to deal with churn and burn spam techniques. So, when you see such results, it's generally not a weakness in the Google ranking algorithm. The spam team deals with these special cases, but, as discussed in the thread I note above, the process of dealing with a hacker is not necessarily immediate.

Google has recently been adjusting its algo to identify and deal with spammy areas more quickly, which might allow it also to ease off its emphasis on brand authority, and that's discussed most recently here....

Google Launching Payday Loan Algorithm 3.0 Targeting Spammy Queries
June, 2014
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4679408.htm [webmasterworld.com]

These hacks and the targeting noted by the OP appear to be an attempt to skirt this "payday loan" component of the algo, which monitors traditionally spammy areas, by shifting the targets away from pharma.
3:42 pm on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Results from google.co.uk look fine
8:40 pm on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Earlier in this thread, I'd posted...
If this is for random products... and initially I thought it might be, but I don't think it is... has this been done for other products besides chalkboards?


It turns out the "overnight delivery" in quotes is the key to this, and that the number of hacked sites targeted appears to be extremely large. This has been done for a great many products (or in some cases simply single word terms).

On all searches I tried where the "widgets" were more than one word, the effect disappears. On some terms, as many as 5 of the top 10 results were pill related.

Ironically, [widgets "overnight delivery'], which would be our exemplified phrase, is one of the queries that produces the most spam. I should note that a lot of queries return pdfs. To be cautious, I would avoid clicking on them.

In all cases that I've seen, hacked sites are involved. There's no question in my mind that Google is aware of this and has been working on it. The challenge as I see it for Google is how to combat it while not distorting results for lower authority sites.

If "overnight delivery" is not in quotes and the widget is a very competitive single-word term, spam won't show up until, say, the bottom of page three. With "chalkboards" as the widget, not a big money item, and "overnight delivery" unquoted, we got two spam results at the bottom of the first page.

I'm assuming that Google must float enough of this stuff to the surface to test whether its countermeasures are working.

It wouldn't surprise me if this sort of thing were somehow related to the Panda update delays... but for the moment that is a wild guess.

Mod's note: Let's please not post further specifics on these overnight delivery specials. It's not going to tell us anything new, but it would surface some vulnerable sites.
11:26 pm on July 12, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Results from google.co.uk look fine


Not for me they are not! They are as the OP describes. What's even more absurd is that I'm in the UK, doing a search using Google UK and the majority of the results are not only appallingly mismatched but for American or Australian companies - prices in $ not .
6:38 am on July 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Note that Leosghost has just started a thread in this forum about current use of pdfs by black-hats to "poison" serps, as reported by an article in The Register.

His original title and description, which I'll preserve here, but which needed to be shortened to fit into this forum's format (which drops the description line), were...

PDFs used in hacked sites to "poison" Google SERPS
Algo is "vulnerable" to links in PDFs
https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4757082.htm [webmasterworld.com]

The Register's article reports the uncovering of hundreds of thousands of pdfs, used in cloaked, hacked sites, to spam results. I can't say how central PDFs were to this strategy, as I'm seeing more HTML results than PDF results overall... but clearly what's being discussed in The Register and what's being discussed here have considerable overlap. As I suggest in my post on that thread, if you want to see pdf files for searches you're monitoring, append filetype:pdf to your query.

For the main query we've been discussing, I searched...

[chalkboards "overnight delivery" filetype:pdf]

This search initially shows 570 results, but, as I move further along, the Google returned page count jumps up to "about 5,290 results", so the number isn't as large as I thought. A lot of these pdfs are in fact about chalkboards and/or overnight delivery, btw, but the spammed pharma results dominate the first few pages, indicating pumped up link juice... and they then pretty much taper off by about page 8 (of this filetype search).

This search initially shows 570 results, but, as I move further along, the Google returned page count jumps up to "about 5,290 results", so the number isn't as large as I thought. A lot of these pdfs are in fact about chalkboards and/or overnight delivery, btw, but the spammed pharma results dominate the first few pages, indicating pumped up link juice... and they then pretty much taper off by about page 8 (of this filetype search). These are only the pdf files returned. There were many more times that number of hacked html pages.
8:56 am on July 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I get no problem on the first 5 pages if I mimic the OP's search. I have to substitute the word "widgets" to get the pharma results in google.co.uk
9:40 am on July 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I do have a couple of pharmas on GoogleUK and at #7 WebmasterWorld!
12:23 pm on July 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Interesting, back in February I reported that the term "fast shipping" was bring a ton of hacked sites up to the top (https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4650008.htm) but looking at it now, for me anyway, it looks like it's been cleaned up. I suspect this one will be cleaned up too - eventually.
12:27 pm on July 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Also works with:

  • fabric "overnight delivery"
  • burlap "overnight delivery"
  • lampshade "overnight delivery"

    They are just terms that happen to be in the page's html when crawled by Google. When they hacked the page, they injected their pharma content, but left the existing content in place as well. Do a view source on the cached version of the page.
  • 3:42 pm on July 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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    Makes me wonder if the miscreants are specifically looking for these sites in order to hack them.
    6:00 pm on July 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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    Whose sites are getting hacked, I assume extremely badly managed servers?
    8:25 pm on July 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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    On the ones that I have spotted they seem to have added a sub folder rather than hacking the home page.
    8:31 pm on July 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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    Yes, I found injected subfolders on a site I was asked to review. It's all cleared up now, but it was all about stuffing keywords and linking to another site.