Spam and online fraud make up a substantial portion of the online world. To put it into perspective, in 2011 Google received billions of ads to be published in AdWords.1 Of those, more than 130 million were thought to be spam and were disabled.1 But advertising is not the only place you’ll find spammers. They can be found attacking you in emails, on fraudulent websites selling fake products or malicious apps, among made-up Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook accounts, writing untruthful reviews about restaurants or stores on Yelp, insincerely following your blog, and yes, there are even spammers engaging in online marketing fraud.

You might be asking, how can I prevent online fraud from ever reaching my business and me? The honest answer is, you can’t. There are teams of people around the world constantly working to outsmart black hat marketers and spammers, but there is no way to completely eliminate fraud. However, you can educate yourself on the common forms of online marketing fraud. So when you do run into it, you’ll be quick to recognize it and know better than to fall for it.

12 Online Fraud Tactics:

  1. Cloaking – Cloaking is the practice of showing one webpage to a user and another to a search engine bot. In the past, this practice was used to show innocent sites to search engine bots, and porn sites to the user.
  2. Doorway Pages – These are often large sets of low-quality pages and each page is optimized for certain keywords or phrases. These pages are written to rank for a particular phrase, but users are ultimately funneled to the same destination, causing extreme frustration.
  3. Keyword Stuffing – The practice of “stuffing” a large number of high-ranking keywords or numbers on a page or site. This tactic is used to fool search engine bots into increasing a site’s ranking, but provides an unpleasant experience for the user.
  4. Invisible Text – This is when text that is the same color as the background color of your site is used to add extra keywords that robots can detect but the users cannot. This practice often involves using long lists of popular keywords.
  5. Link Schemes – Link schemes refer to the practice of buying, selling, or using invalid links for your website. Your site’s ranking is partially affected by the number of sites that link to it. A naturally popular site will have lots of people linking to it, thus indicating higher quality to a search engine bot. A site that engages in link schemes can be easily detected by search engine bots and will quickly drop in ranking.
  6. Fake reviews on Google Places – Since rankings on Google Places are based partially on how well the business is viewed on review sites such as Yelp, some black hat marketers will try to write poor reviews of competitor’s restaurants or stores using fake accounts in order to boost rankings of their client’s business.
  7. Setting up fake business locations in popular cities in Google Places – Some businesses are finding that having a business address in a more densely populated or popular area increases their chances of being ranked on Google Places. Many have set up a fake address in a downtown location regardless of their actual presence at that location.
  8. Creating ads that look similar to AdWords adverts –Black hat marketers may use these ads for their own advertising, but will not incur costs, or program the ads to behave in ways that may harm the users’ computer or cause them to download a malicious file.
  9. Click fraud – This practice refers to advertisers who repeatedly click on competitor’s advertisements early in the day in order to deplete the advertiser’s budget for the day.
  10. Using Flash or JavaScript to hide content from search engine bots – Search engine spiders can only read text. This practice is an attempt to get around that by displaying ads or unseemly information to users with graphics.
  11. Automatically generated content – This may include scraping content from other pages or automatically translated text.
  12. Sneaking redirects – This is when a user is redirected to a site other than the one they requested. While this is fine to do when a site it moving URLs, when this is done with the intent to show the user a different site than the one shown to search engine spider, it is considered a black hat practice.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. These are just some of the common methods used to “out smart” search engines, and spammers are continually coming up with more.

Here at Bixa Media, a digital marketing agency, we are engaged in ethical online marketing. We work to earn your site’s rankings on Google, not cheat our way to the top.  Preventing online fraud may be impossible, but by educating ourselves on the common types of fraud, we can quickly detect and avoid these black hat practices.

1. Baker, David. “The fight against scam ads – by the numbers.” Google Official Blog. May 25, 2012. Retrieved December 12, 2012. (