Microsoft, researchers take aim at 'search spammers'

A new study by a team of Microsoft and University of California researchers has shed light on how so-called "search spammers" work and how advertisers can help stop the practice. Search spam consists of sites that show up all over search result pages and are created for the sole purpose of generating click-through advertising revenue. They're an irritant to users and another way in which the Internet is being abused for profit. The research will be reviewed at the 16th International World Wide Web Conference in Banff, Alberta, in May.

The researchers looked at "redirection spam," where a user clicks on a URL but is then automatically transferred to a different URL or shown advertising content that originates from somewhere else on the Web. For example, a business such as orbitz.com, a popular travel services site, may buy advertising from a syndicator, who then buys space on high-traffic Web pages from an aggregator. In turn, the aggregator buys traffic from Web spammers. The spammers set up the millions of "doorway" pages, designed to show up high in the search engine rankings. They also distribute URLs by inserting them as comments on users' blogs. If those links are clicked, the doorway pages then redirect to other pages, potentially bringing revenue back to its controller via pay-per-click advertising.

The researchers have discovered solutions with new spam detection and Web page analysis. They also narrowed down two blocks of IP addresses that advertisements were directed through to spammers' pages. That bottleneck, they said, "may prove to be the best layer to attacking the search spam problem." A responsibility also lies with advertisers to assert greater control over where and how their ads are placed. "Ultimately, it is advertisers' money that is funding the search spam industry, which is increasingly cluttering the Web with low-quality content and reducing Web users' productivity," they wrote.

News source: InfoWorld

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