A few years ago, I did some work for a comparison shopping/coupon website. Curious about how well the site was doing in regard to their SEO, I did a few search queries for some of the terms I remembered being big traffic drivers. I didn’t see my former client on page one for the first few queries, so I kept going.
Eventually, I noticed the following:
Clicking the above result brought me to the page below (you can click for a larger version):
I was taken aback by the fact that a site could rank #1 for [Nordstrom Coupons] with such spammy content.
Let me exemplify the quality of content on the page by providing a text excerpt (bold emphasis added by yours truly):
No matter whether one desires purchasing sneakers, women shoes, laced shoes, sports shoes or any other design of shoe. There is a wide range of choices available online to choose from. Purchasing online items can be quite expensive if one does not have access to online promo codes. All branded electronic items such as music player, tablet, computers and television can be bought on huge discounts if people have access to proper discount coupons and promo codes. Nordstrom promo code helps one to receive up to 30 per cent of discount on all branded clothing and electronic items. Moreover customer get free shipping on every purchase which acts like a cherry on the cake. Online coupons are specifically designed for price conscious customers who try to save money on every shopping done.
Hmmm. Definitely quality content!
Time To Do Some Research
I decided to put forth some minimal effort to find out what was going on here. In order to get a good selection of relevant keywords, I used coupon industry giant RetailMeNot.com and popped it into Google’s Keyword Planner, then selected the product category of Coupons & Rebates.
That pulled back about 800 key phrases or so, which I’ve put in a Google Spreadsheet for readers here.
I then did a little bit of data manipulation to find a few more terms that seemed to make sense, and I trimmed out some that seemed silly. In the end, I decided to stick with 500 terms because it was a nice, round number.
Next, I used the Firefox Extension SEO Quake to download the first 100 search results for each of the 500 queries. (Yes, that’s right — 50,000 URLs!) Once I had those 50,000 URLs/results, I began to dig even deeper.
The Research Results
Once all the data was in a single Excel spreadsheet, I created the following pivot table and started making some interesting discoveries.
- Column 1 = Domain Name
- Column 2 = Count of URLs Ranking in Top 100 for the Domain
- Column 3 = Simple Mean Average of Where the Domain Ranked, According to SEO Quake Results
- Column 4 = Sum of Impressions (Rank 1 – 10 = G’KWP Monthly Searches, Rank 10+ – 20 = Searches * 0.20, Rank 20+ = Searches * 0.05)
The chart above is sorted by average rank, and the information isn’t too shocking. RetailMeNot simply dominates the search results at an average rank of 1.49, with over 500 URLs ranking in the top 100 across the 500 chosen search phrases. Details of the RetailMeNot results/pivot can be found here.
After RetailMeNot, there are the expected coupon and promo code sites rounding out the top 10 sites, ranging from DealCatcher.com to TechBargains.com, with Groupon.com being a newcomer to the space (apparently entering the space late last year with their version of a coupon site).
However, it gets quite a bit more interesting if you sort by the number of URLs appearing in the top 100 sites. Check this out:
YouTube tops the list with an average rank of 33. This is followed by Facebook with an average rank of 25. Then come the expected industry leaders such as RetailMeNot, Dealspl.us (Deals Plus), recently IPO’d Coupons.com and Groupon, rounding out the top 10 again.
Most people probably wouldn’t find the Facebook or the YouTube results too shocking considering they have an average rank of second and third page.
However, when you look at the finer details, you’ll quickly find that most of the Facebook pages and YouTube videos ranking on the first page of search results are low-quality, spam-tastic results.
Digging Deeper Into The YouTube Results
To help you follow along (and to see some rather hysterical spam videos), here are the pivot table details for YouTube:
The video content is pretty laughable with videos like this one:
We actually had to update this post because the previously mentioned video has already been removed from YouTube (there’s still hope things will get better). The video listed above is yet another example of low-quality content (in this case video) still ranking very well for competitive search phrases. Hopefully, YouTube/Google will find this example shortly and pull it down, as well.
There are variations from other “publishers,” but you can get a good laugh out of those by looking up the URLs listed in the spreadsheet. I’d hate to give them anymore link juice or even directly-tracked traffic from here.
Facebook Finer Details
When we dig into Facebook, it gets even worse. Take a look at the detailed pivot table for the Facebook results:
This is ranked #1 for [expedia coupon code] — which, by the way, receives over 15,000 searches per month!
Don’t fret, there’s a [travelocity promo code] (18,000 searches per month) equivalent site that was ranked #5 when I did this research, but I have seen it creep as high as the #3 placement!
Though not as obnoxious as the example for Expedia, it is pretty pathetic that Google is letting the same company get away with several of these Facebook placements.
So, those are the worst-of-the-worst examples of top results for high-volume search phrases by repeat offenders. There are many more examples, but I don’t want to make your eyes bleed.
Now Let’s Go Back To The Start & Take A Look At SBWire
After some additional digging, I concluded that this is indeed a widespread issue. (I even found some examples of Bit.ly links and Google Drive HTML documents ranking! If you know how they managed to do that, let me know.)
I decided to look deeper into SBWire, specifically.
Once again, I started with the pivot table results (larger version available by clicking on the graphic):
I then did a pivot table of the results to determine the stats for just SBWire. The results are just depressing. They have 14 URLs that are averaging a first-page search result for 37 different queries totaling… wait for it… 2.1 Million monthly search impressions.
These pages contain content of the “highest quality,” as you can see…
The upcoming new items are listed in the website as new attractions and the upcoming proposals. One thing is needed to bother about is that kids are going to be stubborn in getting these attractive dolls immediately at once they see them. Do not show it all to them or in other case will have to shell out a lot of money out of pockets in purchasing whole heap of products but yet all attractive though. – Line 2, 475K monthly search impressions
For purchasing products in the clearance priced, sale or on orig products, many offers are applicable. On choosing fine jewelry and bijoux bar, an extra 10% is discounted on watches. Various kinds of seasonal products are also available at JCPenney stores. Summer brings patio furniture; Christmas brings decorations and special offers are launched during celebrations. Visitors always find plethora of things to shop from the store. Fortunately they get benefitted with quality products with discounted prices. The customers can enjoy the discounted JCPenney coupon codes from the official website of the store. Latest JCPenney promo codes are available time to time. – Line 6, 400K monthly search impressions
Be it for a grand occasion or just a casual evening-wear, people can browse through their excellent array and pick the one of your dreams, because it’s possible to find it. When done choosing, how would people like to pay just the fraction of what their dream dress is worth? Well, thanks to its various forever 21 coupons and forever 21 promo codes people can do just that, even getting people up-to 75% off on some products. This certainly would boost any one’s budget greatly along with their shopping sprite such that, Shopaholic cannot stop yourself from filling up their wardrobe and keep going for more. – Line 11, 175K monthly search impressions
That’s over one million monthly search impressions from pure spam — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Again, SBWire generates approximately 2.1 million monthly search impressions using this tactic. But remember, fellow SEOs: “just make quality content.”
Now let’s take a look at a couple of other examples…
Here’s Examiner.com with 7 URLs ranking, on average, in the top 10 for 20 queries with 1.2 million monthly searches. Including all URLs and all queries the monthly estimate search impressions is over 3 million.
Examiner.com ranks with “quality” content like…
Well, it is of course possible to get sufficient amount of discount on the website itself. As in, there are always some or the other kind of discounts on kids clothing, men’s apparel, jewelry or many more stuff available with the website, so technically it is possible to double coupon at Target. However, anything compulsive like that would not be recommended online shopping etiquette. It is best practiced to shop with these codes to get the added discounts and the promotional quirks of free gift cards and the like. Most consistent online shoppers will usually go this route to get the added bonuses that come using a direct coupon code link. It is suggested that shoppers check with the store’s online terms and agreements on the use of external coupon codes. Most often than not, if the code is not authorized the e-commerce set-up will boot any fakers out before you can checkout. – Line 7, 440K Monthly Search Impressions
Here’s printable-coupons.blogspot.com with 20 URLs showing up for 37 different search queries with a monthly search impression number of 1.2 million.
Their content is broken in half by a ginormous Google AdSense Ad; here’s a screenshot of what you’d see if you searched for [bath and body works coupons] and you clicked on their search result.
I could probably bring up more examples, but I think I’ve more than proven my point. Google seems to be completely ignoring the rampant spam in the online coupon space.
This is a large amount of traffic to be left alone. According to the 500 key phrases I used for this study, there are over 15 million monthly searches for coupon-related queries. Spam sites are getting a disproportionate share of this exposure and traffic.
Something needs to be done about this. I complained for years about the problems in the online music lyrics industry (which have gotten better lately). Perhaps with some help from my friends in the search industry, we can make the web a little bit less spammy.
If you feel it’s worthy, make some noise about this topic wherever you can or at least leave a comment and we can carry on the conversation.
Quick Shout Out Of Respect
There were over 100 examples of Patch.com articles ranking on some high volume search phrases when I did this research. I reached out to Simon Heseltine of AOL making him aware of the problem. He forwarded my email to Tara Tesimu of Patch.com and she responded, “No way was I going to let that happen! I sat and removed every single one while Netflix played old episodes of Revenge.”
Yes, that’s right, Patch.com removed over 100 spam links within a few hours of being notified. Now that’s being a good web citizen. Perhaps others like SBWire and Examiner can use Patch.com as the example to follow?!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.