Spammers Hijack Web Site Listings In Google

The search engines are constantly bothered by spammers, i.e. webmasters who try to manipulate search engine results to gain more traffic. Earlier this year Pandia reported on one culprit who had actually copied large portions of the Pandia site and presented it as his own.

This is, of course, a problem in its own right, as he or she is stealing your copyrighted material.

From a search engine perspective there is another problem: Google hates duplicate web pages, as it interprets them as a attempt at spamming the search engine. Because of this it might ban one or two of the sites. Yes, your site may be banned because someone else has copied it!

Such cases are in clear violation of international copyright laws, and you may bring the copycat to court. However, spammers have now found a new way of stealing search engine listings. They are using the meta refresh tag.

The meta refresh tag is code you place at the very top of your webpage and that tells the web browser to load another page after a certain period of time.

Let's say the spammer puts the following tag on his page

<meta http-equiv="Refresh" content="0; url=">

The tag tells the browser to open the page within zero seconds, i.e. right away.

Google now interprets this to mean that has the content of, i.e. that the two pages are identical.

Now, this should not be a problem as long as Google recognizes that is the original site and is the copy. It could then ban the site for manipulating the search engine rankings.

However, as many webmasters have reported at the Webmaster World discussion forum, Google might instead ban the original site, as it believes the new site to be a replacement of the original. Hence searchers may still find your pages by using Google, but Google now list the domain as the owner of the page.

Why on earth would a spammer want to do this? After all, the searcher will still be able to read your page on your site.

One possible motivation could be to harm a competitor, in this case you. Your original listings will be dropped from Google.

Another possible reason may be to get the benefit from backlinks that should have been directed to your site. They may later replace the meta refresh to your site to a page of their own.

If Google actually believes that the spammer site is a replacement of the original site, the spammer site may also inherit the PageRank (a measure of web page popularity that influences the ranking) of the original site.

Some has also pointed out that there are linking programs out there that may use this strategy. Hence some webmasters may be hijacking pages without understanding what they are doing.

Google has not fixed the problem, and the webmasters taking part in the Webmaster World discussion have not been able to get any informative reply from Google.

This is worrying, as Google must have known about this problem for quite some time now. We expect Google to do something about this as soon as possible.