Bait and switch a legitimate traffic building tool?

Lyndon wrote a good post today talking about bait and switch or as he called it “switchbait“. I’m glad he did, cos I was in one of those ‘shit, what shall I blab about today’ moods.
The method is as old as the hills. Build a domain, get the visitors, move them on to somewhere else. At least thats a quick and dirty interpretation.

Some of you seasoned SERP watchers might recall the days when highly tuned cloaked content found its way into search engine indices. Titles were carefully crafted to grab the users attention and get them to click on through. When the user clicked the result, the domain then redirected them on to some affiliate site that paid the redirecting site a referall fee. It still happens, but its not as endemic.

The search engines hated that of course. They weren’t interested in the line of thought that said “where’s the harm, everybody wins” as ultimately they wanted to control or at least give the allusion that they did, the make up of their results pages. To allow cloaked content to stay within their indices unchallenged would give credence to the view that they were easy to game and simple to manipulate. No fortune 500 company really wants to give out those kinds of signals as if such a view gained momentum it might snowball and overspill onto other core products. Weakened confidence in the technology, doesn’t take too long to equate to reduced uptake and use. The house of cards could quickly implode, seriously affecting revenue models and streams.

The engines today seemed to have gotten a grip on traditional sneaky redirects. I haven’t seen a meta refreshed, or unescaped obfuscated javascript redirect for quite some time. Ive seen the odd 301 or 302 redirect, but with these its more dificult to ascertain intent.

The javascript redirect using window.location.href can redirect a javascript enabled browser to new content. Search engines don’t really like this method as historically they didn’t read javascript too well, especially when it was disguised as var1=lo var2 = ca var3 = ti etc etc. The bot would see the keywords and markup and score the page as it would most others, but the search engine user would never see it. The page author preferring them to see some money paying page instead.

Its a similar scenario for the meta refresh too, albeit slightly different in that a meta refresh actually equated to a 302 server header, or temporary redirect. Temporary redirects are used in all manner of ways to say that the content that was once here has now gone and has moved elsewhere, but may be back at some point. Not everyone has always had access to server side redirects a la header (“Location: fullyquailifiedurl”); so the meta refresh tag was a handy method for achieving the same, which was, moving the user on to somewhere else.

301’s and 302’s are in tech circles, a recognised way of redirecting users and their agents on to new locations (urls) Domains change hands, content is altered, urls change too. There needed to be a legitimate way of letting people know, without just plonking the old page before them and embedding a big fat THIS CONTENT HAS MOVED TO message.

The knowledge of how search engines interpret such things can be used in all manner of ways. At best it can be used to legitimately move a user on as described previously. At worst it can be used to trick or deceive; in the worst extremes it’s the user who is deceived, referred onto something heinous or unrelated – and at best the search engine, deceived into believing that spidered content was what would be showed to its users.

How far away is Lyndons example from what is described prior? Lyndon proposes to build a domain, create leverage and authority and then subsquently apply it to a 3rd party.Is this any differrent from showing the various stakeholders say Technorate, Digg, Y! or Google one thing only to subsequently move the goalposts and move it all on?

To my mind, no not really. Unless Lyndon had told us his intent we’d never have known. Domains are bought and sold and change hands everyday. Its called business. What if Lyndon had done exactly as described, yet told no one, or simply redirected/moved the blog/domain to a directory on his clients/affilaite sites. Perfectly legitimate of course, yet to announce the intent to do this for manipulation purposes suddenly puts it all in a different light.

The bottom line is that its quite one thing to create stuff for the technology and traffic providers and use it to your better advantage, but do so in a way where they can decide or determine that your intent was one of use and abuse and you might well find your efforts were wasted. Do it a way that is elegant and sophisticated as described by Lyndon and no doubt used and applied daily by 100’s of other savvy marketers, and you’ll be on to lots of sure fire winners.

Rob Watts
Kickstart your business today - Get an SEO Consultation or just talk to Rob about your online aspirations. With over 20 years experience in building traffic he's pretty much encountered most markets and scenarios
Posted on: 28th February 2007, by :

5 thoughts on “Bait and switch a legitimate traffic building tool?

  1. Bait and switch is a classic SEO tactic which is technically black hat if done on purpose, but you can argue about it being ethical or not. IMO is it okay, as long as the user is not deceived and purposely confused.

    If the user looks for corn and you provide something about corn fine, if he looks for p0rn and you provide him that, fine too, but if he looks for corn and you provide p0rn, then its unethical πŸ™‚

  2. Hi Carsten, thanks for stopping by.

    I hear you on the user front, but as we know the search engines like to let it be known that they too have a say in things like this.Hence their public pronouncements on cloaking and all that comes with it.

    There is a certain irony in it being perfectly ok to do what has been described, provided that the original intent was unknown. The moment you say Im-gonna-do-this-to-game-the-system you leave yourself open to all sorts.

    Keeping Shtoomwould be the order of the day! πŸ˜€

  3. Cheers!

    Search Engines do cloaking themselves so do sites like Washington Journal, The New York Times, SQL Magazine and tons of other paid content sites.

    Search Engines like to scare webmasters like little kids:

    “If you don’t clean your shoes, Nicolaus will not bring any chocolate and candy”.

    I don’t know if you know that holiday. It’s December 6th and you are supposed to clean your shoes the night before and put them outside your room to find it filled with candy and chocolate the next morning on Nicolaus Day.

    Well, what is clean? And who’s shoes need to be filled? πŸ˜‰
    Similar questions have similar answers hehe. I learned that one as a kid already πŸ˜‰

  4. Oh indeed absolutely! They do that, and they succeed too. Thing is they also have a lot of people running round telling tales to them too!

    I was always weary of that 8ft bully in the school playground , I was smart enough not to call him a big fat oaf to his face…there were far better ways of getting back at him. πŸ˜‰

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