Over the past few weeks, AuctionBytes received several reports from eBay users who noticed something strange when searching Google. According to the users, when they clicked on certain links within Google search results pages, they were taken to an eBay search results page instead of the site listed.
We were curious about this phenomenon, particularly because these types of eBay pages don't normally show up on Google searches. After looking at many of the links, it was discovered that nearly half a million pages redirecting Google searchers to eBay all belonged to one eBay Affiliate participant.
As we followed the story, we learned from eBay that they had started a pilot program with approximately 20 of their most successful affiliates in an effort to get eBay listings a more prominent ranking on search engines.
We also learned that eBay was giving this particular Affiliate free access to its API program and allowing him to copy auction descriptions from eBay onto his own sites.
The Affiliate used the auction descriptions to populate his pages with relevant content and boost his Google rankings. The automated process he used harvested auction descriptions from eBay to fill his Web pages with terms and content to attract Google's spiders.
Then, using "doorway pages" and "cloaked URLs" - techniques not allowed by Google - he used this premium search-engine placement to redirect Google traffic to eBay search results pages using his affiliate links, making it a potentially lucrative operation.
The fact that eBay is attempting to drive traffic to its site could be viewed as a positive move. After all, some might say, eyeballs are eyeballs. But giving free API access (and free rein) to Affiliate spammers is a questionable move, and seems like a free license to abuse Google's policies.
Also disturbing to some is eBay's claim that it has the right to sublicense sellers' auction content, as outlined in section 6.3 of the eBay user agreement, and use it in controversial marketing efforts like this.
eBay has no motivation to curb the activities of spammers like this - especially if the results are bringing new bidders to their site. But as more affiliates copy this technique, it will begin to push other relevant - and competitive - sites to the back of search results pages. Searchers who hit links on Google results and end up being "search-jacked" to eBay may become frustrated.
Online marketplaces, malls - and possibly your own retail site - will likely feel the negative impact of corporate spamming as their results get bumped off the top spots on Google, even if more relevant than the spam sites.
Ultimately, the burden falls on Google to keep their search engine results relevant and free of spamming techniques like this, otherwise their search engine could simply become a billboard for affiliate programs.
Indeed, after AuctionBytes reported on this case of search engine spamming last week, Google started pulling the Affiliate's sites from its index. But eBay sellers are still uncovering pages that Google missed. In fact, in the process of writing this article, a reader sent me several more links that "search-jack" a user.
You can report this type of activity to Google by filling out a short Web form at: http://www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html
Read more about this controversial activity in last week's Newsflash articles: