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Archive for the 'SEO' Category

Using Wordpress? Check the text only version of Google’s cache for hidden spam links

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I’m up to my eyes programming another adwords API system at the moment so when I discovered that my Wordpress installation had been hacked, I wanted to strangle someone (ideally the person responsible) because I really didn’t have time for this.

Wordpress hidden spam links hack
The hack didn’t shutdown my blog but it might as well have because it made all my posts unfindable on the major search engines for any of their related keywords (and exact string searches). The hack I fell victim to involves some waste of space making secret changes to Wordpress source files and the Wordpress database enabling him to output a tonne of hidden links on all blog pages via a hidden Wordpress plugin. The links were complete keyword stuffed spam with anchor texts such as ‘viagra’, ‘xanax’ and ‘teeth whitening’ common among them so needless to say the search engines don’t like my blog pages anymore.

What makes this hack hard to detect is that fact that the links only get outputted when a major search engine visits a page from an ‘infected’ Wordpress installation so blog readers will likely not notice until a lot of damage is already done to your Google, MSN and Yahoo rankings. I myself only stumbled upon it earlier today when I seen all the links near the bottom of Googles’s text only cache of my last post about converting to PDF from within PHP so it was by pure chance. The links where present on the regular cache too, however they where contained in a hidden div so could not be seen by anything except the search engines… unless you viewed the page source.

Want to see an example? Well right now there a lots of cached examples on Google of what this hack did to my pages, but I’m hoping they will be gone soon so here’s a copy of the text only cache of http://www.akamarketing.com/blog/109-php-to-pdf-conversion-with-tcpdf.html from today (31st July 2008).

How can I tell if my Wordpress blog has been hit with this?
Easiest thing to do is to just visit Googles text only cache page for a couple of your blog posts (and perhaps your main blog page) and keep an eye out for about 50 spam links towards the end of the page. If you have caching by search engines disabled you can use something like Curl and ‘fake’ your user agent string to appear as if your Google (and then check the page source). I’ve done it already for you though with a iamgoogle.php script, visit http://www.akamarketing.com/iamgoogle.php?url=http://www.akamarketing.com/blog/&google=1 while replacing my URL ‘http://www.akamarketing.com/blog/‘ to the URL of one of your blog pages. When the parameter google is equal to 1 the user agent is ‘Googlebot’, when it’s anything else a regular ‘human’ user agent is used. If your checking your blog main page be sure to add the trailing slash after your blog folder as Wordpress implements a redirect from the non slashed URL version to the slashed URL version so you’ll just get a ‘Moved Permanently’ message without the trailing slash. The code of iamgoogle.php is available for those of us that are ‘into’ PHP.

If I’ve been hit with this hidden link hack how to I get rid of it?
After discovering this hack my first port of call was Google to try and search for some good information. I found three particularly good articles about what this hack is and how to get rid of it so I’ll just point you in the direction of a couple of existing posts if you don’t mind (it’s been a long day) rather than go through how to remove this in detail. The posts below all helped me:

Wordpress exploit giving backlinks, redirects and headaches but no visitors ;)

Wordpress exploit: we been hit by hidden spam link injection

Has Your WordPress Been Hacked Recently?

The above links will fill you in on the complete story but in essence fixing this hack for me involved doing a bit of fiddling with the Wordpress database, deleting some files with strange extensions and upgrading Wordpress from version 2.0.2 to 2.6. On that note I must say hats off to the Wordpress development team, it was pretty much the most pain free web application upgrade I’ve ever be done… (although I did backup everything twice just to be safe). If you already have the latest version of Wordpress I’d still recommend replacing your source code with ‘fresh’ code just in case it’s been edited (which is very likely for this hack).

How can I detect something like this in the future?
After I upgraded Wordpress I was pretty certain that my installation was now clean, however I asked myself how can I detect something like this more quickly (I have a hunch that this hack was ‘active’ since April) in the future if it happens again? I came to the conclusion that I needed some sort of file integrity checker similar to Tripwire to alert me when any of my www space files change. 

Tripwire and many other similiar systems are not usually available on shared hosts but they all essentially take a sha1 (or md5) hash of all watched files, store the hashes and then periodically compare the stored hashes against regenerated ones to check if any files have been edited so writing something custom specific to my needs wouldn’t be that hard to do.

OK that’s enough rambling for today, here’s hoping you have a had a better day than me.

Optimizing PDF files for the search engines

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Google and the others can handle them pretty well these days, but there are certain things you can do to make the lives of the search engines ever so slightly easier. The main things which pop into my mind at the moment include the below, which incidentally are not in any particular order of obviousness.

Use Keywords in the PDF filenames
Having keywords in your filename helps the search engines to better understand the contents of your PDF.

Don’t create PDF files from scans
If you scan a document and save it as a PDF. The document will be an image which search engines cannot understand. Create your PDF from textual content.

Use well structured keyword rich content
This is a given for information stored in any format. Use your main keywords a couple of times throughout the body of your content. Split the content into well defined paragraphs and headings. Give special attention to the first line or two of text on page one of your PDF.

Complete the ‘Document Properties’ information for all PDFs
When creating a PDF go to File > Properties to update it’s information. Updatable information includes title and description fields. It is widely believed that Google and perhaps many of the other search engines can read this information and may be using it for a) determining ranking and b) displaying listing snippets.

Link to your PDF with its Keywords and or Title
Don’t ever have ‘Click here’ as the actual link text pointing to a PDF. If your PDF is about gardening, business loans, soccer or whatever well then put them keywords into the anchor text.

There are a couple of good blog posts and articles which cover this topic in a fair bit of depth, if you have the time I recommend throwing the eye over the following pages:

Make your PDFs work well with Google (and other search engines) located @

Eleven Tips For Optimizing PDFs For Search Engines located @

How I do keyword research for SEO projects

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Today I’m going to offer a couple of paragraphs about how I do keyword research as part of any SEO work I do for clients. It’s very easy, it takes a fair bit of time but it is easy to do. I want to share it with you because I feel it will be useful for you and also I believe in 100% transparency and want my clients (and potential clients) to know that. Google too believes in 100% transparency as illustrated by the following paragraph taken from their What’s an SEO? Does Google recommend working with companies that offer to make my site Google-friendly?

Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do.

Ask for explanations if something is unclear. If an SEO creates deceptive or misleading content on your behalf, such as doorway pages or “throwaway” domains, your site could be removed entirely from Google’s index. Ultimately, you are responsible for the actions of any companies you hire, so it’s best to be sure you know exactly how they intend to “help” you.”

OK on to keyword research, a very fundamental part of any SEO campaign. I use a number of different online tool resources. I do not think its a good idea to rely on only one source of data as the simple fact of the matter is no one tool can ever provide you with 100% accurate data. That’s why I always tell my clients that the specific figures from these tools are not important, what is important however is the relativity of one keywords count with another keywords count so you can see in a general sense which one is more popular.

The three main sources of data I use are the Google Adwords keyword tool, the free keyword discovery tool and plain old Google itself. I’ll elaborate on these a little.

The Google Adwords keyword tool located at https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal, allows you to see the average search volume of your keywords (and keywords which the tool deems related to your keywords) for a specific or multiple regions/languages. You could for instance get an idea of how popular a certain word is in the UK or how popular another word is in the spanish language worldwide.

, allows you to see the average search volume of your keywords (and keywords which the tool deems related to your keywords) for a specific or multiple regions/languages. You could for instance get an idea of how popular a certain word is in the UK or how popular another word is in the spanish language worldwide.Google.ie listed under UK search engines.The keyword discovery tool is located at http://www.keyworddiscovery.com/search.html. This tool returns a figure representing the amount of times a certain keyword or keyphrase appears in the keyword discovery database. The KD guys claim to have a database of 36 billion web searches. Again the specific figures are likely to be inaccurate but it’s how they compare to each other that count not the figures themselves.

I’m thinking about signing up for a full blown account so I can program a tool in PHP or ASP.Net against their API to make my life easier (well the keyword research part of it anyhow :-)). I’ve found Wordtracker and the Yahoo/Overture keyword tool to be lacking a bit when compared to something like Keyword Discovery, so KD is ‘in’ at the moment. In fact my only beef with keyword discovery stems from the fact they scored straight F’s for geography, history (or whatever you want to call it) when they included Google.ie in the list of UK search engines which they apparently take data from.

On Google.com, I get the amount of competiting pages for a keyphrase to try to determine how difficult a keyphrase will be to optimize for. I don’t like many other tools and consultants simply type the phrase in and take that figure. This is wholly inaccurate because it returns all pages that just happen to have your keywords in them, they are not your real competition. I use a special allintitle:keyword1 keyword2 query which allows me to see how many pages are really about the same thing I want to optimize for.

I put all this data side by side in excel and then examine it. Clear patterns will emerge. Basically what I do be looking for is keywords which have a good amount of popularity but which are not super competitive. The next SEO consultant will most likely do things completely differently, it’s all really about what works for you. By the way and speaking about SEO consultants Dave Davis has released the latest version of his Google Global Firefox Extension which allows you to see what the Google search results that you are viewing look like from different geographical locations. This is very useful if you want to compare organic search results in different countries or if you want to see how your AdWords PPC campaigns appear in different regions.

SEO themes, what is your site really about?

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

These days I’ve been advising a lot of my clients to have their 3 or 4 core keywords present a couple of times not just on the page they are hoping to rank well for (most often the home page) but to also have occurances of them spread out over a couple of pages and thus in their site in general. What this does is allow Google to see a website as a whole with a central theme running through it.

Themes of course are nothing new to the search marketing industry, however many SEO consultants will still simply talk about page relevancy (sometimes referred to as keyword density) and not relevancy of a site as a whole. I believe themes are important to search engines like Google because ‘faking’ relevancy for a website is a lot harder and more involved than ‘faking’ it for a single page. I use the term ‘faking’ here to basically refer to optimisation of a sites content, which lets face it folks is unatural. This for Google all comes down to their desire to provide the best and most natural (and naturally deserving) search results.

A websites core topic or theme can also be established (or more correctly reinforced) by Google and the other search engines by examining component words of all incoming links to a site. Imagine for example akamarketing.com got 40 links distributed with 4 different anchor texts such as ’search engine marketing’, ’search marketing’, ’search engine optimisation’, ’search engine marketing Ireland’. Certain words appear constantly throughout all or most of these anchors and thus suggest that overall my site is about ’search’ and ‘marketing’ more so than it is about ‘optimisation’ or ‘Ireland’.

Taking themes into consideration when your conducting SEO for a website is not hard, personally I just like to use the ‘What Googlebot sees’ feature within the ‘Statistics’ section of Google webmaster tools located at http://www.google.com/webmasters/. The information here is from the horses mouth and as such is very accurate. Below is two screen samples for what Googlebot sees of akamarketing.com. The one on the left shows what words appear most often on the site, whereas the screen sample on the right shows the words which appear most often in external links to the site.

Most often appearing keywords Most often appearing words in external links to akamarketing.com

Most of my plans about what type of keywords I want akamarketing.com to rank well for revolve around SEO focused keywords and keyphrases as this is my area of expertise (alleged expertise :-)), so by looking at the above data to ‘zoom’ in on this core topic/theme I should (hypothetical of course as finding time these days is pretty much impossible) ideally be geting lots of backlinks with words like ’search’, ’seo’, ‘marketing’ etc. to sync with my sites top keywords (in terms of keyword density) and thus make my theme more ‘believable’.

Similarly if your site was to have certain words appearing often in its external links (on the right) but not in its overall content (on the left) then I would suggest adding more of these words on X amount of pages, assuming the words in your backlinks are indeed the words you are actively targetting (for the most part they should be). X can only be determined by yourself after looking at your own data and determining where your target words ‘rank’ (in terms of overall frequency of use) already.

While themes do not allow for direct optimisation of pages for specific words or phrases I certainly do think that Google (and many more search engines) use them to ‘confirm’ or ‘reinforce’ their ’suspicions’ about the topic of a page and thus they affect where it will rank for its target keywords which overlap the overall website theme. Imagine for instance two sites, siteA and siteB, which sell garden tools. siteA and siteB both have only 10 links into their home pages with the exact phrase ‘garden tools’ in the anchor text, the component words for external links will be the same. Now say that Google sees the most frequently occuring words of siteA as ‘grass’, ‘flowers’, ’soil’, ‘lawn’ and ‘garden’ in that order and the most frequently occuring words of siteB as ‘garden’, ‘lawn’, ‘tool’, ‘gardens’, ‘tools’ again in that order. All other things being equal (including keyword density of both home pages) I believe siteB will outrank siteA in Google for the phrase ‘garden tools’ and many related ones too as the underlying garden theme is more obvious in siteB. As usual your thoughts, questions and rants are always welcome.

Google not in the top 10 for the term "search engine"

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Typed in ’search engine’ into Google.com today instead of ’search engine optimisation’ by mistake and noticed that Google itself is not in the top 10 results. Google.co.uk currently comes in at 17th. The Google.com homepage has only one occurance of the word ’search’. It does not contain the word ‘engine’ nor does it have a meta description tag with either of these words present, infact it doesn’t have a meta description tag at all. Similarly Google.co.uk does not have the word ‘engine’ or a meta description tag, it does however have an extra occurance of the word ’search’.

Guess it shows that true to their word Google does not manually alter results, additionally it shows that people most likely link to Google with the word ‘Google’ as opposed to ’search engine’ or ‘Google search engine’. Dogpile seems to consistently come in near the top across the major engines.

Would you hire this company to do your online marketing?

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

One thing that annoys me and amuses me at the same time is when companies offering certain Internet services quite obviously haven’t got a clue about the service their offering and or haven’t got a clue how to sell themselves. As an example have you ever seen a company claiming to offer web design services whose own site looks absolutely awful? I have. I mean come on, how does a web design company expect to make credible claims about its design expertise if its own web site looks like something from 1994?

Tonight I came across a similar case where a company who offers search engine optimisation solutions from their website clearly haven’t got a clue about SEO, I can judge this from their HTML title tags as well as one or two other elements of their site. The company in question is Pixel (not to be confused with Pixel Design). Below is their 20+ word title:

Web Design Ireland - Pixel Website Design and Development offers professional web design services, logo design, e-commerce and content management systems. Dublin, New York, Kilkenny.

Those that know anything about search engine optimisation will tell you straight off that this title is far from optimised. Do they think ‘cracking’ the New York market is going to be that easy? Not only a bad title, but one that is present on every single page of their site. Having the same title on all pages is a fundamental optimisation mistake and thus any company that makes this mistake hasn’t got a clue what it’s doing as far as SEO is concerned. Hell would have to freeze over before I would hire this company for Internet marketing of any kind.

12 Lorcan Crescent, Santry, Dublin 9, Ireland +353 87 9807629