Sunday, June 29, 2008

Scraping the Bottom for SEO

Chances are, if you are a regular at Twitter, you are aware of the mystery of the strange followers with "tweets" that don't make any sense. You know the ones: Maggie668 (not a real account) starts to follow you. You click over to see who she is, and find a picture of a girl, probably a party girl. She's cute. What does she have to say? Her tweets don't make much sense, they are in four languages! The ones in English are barely coherent. What's going on here? Is she drunk? This account is most likely a bot "scraping" tweets off the public timeline, and attributing them to user in question. How many people is she following? How many follow her? And Why would anyone do this? Bottom line? Money. Isn't it always?

First a quick crash course. What is the most popular Internet buzzword right now? SEO or Search Engine Optimization. There is a ton of money to be had out there for people who are good at it. Companies will pay to to raise their page rank in the search engines. The higher the rank, the earlier you appear in the Google results. It isn't enough to google esoteric terms. You want to be associated with keywords that define you, your brand and bring visitors to your blog or business website. It is all about who drives the traffic. This is where Twitter comes in.

Say "Joe" comes in and starts an account at Twitter. He gets a couple of followers, but really doesn't follow many people. In his account, he has a link to his website. Meanwhile, new accounts start popping up all over, usually female, with names like Brittany, Maggie, Karen. The accounts have no links to any outside sites, so it is impossible to check out who they are. They post content but that content is really from the public timestream in order to appear to be tweeting. At first glance, everything seems fine. They follow a ton of people, a percentage follows back. Here's where it gets confusing. Stay with me, now... Once they have a great many followers, they all follow "Joe". Joe's website, an online gambling site,or a monetization site, jumps exponentially in its SEO. Every follower of "Joe"and friends of followers of Joe now gets to display Joe's link. It's right there in the picture bar. This is potentially thousands of indexed links for search engines. Now, the originator of Joe's account goes back to prospective clients and says, "Hey, I can raise your rank", and points to Joe's website. Little companies trying to break through believe it and pay money to increase their SEO. With the scraper bot, the originator of Joe's account wins clients. This is really just another form of spamming.

Why does it matter?

1. They are stealing your data. The things you say to your friends are harvested into someone else's account and passed off as their words. If you are a frequent user of Twitter, this affects you. Don't believe me? Go to summize. Enter your Twitter name, or even some keywords for things you have tweeted. What do you find?

2. They are using Twitter bandwidth in order to scrape your info. You know our friend the Fail Whale? We see him more frequently due to the heavy use of scraper accounts. That hurts us all.

3. It's just bad Netiquette. yes I hate that word, too. But it is much easier to type than "Internet Etiquette.Which I typed anyway...well, now I am too lazy to go back and kill "netiquette." Just like you don't use someone else's bandwidth to host pictures unless they allow it, what the scrapers are doing is effectively stealing.

So What Can You Do?

1. BLOCK scraper accounts. Keep up with new followers, block suspicious accounts. If enough people block the user, it alerts Twitter, and they investigate the account.

2. Don't blindly follow. Check to see who you are following, and why they are following you.

3. Contact Twitter and ask they to address the issue of scraping. I know Twitter has enough in the water right now, that Whale barely floats. But if they are going to grow, they need to figure out how to deal with these issues. Twitter at its best is a Community. As a member of the community, you and I have a responsibility to better it and work towards improving it.. Nothing Orwellian here, simply a little Good Neighbor practice.

By blocking these followers, we all benefit. Less scrapers mean less down time for Twitter. Their servers are less taxed. Now, I know, if you are like me, the ego boost of watching that number go up on the righthand side of your page is something you like. I love getting new followers. But if the followers in question aren't real human, but bots who care nothing for your wit? Why bother? It says nothing about me or my ability to entertain. The bots will follow anyone. My numbers dipped a bit when I blocked the bots, but now the people following me are, well, people who might actually want to hear what I have to say.

In the end, those who game the system will always game the system. But at least we send a message tweet? that we are on to their game and that it won't happen on our watch.

T, who is glad that is settled

*many thanks to GeekMommy for helping me figure this out

11 sent chocolate:

Dani in NC said...

Great post. I've always blocked those who follow thousands of people because I want my followers to actually READ what I've written. Now you've given me another good reason to block them.

Marcy - The Glamorous Life! said...

This whole thing has been bothering me from the beginning. I have about 10 people who follow me that are 'suspicious'....I read your whole post and I am still a little unclear on how they profit from all this- but I am still running over to twitter to block people. I want to be popular- but this is just creepy. THANKS for writing this post!

mommastantrum said...

I started blocking all of the followers that I don't hear from or that just follow an absurd number of people. Why follow random people and not converse with them? I mean that is just as creepy as being a stalker or peeping tom! Thanks for explaining it all in black and white.

buffi said...

Aahhh! Thank you! I had a feeling it was something like that, but I'm not tenacious enough to figure it out. Now, if twitter wouldn't make it such a pain to go thru followers & block people!

cajunvegan said...

Thank you. Someone who follows me on a social networking site stole a whole post of mine yesterday. I am thinking about taking my blog down because of it.

We bloggers need to stick together.

Yvonne said...

Thank you for going to all that trouble to write this post, it was clear and easy to understand. I've now gone through my followers and weeded out the dodgy ones. When I contact Twitter I'll ask them to make the blocking process a little easier.

TLC said...

dani: glad you are blocking, I think it makes a difference.

marci: each time a link shows up in their profile, the person's followers and the friends of followers also show that link. So one website link, multiplied by thousands of followers equals thousands of "shows" for that website. Frequency equals page rank. Page Rank= $$

mommastantrum: I am glad I was able to explain it well. You are right, people following with no interaction is creepy.

buffi: yes, twitter needs to work on the way block works. It is a PITB.

cajunvegan: it would be a shame if you let one idiot stop you from doing what you seem to love. Stick with it!

Yvonne: I am glad the post was a help.

Thank you all for commenting!

T.

Tammy said...

Chris Brogan linked here from Twitter, thank goodness. I've been getting a ton of these folks and, while I didn't follow them back, wasn't sure how to handle it. Thanks for your information and good, simple advice!

lauralovesart said...

that was a great post sis...i had NO idea about all of this...i will start paying a lot more attention when someone follows me!

~Laura/aka lauralovesart

mousewords said...

Holy cats, the light dawns. Thank you!

Beckie said...

THANK YOU!!! It's been bugging the HECK out of me trying to figure out what the heck was up with those things ;)

Off to do some blocking!

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