Sky News is reporting today on their discovery that payday loan firms are hacking other sites domain history and Pagerank to get more Page 1 rankings for high value terms. Websites such as a graduate funding program have had their sites paydayloanshacked, content added that is relevant to payday loan search terms, and then the graduate funding sites “search engine history” redirected and forwarded on to an illegitimate payday loans site. The eventual end result is that the graduate funding website started to appear on Page 1 of the Google search engine results for the term “payday loans.”

This is obviously a blatant hack by the payday loans company or their SEO contractors, and definitely falls under the umbrella of black hat tactics. In addition, the long term ramifications to the hacked sites could be severe. Not only to they need to go through the time-consuming and costly exercise of restoring a clean site (this can sometimes mean rewriting the entire code for the site depending on the hack), they also may have a fall in the organic rankings of their legitimate site, based on the linkbombing on the part of the hackers. Once Google picks up on a high volume of junk links built in a short period, there is a good chance the sites webmasters will be cleaning up links for a long time to come in an effort to retain their current rankings. On businesses that rely on leads generated by their organic rankings, this can have serious financial implications.

One of the lenders interviewed by Sky points the finger squarely at Google, implying that Google is doing nothing to try and curb the problem as it is forcing lenders to use Google Adwords to get better rankings, and the increased competition is causing the cost of keywords to increase. This is all in Google’s benefit as the higher the cost of the keyword, the more money Google makes.

I however have a problem with that theory. Google only remains the dominant search engine because people trust their results. Any spamming or threat to the relevancy of Google’s Page 1 results threatens that trust the Google has with its users. Every single algorithm update makes it more and more difficult to get spam ranked (Penguin and Panda, anyone?) , and focuses on improving user-experience to get better search engine results.

In my opinion, in industries that are heavily regulated such as lending and micro-lending, the authority that oversees the industry should be carefully monitoring the ranking results for key search terms, both the organic and paid listings. It does not and should not fall on Google’s shoulders to police the industry (or the Internet). It is also important that consumers be held responsible for their actions. If you are intelligent enough to need a loan and search for a company on the Internet, the responsibility is on you to check out the lending company whose site you just clicked through to.

loansI did a quick search for the term “fast loan” on Google.co.za and came across this results, which is obviously not relevant. What do you do when you notice these types of results? If you are a good web citizen, you should be reporting results such as these as web spam. You can you to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreportform?hl=en and report the result to Google. If you use Chrome as a browser, you can use one click reporting for webspam.

To keep your own site safe, make sure that someone is monitoring Google Webmaster Tools, so that if there are any problems with your site due to a back door hack, you get notified. Services such as Securi.net are also worth the price, as it reduces the chance of a hack in the first place, and can help with recovering your site post-hack. Most importantly, use a good hosting service (the best you can afford) – hosting is not one place to save money just for the sake of it.

Importantly, this also shows how much some companies value those first page results on Google, and how far they will go to achieve them.