An old blackhat SEO strategy is rearing its head in Google search results.

According to Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand, hackers may be using a “bait and switch” tactic to try and improve rankings. Hackers gain access to well-ranked websites and publish pages there that have nothing to do with the site’s original topic. It appears this problem has emerged in the last month or so.

Hackers do this as an attempt to “leverage the authority” of the hacked website — by publishing content under the name of a better ranking website, hackers hope this content will do better than by publishing it on a new site. Not only are these websites being hacked, but these website owners may have no idea that hackers have done so. This is because hackers have injected links into the site’s homepage that only Google sees. Sullivan explains how the hackers benefit from such a practice when humans click on the site links:

“Only Google sees that actual content. Human visitors, when they click, get redirected via JavaScript from the hacked site to another site. The hackers may earn money off affiliate fees for the click. Alternatively, they might gain from ads on the pages they redirect to.

So far, hackers seem to have affected a site about Bitcoin and a Polish bank, Sullivan says. These sites aren’t about gaming, yet may now appear to offer game downloads. Sullivan writes that hackers have taken over these sites and have injected them with hundreds of pages about gaming downloads. As a blackhat double whammy, the injected pages appear to be the product of content taken from other sites.

What’s interesting about this tactic is that it’s not a new one, according to Sullivan. The “bait and switch” approach that hackers are now using is the same approach used years ago before Google found ways to aggressively crack down on blackhat SEO tactics. When Google created new algorithms to stop blackhat SEO providers from taking advantage of search engine loopholes, this tactic quickly went out of style. And yet, as Sullivan notes, something has changed recently that is allowing this strategy to resurface.

Will The “Bait and Switch” Technique Affect Attorney Websites?

While hackers appear to have affected a limited number of websites and seem to be focused on gaming, Sullivan writes that hackers also seem to be targeting other websites. It appears they’ve lifted content from the children’s website Nick.com and from brands like Dick’s Sporting Goods, he says.

It’s unlikely that this hacking strategy will benefit those practicing it for long. Google’s primary goal is to provide the most relevant search results for search engine users, and that means the company has its eye on individuals trying to cheat the system to get better rankings in search engine results. Since its inception, Google has been finding ways to give search engine users an optimal experience that meets their needs. This resulted in the creation of various algorithms like Panda and Penguin, among others, to hunt down spammy websites. Google’s methods were enough to put this strategy out of practice previously, but Google will likely make algorithm adjustments to prevent this tactic from becoming a truly efficient one.

While such a tactic may not directly affect law firm websites at this time, the small resurgence of a blackhat strategy like this one shouldn’t have attorneys worried that they’ll need to change their SEO strategy. 2015 has been a productive year for Google in terms of giving search engine users what they want — from mobile quality guideline additions to handling complex and obscure queries with RankBrain. With the impending release of a real-time Penguin update in 2016, Google will continue to work hard to give search engine users what they’re looking for. Attorneys that stay the course with Google’s quality guidelines — and avoid quick-fix methods and unfair search strategies — will likely see their efforts pay off in better search results and more traffic.

We’ll continue to report on this and other SEO news as information becomes available to us and we determine how it will affect law firm websites in both the long and short term.

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