eTraffic researchers uncover gambling SEO scheme

According to eTraffic’s findings, 76 different university and foundation web pages were linked to the site.

Researchers at eTraffic discovered a scheme to send a certain site rocketing up the organic search rankings.

US.-  Last week, researchers at eTraffic uncovered a scheme that sent a certain site rocketing up the organic search rankings. eTraffic found out 76 different university and foundation web pages, including Stanford, New York University and Carnegie Mellon University, had suddenly being linked to the site, each randomly inserting linked keywords into otherwise unrelated text.

Since Google’s search ranking is still largely based on keyword links from trusted sites, which is enough to propel the site to the top of the search ranking. The 76 sites included the links, primarily university sites throughout the world. The links are often embedded mid-sentence in course descriptions and press releases and five days after eTraffic published its findings, many of the links are still present on the affected sites.

It is still not clear how those links arrived on the site, but it seems very unlikely that the host institutions put them there. Hacking seems likely, particularly given the number of known vulnerabilities in popular blogging plugins likely to have been used on the site.

eTraffic declined to identify the offending site, however it has transpired that it is an affiliate site for slot machine websites, essentially a clearinghouse for paid links to online gambling businesses. Online gambling is one of the few areas where search traffic is lucrative enough to make such a hack worthwhile.

“Online real money slots,” ad revenue can be as high as US$80 per click. “There is so much money involved in the online gambling industry, people will always take the next step to bypass Google,” said Guy Revey, eTraffic CEO, who uncovered the scheme.

At US$80 a click, driving traffic to gambling sites is far more lucrative than spreading malware, especially since the university sites have high SEO prestige but relatively low traffic.