Google Spots Poynter Online is a Spam Website

When a reorganization of its online presence caused the prestigious Poynter Institute to drop the ball and lose one of its domain names an enterprising Ukrainian spammer by the name of Evgeniy Varlashov seized the opportunity to make a fast buck.

The domain name PoynterOnline.org is one of nearly 300 he has registered and it is a thinly disguised spam website that features bogus product reviews, offers get-rich quick schemes and serves Google Ads. With a pagerank (PR) of 6 in the About Us page it tries to project the impression that there is a connection with the Poynter Institute by mentioning awards received for printed editions and embedding a TED Talk of the Institute on the future of journalism.

How the whole sorry mess came to pass is detailed by the iMediaEthics.or website in what simply has to be a cautionary tale for any organisation.

What is of note at the moment however is not that the site continues to operate unchallenged but the way its presence is treated in search.

Go to Bing.com and type “Poynter Online” in the search box (without the inverted commas) and this is what you get:



Bing search results serve spam Poynter website
Notice how on page one of Bing’s search in place #4 the poynteronline.org website comes up despite the fact that it is a spam site that has been operating like this for some time now.

Now go to Google.com and carry out the exact same search. This is what you get:



Google Poynter Online Search Results Page

The first page of Google, in response to the search query delivers links that are Poynter Institute related. Notable by its absence from all this is the PoynterOnline.org website.  

Both search engines have very similar programming. The difference in the results tells a unique story of its own: Since the launch of Hummingbird Google has not just focused on better understanding natural speech in its search box and delivering better results, it has also been looking at verifying the quality of the content in its index.

You could argue that all the Panda and Penguin updates were designed to do just that but Google has been going further looking to sift the content in its index through the Volume, Velocity, Variety and Veracity vectors that are at the heart of semantic search.

Despite a fairly convincing façade that presses most of the traditional SEO buttons:

  • Keywords, exact domain match in the URL
  • Articles intended to maintain the illusion
  • Outbound links to Poynter Institute mentions
  • A sizeable number of inbound links to the domain
  • A high pagerank (PR)
  • A header para on the homepage that reads like this is the real Poynter Institute website
  • An About page designed to further maintain the illusion 

Google is not convinced. The PoynterOnline.org website fails on the strength of its social signal, social resharing and engagement with its content. It’s no surprise that all of these are elements that come in play in semantic search as part of the strategy necessary to now get your content seen and your website found.

Is Google’s spam-detection filter better than Bing’s? To draw inference from just one result is hardly scientific but given the very public nature of the website’s former owner, its high PR and the clever way it has been disguised to look like the real thing with giveaways that only a human could detect easily, we’d have to say that yes, it most probably is.

Perhaps Google has had more practice given how hard SEOs have tried to game the search engine in the past but it almost certainly has also got more relevant data in its index and the PoynterOnline.or website fails to pass muster.


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