My company, ProCPR.org, provides online CPR training and certification. We have been in business since 2003 and have grown over the years to offer toll free customer support, an accredited hands-on option for our customers, and a compliance department dedicated to working with employers, hospitals, and state agencies to seek approval for our program. We have been a paid advertiser with Google, Yahoo, and MSN/Bing since the early days of our business. Over the years, the competition has become fierce. This is understandable and anticipated. Something that is not anticipated or acceptable is when the search engines sit back and refuse to intervene when a competitor website employs black hat tactics to artificially boost their website rankings.
A few days ago, I was working with a colleague on search engine optimization and marketing when we discovered that one of our competitors was ranking on virtually every CPR related keyword, across every search engine, with a different domain name for each keyword. This immediately smelled like foul play to me, so I began investigating. Here is what I found.
The American Academy of CPR and First Aid, Inc., is employing mirroring techniques to artificially boost their rank by purchasing 40+ keyword-rich domains. They then cross link all these sites, dynamically replacing a few keywords, title, and meta description on the homepage to trick the search engine into treating the content as different, and host each domain on a unique IP address so it appears to be a different site. They stuff keywords for the corresponding domain at the bottom of the page within the paragraph to make that version of the site more relevant to the search keyword.
This tactic is getting great results for their network of domains. Here are some examples for each of the top three search engines.
Perform a Google search on “free online cpr” you will see them listed #2 as http://www.cprrecertification.net, #4 as http://www.freeonlinecpr.com, #19 as http://www.cprrenewal.org, #23 as http://www.healthcareprovidercpr.org, and #24 as http://www.cprcertificate.org. Now search for “cpr recertification” and you will see them listed #1 as http://www.cprrecertification.net and #9 as http://www.freeonlinecpr.com. For a more extreme example of all the variations this site has been indexed under within Google, Search for “online cpr $14.99” and you will see that every search engine result belongs to the same website.
The Yahoo example is the most extreme and disturbing. Simply search for “online cpr recertification” and you will see that the first page of results contains organic search results for this company in 6 of the top 10 listings. Their website occupies positions 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, and 9 for this search term.
If you perform a Bing search on “free online cpr” you will see them listed #2 as http://www.freeonlinecpr.com. Now search for “cpr recertification” and you will see them listed #2 as http://www.cprrecertification.net. Now search “adult cpr” and you will see them listed #4 as http://www.adultcpr.org. Now search for “first aid certification” and you will see them listed #1 as http://www.firstaidcertification.org.
So, what kind of response did I receive from the top three search engines when I reported this alarming abuse? Allow me to share.
Google is still investigating the issue, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt.
Yahoo wrote a very nice response back to me, but the problem persists in their search results.
Thank you for writing to Yahoo! Search.
Thank you for submitting this abuse report. We have investigated the
report and taken the appropriate action.
Please understand that Yahoo! is unable to disclose specific actions
taken with a third party. We are not able to make exceptions to this
Thank you again for taking the time to bring this issue to our
Thank you again for contacting Yahoo! Search.
Yahoo! Customer Care
Bing’s response was probably the most upsetting. I will share what I originally got back from them by submitting the web form on Bing.com to report abuse. I later wrote this blog article and then messaged @bing on Twitter. This resulted in the Bing team taking my report seriously and escalating it internally to work on getting the problem fixed. So, this just shows that Twitter is your best bet to reach the best people at a given company.
Thank you for writing to Bing Technical Support. My name is Julius and I am writing in response to your report against Academy of CPR and FirstAid, Inc. for using spam techniques to their favor. I know how important it is to resolve your issue.
Scott, I will now be escalating your email to our product specialists for further investigation. They will directly take action on your request and will be contacting you with an update soon. Thank you for providing all the details required.
We appreciate your continued support as we strive to provide you with the highest quality service available. Thank you for using Bing.
Bing Technical Support
Thank you for contacting Bing technical support.
We do not automatically remove documents from our database because they offend someone. The database is a reflection of the content of the Internet and is built from billions of documents on millions of web sites around the world. Some of those documents will be personally, politically, or morally objectionable to some people, but others may find those same documents interesting and useful. We want the search database to represent the content of the web in as accurate and usable a form as possible.
Bing.com does not control the content of these websites, nor does bing.com have any ability to remove the allegedly improper material from these sites.
Furthermore, we will suppress pages from the search result if it contains illegal contents, presence of court-orders or similar legal proceedings, or direct request from the site owners.
Accordingly, your complaints should be directed to the owners of these websites or web hosts who may have the ability to remove the allegedly improper content.
Thank you and have a great day.
Microsoft Global Escalations
Dear Carlo and Julius,
Julius read my email and understands that I am not asking you to change the content on this website, nor am I stating that the content offends me. Carlo, it appears that you did not read my original email. I implore you to please read my email rather than sending me a cookie-cutter response.
This website is using mirroring hacks to trick the Bing search engine database into improperly indexing their website, giving them an unfair advantage against everyone else in your database. They are in violation of your terms of service which state that a prohibited use is a website that “attempts to manipulate the services, including ranking and reputation systems in the services, by violating any of the provisions of this Code of Conduct, colluding with others on voting or using multiple profiles.”
They have 40+ keyword-filled domain names that all point to the same website with minor modifications to keywords on the page in order to artificially improve the site’s SEO. All their mirror domains cross-link among each other in order to artificially improve the page rank of each site. Additionally, the company has purchased a separate IP address for each of these mirror sites so they will appear to Bing as a unique website. This is not allowable and degrades the usability of your search engine.
By ignoring my complaint, you are insinuating that this behavior is acceptable and encouraging me to employ the same black-hat SEO tactics. Please respond ASAP to let me know what action you are pursuing against this company.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
This is Steve from the Microsoft Global Escalations Team
We are not ignoring your complaint. We have checked the sites and understand that each URL renders to a very similar website. Please understand that Microsoft does not remove sites/domains from the Bing search results page under this type of alleged allegation. Microsoft is not in a position to determine whether content posted on a website is truthful or accurate. We would encourage you to seek resolution of this matter directly with site/domain owners.
I’m afraid that there is no action that we can do for this issue.
Microsoft Global Escalations Team
So, what am I to take away from this experience? Yahoo does not care about search quality and continues to foster a culture of ignoring its customers. I have seen this over and over with my search advertising account at Yahoo as I am assigned an account manager, that account manager is transfered to a new department, and I am left on my own again.
Domain Names and IP Addresses owned by American Academy of CPR and First Aid: