Search + Seizure: The Effectiveness of Interventions on SEO Campaigns

David Y. Wang, Matthew Der, Mohammad Karami, Lawrence Saul, Damon McCoy, Stefan Savage, Geoffrey M. Voelker


Black hat search engine optimization (SEO), the practice of abusively manipulating search results, is an enticing method to acquire targeted user traffic. In turn, a range of interventions---from modifying search results to seizing domains---are used to combat this activity. In this paper, we examine the effectiveness of these interventions in the context of an understudied market niche, counterfeit luxury goods. Using eight months of empirical crawled data, we identify 52 distinct SEO campaigns, document how well they are able to place search results for sixteen luxury brands, how this capability impacts the dynamics of their order volumes and how well existing interventions undermine this business when employed.


Note: This paper appears in IMC'14, and we provide an updated paper here. This version of the paper includes some clarifications made after the IMC camera ready deadline. In particular, it further clarifies how we obtained domain names from seizure notices on sites discovered from poisoned search results, and that we do not expect this methodology to be comprehensive of all domains seized. Relative to the IMC camera ready version, the additional clarifications are in Section 5.3 and the caption of Table 3. We kindly ask readers to use this version.

October 28, 2014