Why stuff your website with search-optimized keywords when you can buy fake social media buzz instead?
A site called Plusem.com (hat tip to The Atlantic) is riding the wave of interest in Google+ and selling bundles of +1s — Google’s answer to Facebook’s “Like” button — to attention-starved websites. The site has no qualms about the seediness of its operation, either. “To cheat the searching algorithm be sure to get the ball rolling for your site by purchasing Plus Ones,” the site’s product page reads.
A bundle of 50 +1s costs $10. Bundles of 250 and 2,000 are also available for $30 and $170, respectively. Each +1 apparently comes from a real person with a Google account verified by phone, and is given by manually visiting the buyer’s Website and clicking the +1 button. All+1s trace back to different IP addresses, and are distributed over a number of days to make them look more natural. The service is provided by a company called SEOShop.biz, which not surprisingly sells Facebook fans and bogus product reviews as well.
Social networking is supposed to be a natural defense against search engine trickery. While computers might be fooled into recommending a jumble of keyword spam that was written primarily to appease algorithms, humans are inclined to recommend good websites. A lot of likes — or in this case, +1s — amount to a seal of approval, so it’s no surprise that Google and Bing are both looking to blend social networking recommendations into their search results. It’s also no surprise that search engine optimization firms are looking to exploit this trend.
But the funny thing about this particular effort is that Google +1s don’t have much of an effect on search results — at least not yet. You only see a +1 when someone in your contact list makes a recommendation, so generic +1s from an SEO firm will be invisible to most users. And despite any similarities in name, clicking +1 on a website has no effect on the timelines of Google+ users. Google has said that it might show aggregate +1 information in search results down the line, but the company hasn’t said that a large number of +1s from unknown sources will improve search rankings.
In other words, this bit of SEO trickery is a waste of money for now, and I shed no tears for any prospective cheaters who get tricked.