Jul 28, 2011 - Business, Random    No Comments

The Ballad of Johnny Guitar

For the past 60 months running, Amy Hempel‘s The Harvest has been the most-read piece on Pif Magazine.  Each and every month the story accounts for slightly more than 5% of all traffic to the site.

Hempel is a talented writer, to be sure.  But the traffic the magazine receives to this one short story is not due to her popularity.  It’s due primarily to the fact that her works are studied in several college writing and literature programs — and Pif is one of a small handful of sites that have published her writing online.

The story was first published online in 1998 but it’s only been in the past 5 years that it has garnered any significant traffic.   To the casual observer, the increase in traffic roughly mirrors the rise of the Facebook Generation.  As this generation — one accustomed to living their lives online — enters into academia, it only stands to reason that rather than pick up one of Hempel’s books at the library, they will search for her and her work online.

So when an equally aged movie review of Nicholas Ray’s 1954 western, Johnny Guitar, began seeing a significant increase in traffic, the editors at Pif thought, of course, that  something similar was happening.  Perhaps Ray’s work was being studied at one or more film schools and the students were simply doing their research online.

Unfortunately this was not the case.  Sure, anyone searching for Johnny Guitar on Google would see the review near the bottom of the first page.   But that ranking is lower than where it was  4 months ago.

With some investigation, it turns out the rise in traffic is due to the review being linked to on several “content farm” websites.   From sites that sell diet pills, to sites that sell prescription-free Viagra, a link is being included to the review in what appears to be an attempt to thwart Google’s recent changes to their search algorithm.

Put another way, Pif‘s content is being used to facilitate a scam — and there is absolutely nothing the magazine can do to prevent this.  What’s worse is the realization that all of these spam-bot link-backs are ultimately negatively affecting the actual article’s PageRank, given the recent changes introduced by Google.  Through no fault of their own, their content is seeing an increase in “traffic” while simultaneously seeing a decrease in “readers”.

All of this begs the question: How do you prevent a link-back in the first place?  Barring that, how do you prevent the link-back from negatively impacting your PageRank?