Spamdexing, coined from spam and index, is the practice of including information in a Web page that causes search engines to index it in some way that produces results that satisfy the spamdexer but usually dissatisify the search engine providers and users. When the extraneous information appears in a page's meta tags, it is called "overstuffing".

Some examples of spamdexing and overstuffing:

  • Including a key word dozens or even hundreds of times on a Web page so that a search engine will weigh the relevance of this page to the subject word more heavily than pages on other Web sites. The subject words are usually placed at the very end of the page out of the reader's way or can even be made invisible to the reader (but readable by the search indexing program).
  • Including one or more subject words that are totally unrelated to the subject of the Web site for the purpose of getting people to visit the site. In a typical example, the word "sex" might be listed as a key word (or spamdexed at the bottom of the page) on a site that really sells books on "highly effective sales techniques."
  • Punishing someone by including their name as a key word on a site with which they have no connection or even a contentious connection.
  • Trying to capture a competitor's traffic by listing their name or trademarks in the meta tags (this is often a violation of copyright law).

Spamdexing is not the same thing as properly using key words in the body text and in the meta tags to ensure that search engines will index it accurately. Unfortunately, most search engine queries result in hundreds of matches. Since few users are likely to go beyond the first 10 or 20 result items, a technique that persuades a search engine to put a site near the top of the list results in more visitors to that site.

Some search engines such as Lycos discourage spamdexing by putting any page with a unusual number of the same words at the bottom of the list. Designers are also becoming more sophisticated in their analysis of the content of text and its importance to the user. However, it's generally agreed that there will always be ways to "cheat" the search engines and their users.

Our own experience at whatis is that, when we search, spamdexing either doesn't work or isn't a big impediment to finding what we want. Studies we've read indicate that you don't have to engage in spamdexing to get results for your site. Search engines recommend that site creators:

  • Include the most important key word or words in the HTML title statement.
  • Use the HTML meta statement and the keyword operand to list all the key words you think someone would use (including probable misspellings) to find your Web page. Always include the plural and the possessive forms of nouns along with the singular.
  • Include the main key word or words at least once in the first paragraph of the body text.

Contributor(s): Mike Stasko
This was last updated in September 2005
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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