Tonight is the Super Bowl, a sporting event enjoyed by many. As Google search traffic goes, it’s also a fucking goldmine—which explains why a LinkedIn blogger wrote over 150 junk articles on how to stream it.
Attempts to game search engine optimization around events was epitomized by The Huffington Post’s infamously trolly piece What Time Does the Superbowl Start back in 2011. Since then, SEO has gotten harder to manipulate, and publishers have come to rely more on social traffic from Facebook and other platforms instead. But MHS Hasan—a friendless and photo-less Bangladeshi LinkedIn user who appears to have found an exploit in the professional network’s blogging system—has shown the art of SEO trolling is not dead, just infinitely harder.
The blog post Hasan managed to boost into Google’s Top Stories module for at least seven minutes is mangled gibberish, a string of relevant terms separated by alternating commas and periods. For example:
It’s a keyword bomb of sorts—a pretty old-fashioned means of inflating a page’s ranking where an unscrupulous site owner will cram their page with popular keywords and metadata tags. It even makes use of the same trick HuffPo used six years ago, spelling Super Bowl as “superbowl” the way a potentially sloshed sports fan might.
Organically keyword bombs are rare these days, but Hasan’s post seems to leverage LinkedIn’s lofty place in Google search rankings as a legitimate and well-trafficked site to sneak past whatever security measure the company employs. We can only guess why this post in particular was elevated to Top Stories status, since it’s hardly the first time Hasan has attempted this.
Digging a little further into Hasan’s otherwise empty profile reveals him to be the author of 197 other blog posts, similarly garbled and aimed at gaming search traffic. In the past two days he’s dashed off 156 different blogs with titles like [FREE*TV] Super Bowl 2017 Live Stream and 9k.Quality NBC Super Bowl 2017 Live Stream Online. That’s commitment.
In earlier internet days, this sort of SEO bait-and-switch was useful for driving traffic to a page littered with advertisements. A naive or unsuspecting user would click, and their annoyance translated into a few more pennies in your bank account. But there aren’t any ads or links on |NBC^51| SuperBowl LI+2017 Live Stream Free, [Patriots vs Falcons] Online. It’s unclear what MHS Hasan got out of all this work, or if his seven minutes of Google fame were worth it.
We reached out to Google and we’re trying to reach MHS Hasan, but ideally they’re passed out in a beer-and-chili coma.
Update 2/5/17 8:36pm EST: Shortly after Hasan’s post was kicked out of Top Stories, the same search term “stream superbowl” started pulling up another spammy LinkedIn blog, this time from someone calling themselves Lemon Kawsar, also from Bangalesh. Lemon has authored 1,449 posts, and it looks like they’re in a similar vein to Hasan’s.
Is this going to keep happening all night? Why is it happening at all? Someone make me nachos please.
Update 2/5/17 8:47pm EST: One spammer goes and another comes to take their place. Same as last time too! A Bangladeshi profile with very little activity and a massive amount of useless, keyword-heavy articles. Honestly this exploit is pretty smart, and it’s astonishing to see it work for a third time in less than an hour. In all likeliness I won’t be able to keep updating for every single one of these swaps, but just expect a “stream superbowl” search to turn up some weird junk tonight.