Research paper uncovers root of nuisance Web pages

Researchers at Microsoft and the University of California say they've uncovered how advertising spam appears on the Internet

Anyone brave enough to type "cheap tickets" in a search engine can find a plethora of one-page Web sites designed to drive traffic to other Web sites and generate click-through advertising revenue.

They're an irritant to users and another way in which the Internet is being abused for profit. But a new study by a team of Microsoft and University of California researchers has shed light on how so-called "search spammers" work and how advertisers can help stop the practice.

"By exposing the end-to-end search spamming activities, we hope to ... encourage advertisers to scrutinize those syndicators and traffic affiliates who are profiting from spam traffic at the expense of the long-term health of the Web," wrote authors Yi-Min Wang and Ming Ma of Microsoft Research and Yuan Niu and Hao Chen of the University of California in Davis. Their research will be reviewed at the 16th International World Wide Web Conference in Banff, Alberta, in May.

The researchers looked at "redirection spam," where a user clicks on a URL (uniform resource locator) but is then automatically transferred to a different URL or shown advertising content that originates from somewhere else on the Web.

Often, legitimate companies have their advertisements served on questionable sites through redirections designed to "obfuscate the connection between the advertisers and the spammers," the researchers wrote.

In one example, they traced the origin of advertisements for, a popular travel services site, that appeared on suspicious Web pages. They uncovered five layers that lie between a legitimate advertiser and a questionable search spam Web site.

For example, a business such as may buy advertising from a syndicator, who then buys space on high-traffic Web pages from an aggregator.

In turn, the aggregator buys traffic from Web spammers. The spammers set up the millions of "doorway" pages, designed to show up high in the search engine rankings, for products such as ringtones or prescription drugs. They also distribute URLs by inserting them as comments on users' blogs.

If those links are clicked, the doorway pages then redirect to other pages, potentially bringing revenue back to its controller via pay-per-click advertising offered by companies such as Google Inc. through its AdSense program.

But by using new spam detection and Web page analysis, the researchers say they've narrowed down some of the confusing redirection chains, from hosters of doorway pages through to redirection domains.

Three out of every four unique URLs that appeared in the top 50 results for commercial queries were spam, the study said. Blogspot is the hosting site for Google's blogging service. Blogs created for marketing purposes are sometimes referred to as "splogs."

Also, one domain -- -- hosted many other redirection domains that were responsible for 22 percent to 25 percent of the spam detected during the researchers' tests, the study said.

They also narrowed down two blocks of IP (Internet protocol) addresses that advertisements were directed through to spammers' pages. That bottleneck, they said, "may prove to be the best layer to attacking the search spam problem."

A responsibility also lies with advertisers to assert greater control over where and how their ads are placed.

"Ultimately, it is advertisers' money that is funding the search spam industry, which is increasingly cluttering the Web with low-quality content and reducing Web users' productivity," they wrote.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q – Reign beyond virtual world

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

D-Link TAIPAN AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Modem Router (DSL-4320L)

Learn more >

Xiro Drone Xplorer V -3 Axis Gimbal & 1080p Full HD 14MP Camera

Learn more >

Crucial® BX200 SATA 2.5” 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive

Learn more >

D-Link PowerLine AV2 2000 Gigabit Network Kit

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >


Learn more >

Family Friendly

ASUS VivoPC VM62 - Incredibly Powerful, Unbelievably Small

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Best Deals on PC World

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.


Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?