Google search results spam for ‘Bill Slawski obituary’ shows the dark side of SEO

We reported yesterday the sad news that Bill Slawski has died.

It’s less than 24 hours later and no actual obituary has been published (either by a news site or funeral home). Yet, Google’s search results are littered with spammy results.

Look at what is ranking on a Google search right now for [bill slawski obituary]:

This is a horror, especially for anybody seeking trustworthy information on Slawski’s funeral arrangements.

To me, this SERP looks like Google, before the Panda Update, for certain queries where content farms reigned. That’s the easiest way to describe it. 

A ton of low-quality websites have created thin content with the sole purpose of optimizing it to rank whenever someone searches for an obituary for Bill Slawski. And they are monetizing whatever traffic they get through display ads.

What’s worse – there are many of these types of sites. And these sites have one thing in common: the content reads like it was either automatically generated or written (poorly) by people whose first language is not English.

Let’s look at some of the sites so you can understand how gross this all is:

1. AReal News

The content is pure garbage. Look at this paragraph:

“He was hale and hearty until he suffered a broken leg which caused his death. Before his death, he suffered a Brian clot, due to which he was admitted to the hospital. This information was shared on Twitter. This did not affect his ability to think and write. He was only facing issues with waking properly. He was very much active on Twitter before his death.”

Aside from the obvious content problem, this site looks like it should be in clear violation of Google’s page layout algorithm (aka Top Heavy). Before you even get to the content, you get nothing but ads, ads, ads.

And searching for [obituary] reveals this isn’t a one-off. It’s a strategy:

2. OnTrend

Some of the garbage content:

“No doubt, he was surrounded by his wife and children when he took his last breath peacefully. The further insights of Bill’s partner are inaccessible at this time. We are keeping an eye on this topic.”

3. CowdyCactus

If this isn’t outright search spam, it’s certainly about as low-quality content as you can publish before reaching that threshold:

“Twitter mourns the lack of lifetime of web site positioning skilled Bill Slawski at age 61. However, his clarification for lack of life has remained secret. What occurred?”

In fact, when I turned my adblocker off to take that screen capture, it was infested with so many ads and redirects to spam I could no longer even view the site. Hopefully, my computer didn’t get a virus.

4. CmaTrends

Before we look at this example, make sure you check out this site’s homepage title tag: “CmaTrends « We SELL Entertainment Periodt!”

And the opening of their “article”: 

“Bill Slawski, the author of Search Engine Land, died at the age of 61, #Bill #Slawski #author #Search #Engine #Land #died #age Welcome to O L A S M E D I A TV N E W S, This is what we have for you today:”

I could cite more examples, but you get the point. 

Google’s new information problem. The quality of this search result is bad. But it goes beyond just Slawski.

This is a known issue. For certain new search queries, often there isn’t enough content on the web for Google to rank. So you get a bunch of content that, otherwise, has no reason to have any visibility. 

Sometimes you also see this after a broad core algorithm update. Suddenly, Google starts surfacing iffy content from suspect sources – as if they hit a sort of reset button. Typically, Google eventually figures it out and more appropriate content returns to where it should be (though not always). 

The profits of death. Aside from the clearly bogus “news” sites, there are a couple of spammy obituary websites in there – and Both are also loaded up with display ads. Including Google ads.

Yet this is not a new problem. And it goes far beyond Slawski. In fact, some brands are even helping fund this low-quality content. 

Marketing Brew published a report in November detailing how spammy sites rip off obituaries and actually end up being monetized by ads from major brands (e.g., Nike, Nordstrom, Zola, Burt’s Bees). Google told Marketing Brew it has:

“strict policies that explicitly prohibit Google–served ads from running on sites that use disruptive advertising formats, including pages with more ads than publisher content. We also prohibit ads from running alongside content that’s been copied from other sites. When we find pages or sites that violate these policies we take appropriate enforcement action.”

I’ve reached out to Google to comment on this story. I will update if/when I receive a response.

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About The Author

Danny Goodwin is Senior Editor of Search Engine Land. In addition to writing daily about SEO, PPC, and more for Search Engine Land, Goodwin also manages Search Engine Land’s roster of subject-matter experts. He also helps program our conference series, SMX – Search Marketing Expo. Prior to joining Search Engine Land, Goodwin was Executive Editor at Search Engine Journal, where he led editorial initiatives for the brand. He also was an editor at Search Engine Watch. He has spoken at many major search conferences and virtual events, and has been sourced for his expertise by a wide range of publications and podcasts.