What the SEO?

20 October 2013

My mom owns a small local business in suburban NJ, The Do Re Mi School, that’s akin to an after-school program where music, dance, art, language and math is taught. Being surrounded by a family of engineers, we’ve been helping her on the tech side and my brother created the web site she’s been using it for the past couple of years. It’s based on Drupal and allows her to make changes without having to dive into the tech details. This approach has been working well she’s recently started using YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to help with her marketing and social efforts.

Earlier this week, she sent an email saying there was a new website, bestnewjerseyartsschool.com, that was completely ripping off her site. They claim to be Do Re Mi and have copied various parts of the content, including paragraphs of text and various images. They’ve even created a YouTube video, www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvE6tBl8xU4 that’s embedded on the site’s home page.

Looking at the whois and dns info doesn’t reveal much since they’re using a privacy protection service. All I know is that the domain was registered in April using WildWestDomains, is protected by DomainsByProxy, and that the name servers are under hbuse.com which claims to be “Hosting by unbelievably sweet elepehants” and yet doesn’t contain any real content and is not in Google’s index. The interesting thing is that looking at the whois info for hbuse.com indicates it was registered by someone with a PO Box in Nevada with an email address that also seems to be anonymyzed. I found a site, yougetsignal, that allowed me to search for other sites that were all hosted on “hbuse.com” and came up with a list of ~270 sites that all look to be site rip offs. They all seem to follow a pattern of having the location, the service, and possibly an adjective (best being the most common). Below’s a screenshot of some of the sites that I found sharing the host.

hbuse.com Hosted Sites Sample

I don’t know what the motivation behind these. They are all running adsense so I suspect part of it just a way to generate easy ad revenue but the more cynical part of me thinks it’s a way to blackmail the existing sites into buying these fake domains to avoid SEO penalties.

It’s terrible that honest business owners have to deal with these things. They don’t have the background to know what to do and many are not even aware that their brands are being manipulated, damaged, and monetized. There’s also an SEO risk that these rip-off sites will start dominating the search results and hurting business even more. And since these sites are using AdSense, Google is able to generate more revenue.

I’d love to know what I should do next but my current thinking is that I should send a DMCA takedown notice for my mom’s site and report this entire list of rip-off sites to Google and hope that they stop AdSense from running on the sites and remove them from search results.

I worry that as it becomes easier and easier to generate written content using software we’ll see more and more of these scenarios where it’s going to become increasingly difficult to find the source of the original content and real site owners are hurt.

Update: So the way my mom discovered this other site is because she got a notice from Getty images that she was using one of their images without licensing it. When she asked which image they sent her a link to that other site that has her contact info on it. I guess that answers the question as to why that other site still uses the actual contact information.



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