I started using this term more and more in my daily work, so I thought I’d give it a definition.
There are two types of Internet Ghosts:
1. The Retro Internet Ghost – is a shell of a concept, a domain, or an idea that no longer exists in the real world, but still has remnants on the Web. The ghost (for example the old website of a company that is no longer trading) caries many inbound links, and appears high in search engine rankings. A retro ghost site can be bought out by another business that will then capitalise on its old reputation and build a new one, with ready-made SEO popularity. A great example of this is Internet flop boo.com, an ecommerce fashion startup that burned its way through £125 million ($ 188 million) in just six months in the late 90’s. It famously went bust in 2000, with its remaining assets being offloaded for about £2m. The ghost of boo – the domain name boo.com was then launched as a travel website by Web Reservations International, with ready-made SEO links. It is a variation on what commercial lawyers call “good will”, but with the difference that it often remains floating in limbo until it is picked up.
2. The User-Driven Internet Ghost (also known as the Search Engine Apparition) – this one is a little more spooky, and comes to be when users search for a term that doesn’t exist on the Internet, usually because it is commonly misspelled, or is a new term that came to be through a campaign, a celebrity statement, or an event that brought it to public consciousness all of a sudden – whereas it was not known before.
What tends to happen is as follows:
- a. The public starts to search for the term on the Net, but can’t find it.
- b. SEOs and spammers notice the new search trend, and immediately create sites specifically designed to trap the traffic to the new or mistaken term.
- c. The public goes to these SEO and spam sites, but can’t find meaningful information, only the keywords and lots of Viagra advertisements and so on.
- d. The pubic creates many more searches with the ghost terms, a demand that fuels more spam sites, thus creating growing cycle.
An example of such an Internet Ghost would be searches for “Olivia Dukakis”, created by users looking for Olympia Dukakis. I cover this in more detail here, but for months people have been looking for information about “Olivia Dukakis”, and all they got was spam.
As an Internet Ghost Buster, I try to create entries for these ghosts, investigating what the users really want and giving them this information. This breaks the Ghost-Abuse-Cycle (if I may use this term so boldly), and allows the term to die peacefully. Sometimes putting ghosts to rest also serves a wider, more news-worthy purpose, in cases such as the story of Entela Hysko, a woman who was unknown on the Net, until she died in a car crash with an Albanian media mogul. Within hours her name became the target of blog-spam, but no one outside of Albania knew who she was.
Of course if you Internet-Ghost-Bust, you not only provide a public service, but also get legitimate traffic to your site. Hence, both of the above are additional tools in the arsenal of the good SEO/SEM expert.