What is an Internet Ghost? How does SEO use Internet Ghosts?

Internet Ghosts in Creation

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.

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