Fairfax Digital, the owner of RSVP, the biggest online dating site in Australia, seems to be using dubious search engine optimisation tactics to manipulate Google search results to attract more traffic to its site. Using Hitwise data we can see that RSVP attracted, on average, 3.3 million visits a month over December 2006 and January 2007. Our 3loves site attracted on average 49,778 visits a month over the same two months while all online dating sites attracted on average 20.79 million visits a month. RSVP has 15.8% share of traffic in the online dating category. We have 1.5% of RSVP’s traffic.

These stats make the RSVP behaviour all the more curious. Here’s what we know so far.

Fairfax Digital uses an organisation called Commission Monster to promote RSVP and, we suspect, other Fairfax Digital sites. We discovered this by tracking redirection from a Google search results link through to where we actually ended up. We were taken through Commission Monster on the way to the page we were seeking through Google.

Someone, we suspect Commission Monster, has created a page which redirects traffic to RSVP when they have been searching for 3loves. This is a violation of Google rules.

Click here to see what Google thinks is at the page. This is what the Google spider cached on 30 January this year. Curiously, the page has been modified in the last 24 hours, since we first raised this issue, and is now displaying an error.

Until yesterday, the page seemed to check where the click came from and if it was not Google, the browser redirected to RSVP. We know from Google results and what’s in their cache that the Google spider was not redirected.

Here is the Google cache for the page as captured by us today. This is evidence of misbehaviour. Fairfax’s and RSVP’s actions over the last 24 hours show they know they have been caught out. Expect the Google cached page to change as they try and remove traces of their Google search results manipulation.

That Fairfax and or their representatives have changed the redirect page in the last 24 hours is proof to us that they know they have done something wrong.

Even though it does not actually exist. Browsers clicking on the Google search results are taken through what is called a 302 redirect to RSVP. Whoever set this up did so to take people searching for 3loves to RSVP.

Whoever has done this has gone to considerable lengths to try and trick the Google spider. BMW did something similar and was removed from Google for a time as a result. Details of what BMW did and the consequences can be read here.

Google gave BMW a pagerank 0 penalty, meaning that it loses all relevancy in Google searches. It’s kind of like being sent to Siberia in winter for a while. Google takes attempts to manipulate search results very seriously as the purity of results is crucial to its credibility and business model.

We know from our research that Fairfax Digital is not only targeting our 3love site in this way. We have plenty of other dating site names being used to drive traffic to RSVP in this way. Here is the cached page setup for Adultmatchmaker.

We have reported the matter to Google. They came back to us quickly and have sought additional information which we are providing.

Google’s webmaster guidelines cover this issue. Specifically, Google advises webmasters: Don’t employ cloaking or sneaky redirects. They go on to say: If a site doesn’t meet our quality guidelines, it may be blocked from the index. This is why we are putting it to Google that RSVP is removed from the Google index.

3loves is a tiny free online dating site. We’re new, we’re under-resourced and we are filling a need in the community. People are spending too much chasing love online. Tens of millions of dollars are spent each year by Australians chasing love and romance online. If we can save even a fraction of that for people to use elsewhere in their lives than our mission will be accomplished.

The folks at Fairfax Digital and RSVP ought to get a grip and focus on their offering rather than try and con people searching for us into visiting their RSVP site.

3loves is part of an online classifieds offering we are launching with newsagents as our retail partners.

Read more on Mark Fletcher’s Australian Newsagency Blog.

Disclosure: Mark Fletcher owns Find It Online Pty Ltd, the owner of the 3loves website.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey