This site gets hacked. A lot. Don’t worry, it’s not the kind of hack where your browser is hijacked to mine Monero or spread malware. It’s more innocuous; the kind of hack where someone sneaks into the content database and fills it with spam links.

I run a weekly script to clean out spam, but if you catch a post at an inopportune time, you might find an unsubtle plug for some sketchy third-party site. For example, this post recently contained a link to prescription-free anabolic steroids. That wasn’t me, I swear.

The link injections typically occur in batches, and feature some assortment of penis pills, porn sites, and other internet dreck. The bane of my web existence. I’m pretty sure I know how they’re getting in; the part I can’t figure out is why.

WHY are sketchy internet services hiring spammers to inject links into my low-rent web blog? How much visibility do they expect to get? Did Noonan Brown personal injury attorney really think that this would be a good way to reach new clients?

Over the weekend, I was scrubbing a recent batch of site spam when I noticed, in between the loan sharks and debt-forgiveness services, recurring links to Abra.com.

Wait a minute — I used to work at Abra! Abra is a good company run by good people, certainly not ones who would engage the services of sketchy link spammers. And really, if Abra wanted a shameless plug on my website, I’d give it to them for free.

So I messaged a former coworker to find out what was up. They had been exploring new advertisers, he said. Now that Google and Facebook have instated a blanket ban on crypto ads, Bitcoin businesses are left with limited options to reach their customers.

For those banned from ad networks, search engine optimization is perhaps the last bastion of low-cost digital promotion. Even if you can’t pay Google to display your ads, you can still push your way to the top of search results through SEO.

And while Google’s search rank algorithm is an industry secret, it is based in part on the number of websites that link back to your page – also known as backlinks. Google was originally called Backrub because its search results were ranked according to backlinks.

The original Google

Backlinks are commonly accrued by getting news, blog, and social media mentions, but that can be a lot of work. Fortunately, there are handy backlink services for hire — These are the guys who crawl through forums and comment sections and leave link droppings all over the place. Some will pay bloggers for mentions, others will inject their way in. In any case, backlink outreach is a huge industry.

An example of successful link injection.

I was happy to see Google and Facebook ban crypto ads; there was some really vile stuff going on over there. But censorship doesn’t differentiate between fraud and not-fraud; everyone’s treated like a criminal just the same. And banning something doesn’t ever make it disappear; it just pushes the activity into scuzzier corners of the internet.

We can’t expect the ad networks to exert editorial oversight, because that would ruin their massively scalable business model. So we’re left with this suboptimal state of affairs where upstanding companies are forced act like spammers, and it’s that much harder for people to discern scams from legitimate services.

Google banned crypto ads, but is still okay with backlink ads.