How spammers use link farms
http://www.seomoz.org/articles/link-spam-alliances.php is a paper that describes how spammers build artificial search engine rank by building networks of inward pointing pages. If you are a legitimate web site, with real content, these folks steal search engine traffic from you by their tricks.
I'm not sure about some of the conclusions reached by this paper. On the positive side (positive for us, not the spammers), the paper doesn't acknowledge that most sites now use 'rel="nofollow"' in any links added in comments. Major search engines ignore those links, so the spammers don't get any search engine boost from those links.
But I am not sure I can agree with the conclusion that (quote from above paper) "it seems likely that search engine spam in the form of artificial link popularity inflation cannot prosper over long periods of time". I'm not confident of that at all. I think that, like viruses, this will be an on-going war. The search engines will improve their ability to detect artificial linking, but the spammers will find new ways to cloak it. This dance won't end all that easily.
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