Feedblitz: An Accidental Spam Blogger

Article Updated! See below.

Like many bloggers, yesterday I received a letter from Feedblitz advertising their new Private Label Custom Domain Service. Also, like many bloggers, I deleted that email without as much as a second look.

However, a recent article on Mashable made me do a search for it and take a closer look. The article accused the service of assisting spammers, saying that:

“The general idea seems to be splogging as a service – that is they are offering as a service (a paid service, to be exact) the ability to register a subdomain of FeedBlitz in which you can syndicate your existing content to a customizable page, or pretty much the same thing you can do on any number of free webhosting solutions, but for $9.99 a month.”

The good news is that, after looking at the service and researching what it does, I can safely say that there are several problems with that statement, including that the service is actually $9.99 per year, not per month, and there is not all that much to worry about from this service, at least at this time.

However, the bad news is that, after looking deeper into Feedblitz itself, I’ve found that not only is it spamming the search engines, but has been doing so for a very long time and has thousands of junk results in Google already.

It is very important that you be aware of what Feedblitz is doing and how you can protect yourself from it.

Universally Hated

Feedblitz’s new “domain” service has been almost universally panned across the Web. Most commenters heavily criticize the sales tactic of the service, in which they reserve one more domains for you and encourage you to “protect your brand” by paying for the full service.

Says the email:

“We reserved these domains for you to help get you started. If you do nothing your reservations will simply expire and someone else will be able to use them instead of you. Or you can just activate the ones you want online before anyone else grabs them.”

This has lead many to accuse the site of “extortion” by reserving their customer’s name and then demanding payment before turning it over to the mob to do with as they please.

The other criticism is that, while the service is called “Private Label Domains” it is actually a subdomain off of Feedblitz, not an actual domain. Should you decide to purchase this service, your address will be yourname.feedblitz.com, not yourname.com.

However, it was the accusation of spam blogging that caught my eye the most. With the two articles above both mentioning the ability to syndicate your content to an outside domain, I decided to research that feature.

Fortunately, I did not find much of interest.

What It Actually Does

feedblitz-example.pngIf you visit either the sample account promoted by Feedblitz or the test page they created for me (https://plagiarismtoday.feedblitz.com – I do not wish to link it since it will be down in a day or two) you’ll see that there is no syndicated content on the site.

Though Feedblitz says that the site can display “An online preview for a publication with a link to subscribe” it appears that it will not do so by default and I could find no subdomains that actually did it.

Instead, the main focus of the site is to allow users to subscribe to your feed via email, IM or Twitter. In this regard, it is meant to be both an extension of Feedblitz’s existing services and of the user’s Web site. Not a standalone spam blog.

Furthermore, as their FAQ points out, the fact they charge ten dollars per year will likely eliminate much of the true spammer threat.

All in all, the service seems to be mostly guilty of being almost completely useless, providing a service that is free with most hosting accounts, and poorly marketed.

However, as I was researching this issue, I discovered something about Feedblitz that was much worse than even the nightmares many had about the private label domain service. Namely, that they have been unwittingly creating spam blogs for quite some time.

30,000 Spam Entries in Google

If you do a site search for Feedblitz in Google, you’ll find that they have a very high number of results, especially for a site with very few unique pages.

feedblitz-spam2.png

When you look closer at the results, you find quickly that the bulk of them come from URLs that contain the string “?previewfeed=”. These point to previews of feeds that Feedblitz helps syndicate, such as this one.

The problem is that Feedblitz displays the full content of the feed they parse on these “preview” pages, including hotlinking the images. Then, to make matters worse, the pages are permanent, not temporary previews designed to show potential subscribers what it will look like and they are not blocked from the search engines via Meta tags or robots.txt. In fact, as of this writing, feedblitz.com has no robots.txt file at all and there is no attempt whatsoever to discourage search engines from indexing these duplicate pages.

feedblitz-ranking.pngThe result is that a good portion of Feedblitz’s feeds, though almost certainly not all, have found up in Google. With Feedblitz pulling a PageRank of seven, the domain is clearly very trusted in the search engines and is at least capable of outranking the original content, as is the case with the results to the left.

What makes this matter worse is that many of the Webmasters who have their feeds parsed by Feedblitz have not registered for the site nor given permission for their content to be republished in any way. It is possible that your site could be syndicated over the service, and scraped for a preview, without your knowledge or permission. This issue only relates to bloggers who registered for their newsletter service.

To put it mildly, this use of blogger content is irresponsible and it is important for bloggers to know that, if they have syndicated their feed through Feedblitz at any point, that their site could be duplicated on the service and present in the search engines.

Likely Unintentional

I want to make it clear that I do not think Feedblitz is doing this on purpose. The search results that this content will likely rank for does little to help them with their business. I don’t think Feedblitz is trying to be a spammer any more than Workfriendly was.

Feedblitz’s mistake is that they did not take proper precautions when using other people’s content and, as a result, are spamming out thousands of links filled with duplicate content.

One line of code either in the template or in the robots.txt file would fix this overnight, but they haven’t done so, likely because they didn’t think to.

Hopefully, this article will draw enough attention to the issue that they fix the oversight and stop accidentally spamming the search engines.

What You Can Do

If you find that your content is in Feedblitz and is being ranked without your permission, I would take the following steps (See Update):

  1. Delete Your Account (if applicable): Disable Feedblitz’s services if they are not heavily used on your site. Consider alternatives such as FeedBurners email service, which works without creating duplicate content.
  2. Contact Feedblitz: If you can not delete your account, don’t have one or doing so fails to remove your content, contact Feedblitz directly and ask them to remove your work or otherwise remedy this issue.
  3. Contact Me: Should that fail, I have the information for filing a DMCA notice with their host. However, that would be an absolute last resort in this case. Only if Feedblitz proves uncooperative would I even consider placing this option on the table.

The reason for my hesitation is that, as I mentioned above, it seems likely that this was a mistake. I seriously doubt that the preview URLs were intended to be viewed publicly. Instead, I think this is a bug in their system and that the URLs were intended to be a part of the subscription process, nothing more.

Though this is very worrisome, it is worth taking a moment to let Feedblitz correct the problem itself.

Conclusions

So is Feedblitz spamming the search engines? Yes, just not in the way many people think they are.

Though their new service is a poorly-conceived and even worse in its marketing, it does not appear to be a natural spam tool. Given the number of sites and services that have been inundated with spam, Feedblitz’s domain service seems to be the least of our worries.

That being said, the site still has shown great irresponsibility when it comes to how it displays and uses blogger content and has unwittingly made a spam blogger of itself.

Hopefully they will fix these issues soon and get back to what they were supposed to be doing from the beginning, helping bloggers build their subscriber base by making it easy for non-RSS uses to receive updates in an RSS-based world.

Update (08/06/08 – 2:30 PM):

I have received some feedback from Feedblitz and I wanted to share everything that they’ve said.

First, according to the email, the preview feature is ONLY for sites that have signed up for their newsletter services. It is not for RSS feeds that were just subscribed. That is very good news.

Second, they have updated their site to add a “noindex” feature to their newsletter preview pages. If you want to use it, visit your “Newsletter Settings”, move to the second screen, tick the “NOINDEX” box and save your setting.

My thanks goes to Feedblitz for their swift response on this issue! I now agree, spam bloggers they are not and I was right in thinking that this was purely accidental.

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