SEO Sleuth: How to Track Down a Target CSI-Style

Get out your magnifying glass and tobacco pipe and prepare to blow the doors off of an SEO agency's anonymity! This is SEO investigation CSI-style!
Written by Stephen Chapman, Contributor
SEO Sleuth!

SEO Sleuth!

As an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) agency/freelancer/consultant, one of the things you always want to be conscious of are the personas you create for your clients and/or for your link-building endeavors. If you're not careful, you could very well leave a trail of breadcrumbs that could link you to multiple clients/companies (ergo, potentially linking your clients together), show your competition all the places you choose to build your links, and more.

For instance, if you use the same name for all of your articles through article marketing or as a forum name, or the same picture for your social media/forum avatar. All of those things leave someone a nice common denominator with which to possibly sniff you out. There's viewing a site's backlink profile, and then there's discerning which links were intentionally built, by whom, and possibly for who else. Inversely, this is all information you can potentially use to your advantage. Let's get started!


Alternate Your Images

I'd like to start with a method least likely to be utilized by anyone (thus, least likely to be considered as a threat), but easily the most fun. I've done it before with mixed results but I haven't seen anyone else make note of it. Basically, it goes something like this: You see a link within a post on a forum or you run across an article on a site like ezinearticles.com that looks obviously spammy or like someone's just trying to build a link. There's an avatar that has been uploaded for the user name of the person that posted the post/wrote the article. What good is that image to you where researching that person is concerned? Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to Tineye.

Tineye is a marvelous creation that I predict to be a product Google will eventually purchase. Anyway, Tineye basically takes a photo you specify and checks it against its ever-growing database of images. If your image looks similar to another image (based on their secret sauce algorithms), they will return a list of results showing a thumbnail of the image yours looks like and a link to where the image was initially found. Sometimes, the links are dead, but you'll still see the URL and a thumbnail on Tineye. If the link is dead, one still has a couple of options to seeing the content that was there:

1 - Google Cache: Put simply, I can copy a URL and search for some part of it in Google in hopes of finding a cached version of the page before it went dead. If the url is something like https://www.zdnet.com/blog/seo/post-here.html, I can search for that, or I can search for just zdnet.com/blog/seo. Getting more advanced, I can start using some tricky Google queries, like site:zdnet.com "seo" or site:zdnet.com inurl:seo/post-here.html or something similar.

2 - Google Images: Google provides a reverse image look-up function via its "similar" link below an image when you find one and hover over it. The grab here is you can't specify an image; you have to find it first before you can search for "similar" ones. No problem, though. You can try searching for the image links you find via Tineye (if any). Alternately, you can search for the name of the image or part of the image URL from where you originally discovered the image. Let's say Tineye returned the following URL for an image you searched for: https://www.zdnet.com/blog/seo/image.jpg If you wanted to search for that image throughout a site via Google Images, then you could simply utilize a query like site:zdnet.com image.jpg or site:zdnet.com image or something similar. From there, you could use the "similar" functionality on an image if your search yields a result you're looking for. The point to this method is to find other places an individual has used an image as an avatar or to find if you for some reason have an image on your site that you've been using everywhere else, too. If I can trace the origin of an image tied to a user that posted a link somewhere, to a Web site that appears to belong to an SEO agency, well... I think you get what that could imply.

3 - Archive.org: Good old archive.org -- I love that site. If you've never been there before, have a visit! Enter something like microsoft.com into the "waybackmachine" and have a field day looking back at old pages! For our purposes in this post, we could check here to see if an archived version of a now-dead page exists. If so, we could see things like what anchor text was used for any links built, which page the link(s) pointed to, et al. More often than not, I've been successful with finding information via archive.org. It doesn't stop with Tineye, either! There are other sites like Tineye, such as GazoPa, Imense, Tiltomo, and more. I haven't had near the success with alternatives as I have with Tineye, but in the interest of exhausting all resources when researching someone, there you go. Reverse image search is just one of those services that *seriously* enriches my life, so you should really check into it whether it's in relation to the topic of this post or otherwise. With that said, on to the next point!

Alternate Your Text

Let's assume you have 10 clients and you build links for all of them on the same article marketing sites. Do not post your articles for all of your clients under the same name. That's bad SEO 101 right there. Not insofar as obtaining a link, but as in tying all of your clients together in such a way that makes it ridiculously easy for someone to figure out. Use different names and write unique content for your articles! There's nothing wrong with posting various articles on various sites or doing guest blog posts under one persona, but make sure you have just one client affiliated with any one persona. On many sites, one can simply click on the name of an author/user to see all posts/articles written by that person. Sometimes, that functionality isn't available... but Google is.

If you're posting articles to a site like ezinearticles.com under the name "Joseph McPhefferton-Strawberry" or something, I could simply go to Google and try the following query: site:ezinearticles.com "Joseph McPhefferton-Strawberry"I'm probably going to find exactly what I'm looking for in this scenario since ezinearticles.com is such a popular site -- never mind what I might find if just searching for "Joseph McPhefferton-Strawberry" on its own in Google since it's an uncommon name. So, if your aim is to create a name that's uncommon, make sure you've tied one client to it and let that be it. For the sake of obscurity, a name like "Joseph Smith" just might be what the doctor ordered.


Alright, so now what? Are you worried about anything covered in this post? Have you been building every link for every client using exactly the same persona? Don't fret; simply research yourself (which shouldn't be too difficult if you've kept track of all the places you've built links, etc.) and take the time to make changes where possible -- whether that means changing profile images, signatures, author names, etc. Anything with a common denominator where there shouldn't be one, do what you can to change and alleviate.

At the end of the day, this "problem" won't actually be a problem for most people, but in extreme cases, you never know when that one malicious person is going to come along and use something against you. Maybe you have two clients vying for the same keyword (conflict of interest and you don't want anyone to know) and John Doe SEO up the street wants to cause some havoc by letting them know their SEO services are being provided by the same agency. Yikes. Can you imagine how that phone call is going to go? So, whether you're interested in researching yourself, your competitor(s), or just some random target, the aforementioned tips and tricks should give you a solid foundation for uncovering some revealing data.

Questions or comments? Let me know below! *Hat tip to Jon Payne from Ephricon Web Marketing for playing a big part in my education with some of the information contained within this post.

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