Many news outlets are reporting an interview with a Brussels NGO called EU DisInfo Lab, (click the link to read the story) which found 265 websites in “65 countries” that posted the same content in an apparent attempt to influence Members of the European Parliament. The material was pro-India.
I am not too interested in the underlying political story, but my assessment of the tactics of the alleged publisher can be summed up as “amateur hour”. Why? Let me count the ways.
The domains could well be purporting to be in 65 countries, but they were mostly hosted in the United States at three main hosts, probably VPS accounts, or less likely, dedicated servers. This made it easy for EU DisInfo Lab (and me) to find most of the 265 websites. I searched for one of the articles as pictured above and found that Google had indexed about twenty of them. So that’s another rookie error.
So if you (the website manager) are stupid enough to think that 265 copies of an article (allegedly copied from some Russian propaganda site) will be found in Google or another search engine, then you deserve to be fired by the ultimate client. No, if you are lucky enough to get Google to crawl all the sites, a search result will not list all 265 domains. In fact, you’d be lucky if even one of those sites shows up on the first page of results.
About 248 out of the 265 sites were at three hosts, with many on the same IP address, e.g. 18.104.22.168, which was one of them. There are free tools such as View DNS to get a list of all domains using the same IP address, or the same octet (fourth number from 0 to 255). If you have a VPS or a dedicated server, then all the domains can be presumed to be controlled by you, but if you went to some generic shared hosting provider, your sites would be among tens of thousands of others and much harder to identify, unless you were silly enough to use names resembling news outlets.
Here are the 248 sites that I could find from three hosting providers, Unified Layer, Data Foundry, Four Media Group. I did not waste time looking up these providers or the remaining sites any further:
Just cast your eye across some of those names above. Some were chosen wisely, such as legitimate news outlets that once existed but are long defunct. Others are too fanciful to be credible. Visit some of those sites and ask yourself why would someone put up a site with the stories you see there?
There are numerous other SEO omissions that are best left unstated, as there is no value in enlightening the amateurs behind these sites. Many of them are being taken down as we speak, replaced with parked pages.
Some of the coverage of the incident by the news media:
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