This is an interesting one, as this is academic work being done around something which I’ve seen a lot of people say, but not investigate in any concerted way. I read the piece itself, but the first time I saw it I actually went straight for the research, which is here. It is all of 16 pages with two being references, and it is not in any way hard to get through so I would recommend it.
They monitored Google, Bing, and DDG for just under 7,500 product review queries, it’s a decent sample for sure and pulled from an area which is quite spam prone.
Focussing on the product review genre, we find that only a small portion of product reviews on the web uses affiliate marketing, but the majority of all search results do.
We further observe an inverse relationship between affiliate marketing use and content complexity, and that all search engines fall victim to large-scale affiliate link spam campaigns. However, we also notice that the line between benign content and spam in the form of content and link farms becomes increasingly blurry—a situation that will surely worsen in the wake of generative AI.
Affiliate links tend to sit on pages which have not had much effort (if we can proxy this for complexity) put into them and yet this study shows them to be around a lot in results from these data. The thought is put into the ranking and not into the quality, a problem for sure.
SEO is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes high-quality pages
easier to find, but is on the other hand also a sharp tool for pushing up low-
quality results in the search rankings.
It also looks like they had to use Startpage to get the Google results, even researchers get captcha’d. When I saw that I thought “It’s interesting they had that information on SP but not on DDG”
The SERPs were scraped repeatedly over the course of a year from Startpage (a privacy frontend to Google), Bing, and DuckDuckGo.
Although DuckDuckGo claims to utilize many different data sources, we found the results to be extremely similar to Bing.
I’ve set a note to myself to go back to this because it’s got a lot in it. If anyone else has given it a read then I’m interested in takes.