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I see a ton of links from a few different spammy-looking domains in my google search console, but if I randomly click a page the links are supposedly coming from, I can't find the actual links to my website on any of those pages (at least not by searching the page source).

At first I thought that the spammy links have been removed and that google has yet to catch up with this, but since some of these domains have been around in my GSC for months now, I'm wondering...

Is there any way a website could "conceal" the links when visited manually, but "show" them to google? If so, why would they do that?

  • Sure, the sites could be cloaking. Have you checked the Google cache of those pages? – Stephen Ostermiller Sep 22 '17 at 16:12
  • Spam sites often create links once or periodically per page load. It is extremely likely that links are found by Google only to not exist when the page loads again. Often, links will not show up in cache versions. Why? Because by the time you discover the link via Search Console the page has been refreshed. If you see a lot of links from a site and you cannot find the links, this is what is happening. – closetnoc Sep 22 '17 at 16:19
  • makes sense, thanks...but how do they benefit from this? negative seo? getting me (the webmaster) to click to their spammy site? – Rok Sprogar Sep 22 '17 at 16:26
  • The payoff is ranking for terms. Links hold value, both semantic and who they link to. The more the merrier. These often change rapidly to rank for specific terms and to avoid other issues. Does this work? Only for a short while. You will see the domain names come and go quickly. Spammers have tens of thousands of domain names to create spam sites on. Once Google figures out the site is spam, another domain name is used. Rarely, a domain name will be used for any real length of time. It takes time for metrics to be collected before Google can determine a domain is spam. – closetnoc Sep 22 '17 at 16:57
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    @titico I am leaving room for others to answers. I am hoping to encourage users and help users answer questions. Plus I am pretty sure I have answered this very same question before. Push comes to shove, I could answer. I just got in off the tractor and I am hungry. – closetnoc Sep 22 '17 at 23:25
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but since some of these domains have been around in my GSC for months now, I'm wondering... Is there any way a website could "conceal" the links when visited manually, but "show" them to google? If so, why would they do that?

Your site has been hacked.

What someone has done was installed a script and/or modified server configuration files so that when the server detects Google's IP address and/or a user agent string that matches a device only Google would use, the page that is loaded is your HTML modified to include the links to the spammy-looking domains. It's possible the modified HTML replaced your links with the links to the spammy-looking domains. This would affect Google only in this case, but the hackers could affect any search engine.

Sad news if you're not fluent with programming is that there is no easy way out.

The lay mans way out is to download all your own website content to your own computer and remove any unwanted configuration in the HTML files, then reset the server (meaning have the administrator reinstall the web server software and delete all garbage), then once the server is clean of viruses and such, test your domain to make sure everything works, then re-upload your files, and if applicable, reinstall your Content Management System.

Now if you have some sort of server experience, then look in server configuration files for anything that clues you in on google pointing to modified content. If your web server software is apache, look for any rewrite rules or the like that show google or its ip address as a parameter and remove them.

Another idea is (provided you have programming experience) to look in the script files themselves if you have any. In Wordpress, your script files end in .php. Look through each of them and remove added lines that show google or its ip address.

Its hard to specifically pinpoint which lines in particular in each script or configuration file to remove because hackers can hack in different ways, but hopefully you'll get a start.

Another thing you might want to look at are your server log files to see if google is being redirected to the modified pages. It's possible the hacker made that happen as well.

  • I read the OPs question as links to his site so that when he visits these pages the links do not appear. In other words, the pages with the links are on another site, not the OPs. – closetnoc Sep 24 '17 at 19:09

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