Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

June 11, 2021

Dangers of online ‘free’ html editing services: Your site is now part of SEO scam for shady services

Filed under: Computer Tips,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:52 PM

There are a lot of free services available online for various tasks that historically required you to download and install software. For example, if you want to convert a .doc file to pdf or if you wanted to edit your image or even clean up / optimize your HTML files, you can use online free services for it. As with anything you need to take a look at who is running the site before you decide to upload your personal data to it. In addition it might be a good idea to take a look at the privacy policy & data retention policy of any such sites before you use them. If a site doesn’t have a privacy policy/data retention policy and wants you to upload your private data/files to it then it is a red flag.

Most recent case of such a misuse came into my notice a few days ago, where a few of the highly-ranked online tools for editing / cleaning your html code were secretly injecting scam/spam links into the code being edited to push themselves and their affiliated sites up the search engine rankings. SEO or Search Engine Optimization gives extra weight to sites that are linked to from other legitimate sites and when a html cleaner program adds links to their solutions into each site/page that they are editing they get a leg up on every other product because their have a lot more weighted links than their competition. (Links to the site are not the only thing SEO use to raise their profile but SEO optimization is a huge topic that I won’t be covering here in this post).

Caspar over at casparwre.de found this out while trying to figure out why he couldn’t be the top result for ‘online scoreboard’ on Google. You can check out the full write up here

For instance, I saw a blog post from the German Football Association containing a link to Scorecounter. The word that was linked was “score” – yet having a link here made absolutely no sense in the context of the article. What was going on? 🤔

Here are some more examples of links I found on random domains (you need to search for “score” on the page).

Macworld Shop
NBC Washington
RICE University (The link has now been removed)
Intuit Quickbooks (The link has now been removed)


So that was the secret: the creators of Scorecounter also made an online HTML editor which injects links for certain keywords. The beauty of this scam is that by injecting links to their own HTML editor, they have created a brilliant positive feedback loop: the higher the editor rises in the search rankings, the more people use it and the more secret links they can inject.

In one way this is a fantastic (if shady) way to ensure that your product is at the top of any search for a given text/question. But usually it is only a matter of time before people figure it out and then you loose a lot of goodwill and get a reputation for shady practices. How many people will continue to use their product if they knew that their site will be used to hawk products that they personally have not selected/validated?

I took a look at the privacy policy and the general website over at: html-cleaner.com and they don’t have any note letting people know that the site introduces links to it’s own services and other sites into your text. This is shady behavior. Some of the reputable sites that I have seen in the past, let you know that they will be adding a subtext or a note at the bottom of the page being edited stating that it was created using xyz service. Adding the links into the text of the site makes it seem that the owner of the site is endorsing the service, which obviously isn’t the case here.

To close the post, I just want to say you need to be careful where you upload data or what program you are using to edit/create things because if it is created by people with bad ethics they can and often do steal your private data or modify your data or use it for purposes other than what you intended when uploading it.

– Suramya

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