Who Spammed Santa Catalina?

I found the strangest thing while researching the Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa.

Santa Catalina is a 16th century convent that housed nuns for over 400 years. The walled complex is a city inside a city — a maze of colored hallways, living quarters, and courtyards featuring beautiful gardens and religious paintings. Santa Catalina received over 170,000 visitors in 2014, making it the fifth most visited tourist destination in Peru.

I visited Santa Catalina in 2008 and published a blog post and FB photo album. In contemplating a return visit, some hack Google search yielded a page from the official website featuring black-hat SEO. Then I Googled “site:www.santacatalina.org.pe” (click here) and found over 1,000 results.

This blog has almost 5,000 Google results, but I have published over 300 blog posts archived by date, categories, tags, and more. Santa Catalina’s website does not even have a news section. While it is available in English and Spanish, by my count it should have less than 50 unique pages for five pages of Google results — MAX. That means at least 50% of the Santa Catalina website is spam.

I found most of the usual from the links — sexual enhancement pills, steroids, weight loss products, pages in Polish. How did that end up on Santa Catalina’s website?

Here is a very short primer on SEO. Google gives priority to websites which receive many links from other websites. Not only does Google count the quantity of links, but it also considers the quality of the website giving the link. Google aggregates the quantity and quality of incoming links into a secret algorithm to assign every website a score called PageRank. The Santa Catalina website has an official PageRank of 4, a good score given the website does not have much information. For comparison, this blog has a LOT of information and a PageRank of only 3. So because Google assigns more relevance (and hence higher rankings in search results) to links from websites with high PageRank scores, a link from a PR4 website is valuable. Such links can be sold.

Maybe you have never heard of Santa Catalina, but in Peru it is the equivalent of the Golden Gate Bridge or Niagara Falls in the United States. So the presence of spam was surprising. The first thing I wondered was who is selling those links.

The Peruvian tourism ministry’s Santa Catalina webpage lists the owner of the monastery as the “Sisters of the Santa Catalina Convent.” Operations are managed by a private company called Promociones Turisticas del Sur.

I doubt it was the nuns.

The management company does not have a website of its own, so I doubt they are selling links. But maybe.

Then there is the Peruvian company who built the website, Orion Software ConsultingWould they spam their client? Or would they help their client spam the website of a Catholic institution and cultural icon?

It is possible that the website was hacked, and the links are being sold by some unknown player.

I asked a friend who works in SEO. His comments:

It could be that Orion company is using the PageRank 4 status to do backlinking SEO for either clients or a private blog network. Although the links appear to have nothing in common and this form of SEO is dead. These pages could be very old.

It could be from a web designer separate from Orion, a gringo with access. It’s tempting because it’s PR4. Maybe it was the original designer and the Peruvians never changed their security. I have access to clients’ sites from 5 years ago. They just never change.

The text on the link pages doesn’t look like it, but I think that’s native English syntaxed in TBS. It’s not ESL, but I could be wrong. It’s probably a gringo selling PR4 backlinks on fiverr.

What do you think?


One comment

  1. You are way overthinking this. Some unscrululous cholo link gambler had access to the site and tried to boost some other sites off of it. Nuff said.


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