Google’s Spam Updates: What Website Owners Should Know About Webspam
Unlike the core, product review and page experience updates that are being unfurled over the course of summer 2021, the spam update shouldn’t impact legitimate sites. Instead, its aim is to keep spammy sites out of search results.
Even though the spam update is unlikely to threaten the positioning of well-intentioned websites, it’s still a good idea to understand what it’s all about.
What is Webspam?
Before we can understand what webspam is, we need to first define what a legitimate web page that appears in search is. The pages pulled into search results are:
- Helpful, informative and/or entertaining.
- Relevant to the query.
- Safe and secure for visitors.
Google identifies these pages based on a variety of signals, which are taken into consideration in search algorithms.
Webspam is any type of digital content that attempts to imitate these signals so they’re discoverable in search, but don’t actually deliver on the promise of a valuable, relevant and secure experience.
Spam comes in many forms on the web:
- Blackhat SEO tactics like link schemes and keyword stuffing (yes, people really are still doing that).
- Annoying things like having webpages solely composed of scraped content, or participating in completely irrelevant or “thin” affiliate programs.
- Dangerous things like malware or pages that try to trick people into giving out their personal information.
The important thing to know about scammers on the web is that they are tenacious, enterprising and intelligent criminals. They are constantly coming up with new methods to get information and money from the world wide web of innocent searchers.
As such, Google and other search engines need to be equally persistent in keeping them out of SERPs—hence the updates.
How Spam Gets Eliminated From SERPs
To answer this question, Google provides this graphic featuring a cute robot:
To expand on this mostly unhelpful image, Google explains that there are several methods by which it identifies spammy content.
First, automated spam filters catch a lot of it. Web crawlers can generally recognize when a website is attempting to mimic the signals of a legitimate website. Those pages aren’t added to the index, which is what Google references when serving up SERPs.
Next, when a visitor submits a query in Google, automated systems scan the indexed content on deck for the SERP once more to be certain that no spam is included.
Because of these first 2 steps, the vast majority of searches provide absolutely no spammy results. In less than 1% of cases, spam finds its way through Google’s filters. That’s where manual action comes in.
Google isn’t all robots and spiders. There are human beings that work at Google and manually inspect web pages; these people flag those that go against Google’s webmaster quality guidelines (in other words, pages that are highly likely to be spam), and prevent them from appearing in SERPs.
Should I Be Worried About Search Spam?
As a user, no, you shouldn’t be worried about encountering webspam in search. Google reports that more than 99% of search visits are entirely free of spam.
However, as a website owner, you should understand the risks you face online. Here are 2 important things you should know:
1. Legitimate pages—including yours—can look like spam accidentally.
Because of this, there are some instances where manual action is taken against sites with only good intentions.
You can check to see if manual action has been taken against your site by checking the manual actions report in Google Search Console. Within the report you’ll find information about why the action took place and advice on what you can do to fix the issue (and get your legitimate page back in the index).
2. Hackers can take over your site and spam your visitors.
There are tons of types of hacked content: Adding content to your site, injecting malicious redirects, hiding dangerous content within your site and more.
The best way to avoid issues like this is to prevent getting hacked in the first place. The most common ways criminals break into your site are:
- Getting past a weak password.
- Taking advantage of missing security updates.
- Social engineering.
In Conclusion: Keep Your Site Secure
The spam updates that took place on June 23 and 28, 2021 probably won’t affect the search positioning of any legitimate website.
There’s really only 1 takeaway for site owners from this update: Make sure your site is secure. Use HTTPS (not HTTP), update all plugins and themes, pick a strong password and consider 2-factor authentication when you can.
Molly Ploe is a Marketing Specialist at Brafton. When she’s not writing, she spends her time reading, going on walks and drizzling honey onto ice cream.
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