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It can be easy to take for granted how little spam shows up in the dozens of Google searches we make every day.

While we are almost always able to find what we need through the search engine without an abundance of malicious, copied, or just plain spammy websites, the search engine says it has been ramping up spam detection behind the scenes to fight the seemingly endless hordes of illicit or otherwise problematic sites from filling up its search results.

In fact, Google’s webspam report for 2020 says the search engine detected more than 40 billion pages of spam every day last year. This reflects a 60% increase from the year before.

How Google Search is Fighting Spam

It is possible there was a distinct increase in spammy sites last year, potentially due to disruptions and other changes brought about by the Covid pandemic. According to the search engine though, the bulk of this increase is the result of increased spam prevention efforts with the help of AI.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have helped the company keep with new spam methods and are credited with allowing the search engine to reduce auto-generated or scraped content “by more than 80% compared to a couple of years ago.”

This AI-based approach also frees up Google’s manual action spam team to focus on more advanced forms of spam, such as hacked sites which were “still rampant in 2020.”

To show you how this approach works and helps filter out the bulk of webspam before it even gets added to Google’s indexes, the company shared a simple graphic:

COVID Spam and Misinformation

As with everyone, Google faced unprecedented situations in the past year as it responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included devoting “significant effort in extending protection to the billions of searches” related to the virus.

One part of this effort was instituting a “more about this result” feature which added additional context about sites before clicking through to one of their pages. This intends to help users avoid bad actors that popped up, especially during the early stages of the pandemic.

Additionally, the search engine says it worked to remove misinformation that could be dangerous during the course of the pandemic.

What This Means For You

Assuming you are a reputable professional in your industry, Google’s increased efforts to fight spam should only be a source of comfort. There have been fewer reports of sites being incorrectly targeted by these spam prevention methods in recent years, while the overall level of deceptive, spammy, or harmful sites in the search results has plummeted. 

All in all, this means a better experience for both users trying to find information and products, as well as brands fighting to reach new customers online.

Any time Google’s Penguin or Panda updates are mentioned, site owners and bloggers alike work themselves into a mini frenzy about the possibility that their totally legitimate website might have been penalized. It’s warranted, in a way, because a few innocent bystanders have been affected, but largely Google is policing those breaking the rules.

Meanwhile, bloggers have tended to downplay just how much rule breaking there is. Black hat SEO is treated as a fringe issue when in reality it is a huge issue. Writers tend to focus on a small aspect of black hat SEO in which competitors use shady links and other SEO tactics to bring your site down, and that is incredibly rare. Google considers all explicit spam to be black hat, and with that definition, black hat SEO is the most pervasive type of SEO around.

It is also the type of spam Google spends most of their time fighting. Matt Cutts, Google’s webspam team leader, took to YouTube recently to answer a question about how many notifications Google sends out to website owners, and 90% of Google’s manual penalties are still spent on blatant spam pages.

Google sends out hundreds of thousands of notifications each month, but the chances of your common SEO or website owner seeing one are rare. There is a chance though. The other 10% of notifications focus on problems that SEOs who have fallen out of the loop or novices may have gotten sucked up into such as link buying, link selling, or even hacking notifications.

Less than a year ago, Google unleashed an update called the “webspam algorithm” that seemed innocuous at first, until experts began to notice how widespread its effects were. The impact of the update was so large, Google eventually gave it an official name more in line with their other update, Panda. The “webspam algorithm” became Penguin.

The original name for the update was an accurate description for what this update did. It was aimed to demote sites violating the Webmaster Guidelines for Google, specifically sites full of webspam. These sites used manipulation to improve their rankings in the search engines, but some innocent sites were affected, and more have been affected by each subsequent update to Penguin.

These “black hat” methods such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, participating in link schemes, and purposefully using duplicate content had been around on the internet since SEO has existed (pretty much as long as the internet has been widely used), and Penguin sought to finally deal with the spammers, but with it a new set of rules for SEO were created.

Pratik Dholakiya has collected these rules into “The Definitive Guide To Penguin Friendly SEO” which explains which methods have been shunned and what new techniques are favorable for SEOs.

If you were actively using black hat techniques, you won’t find new ones to continue spamming in a different way, but for any SEO looking to legitimately improve their search performance with good content and practices, this list will help steer readers away from any bad methods.

Have you ever wondered how Google handles web spam in other languages or other countries? According to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team,  they have people placed on the ground across the globe to handle markets for their native countries.

Cutts, was responding to a question asked online, when he said, “If an algorithm misses something, they are there to find the spam. They know the lay of the land, they know who the big players are, and they’re really quite expert. So if there’s some really unique kind of link spam going on in Poland, for example, there’s a person there.”

The video is below. The question was poorly phrased (Europe is smaller than the US? Really?), but it helps illustrate just how international of a company Google is trying to be. I’ve heard European countries use Google less than the US, but clearly Google is still trying to offer the same experience across the globe.

 

Andre Weyher worked on Google’s Search Quality/Webspam team for two years, according to his LinkedIn profile. Recently, he spoke with James Norquay, a digital/search marketer from Australia, offering insight that possibly could help search marketers and web marketers understand Google’s SEO strategies.

Since Matt McGee published his initial report on Weyher’s comments on Search Engine Land, Google has released a short statement denying Weyher worked on webspam engineering or algorithms, but Weyher stands by his statements.

According to Weyher, everyone on the search quality team covers a specific “market” and his was content quality and backlink profiles.

Speaking about the Penguin update, Weyher says, “Everyone knew that Penguin would be pointed at links, but I don’t think many people expected the impact to be as large as it turned out to be. At this stage a webmaster is out of his mind to still rely on techniques that were common practice 8 months ago.”

He emphasizes the shift to anchor text ratios, which has been a frequent piece of SEO advice following the Penguin update. His statement could confirm Google’s perspective on anchor text ratios.

If Weyher’s statements are to be believed, they could be a source of great insight into Google’s SEO strategies. However, even if you take Weyher’s words as truth, he would have been just one member of Google’s huge team, which he confirms when he says in his defense of the original interview, “No one within Google knows the entire picture apart from maybe 1 engineer, 1 level under Larry Page.”