Last Friday, Google published a blog on the official webmaster central blog that advised webmasters to protect their sites from user generated spam. Whenever Google makes such an announce, you can be sure that if an update has not already been released, one is coming very soon.
User generated content can be very valuable and authoritative – sites such as TripAdvisor, Amazon, WikiPedia, and many excellent forums all rely on people contributing content in the form of reviews, research, citations and personal experience. However, many unscrupulous SEOs have also spent years spamming such sites to generate links back to their businesses. In the past, Google did not penalise a website for low quality content, so long as it was unique. But the latest warning suggests that they are upping their fight against spam.
Any website that has comments enabled will have witnessed some auto-generated content in the comments. To the uninitiated, these often look like real, albeit slightly off-topic, comments. The reality is that computer programs are constantly seeking out new blogs to publish spam comments on.
Nofollow No Longer Protects
Webmasters have three options really: ban commenting, allow it in full with community moderation, or manually approve every comment. No system is ideal, but because comments, and specifically links within comments, posed little direct risk to a website, many people have decided to leave comments turned on.
However, if Google does go ahead with this change, websites may receive a penalty just for having spammy content, even if the link does not pass any link juice.
Google’s article provides some useful advice on how to spot spam comments on blogs and forums, and also how to implement some preventative measures to reduce the problem.
As a general rule, if there is a link included to another website within some user generated content, assume that it is spam.
It is important to reiterate that comments on blogs and forums can provide excellent information – some of the best advice on the Internet can be found in such places, as experts are more likely to chip in on a discussion with their opinion rather than write a blog post of their own.
If you enable comments you will never fully eliminate spam, but you can keep it under control. If your site is built on the WordPress CMS there is a setting that sends all comments with links to the moderation queue. There are also several plugins that help to automatically identify and delete spam.
Keep Software Updated
Maintaining an up-to-date website is vital too, as spammers will target exploits in older software – this is especially important if you use third party plugins or modules, as while the CMS core files may be secure, a plugin can open up vulnerabilities.
Use a CAPTCHA
CAPTCHAs can be annoying and hinder the natural flow of conversation, but they are very effective at stopping automated spam. Install on all comment forms if possible – they are also vital to keep spam out from your contact forms.
Remember, a warning from Google today could be a penalty tomorrow. If you are concerned that user generated spam may be affecting your business, contact our Freelance SEO consultants today to learn how to make your website more secure. A spam-free website is always preferred by Google, so keep your site clean for the best rankings.