What Does Google Consider Spam?
15 Simple tips to avoid getting tagged as spam by Google.
What does Google consider to be spam or spammy? In this article, we look at 15 unique signals that may cause a domain or website to be penalized, banned, or marked as spam by Google. The different items you see below are known as "Spam Flags." The more Spam Flags triggered, the more likely that site is to be penalized/banned from being included in Google's index. All the items we will cover in this article may have different effects, and the penalty severity can vary from case to case. Now that we have that out of the way, onwards to the list!
1. Having a Low MozTrust or MozRank Score
Having a low Moz Trust is similar to MozRank, but rather than measuring raw link popularity from all pages and links equally, it measures a form of link equity that is tied to the “trustworthiness” of the linking website. “Trustworthiness” of linking sites is essential because receiving links from sources with inherent trust can improve your ranking, rather than discourage it.
An example of a high Moz Trust website may include homepages of large University websites or government web pages. These can provide strong trust endorsement for the linked-to website, and are generally not considered spammy links by search engines. MozRank is measured by quantifying link popularity and is Moz’s version of Google’s standard PageRank algorithm. Pages earn MozRank based on the other pages on the web that link to them and the MozRank of those linking pages. The higher the MozRank of the linking pages, the higher the MozRank of the page receiving those links. You can grade the MozRank of your page or site by visiting this link.
2. Large Site with Few Links
Let's say, that you have a large website (100+ pages) and you don't have many links to your products, services, or any external links to reference claims stated on your site. This can cause a flag in Google's system to think that you are a spammy website such as a poor quality directory or "link bait" website. Authentic websites that are a higher trust factor will link naturally and have a balanced amount of link-to-content ratios.
"Real sites tend to link heavily to themselves via internal navigation, and a relative lack of internal links is a spam signal." Source: Moz: What is MozRank?
3. Not Diversifying your Site Links
It used to be common SEO practice to make sure that all links on a website included keywords. This is a technique that has been widely used and indeed abused in the past. Through the many updates to their algorithm, Google knows the difference between a spammy (aka heavy use of keyword links) and natural linking tendencies. Google is now keen to understanding naturalistic links on websites.
To better understand this concept, we have broken it down into two main components to consider regarding link diversity:
a. Make sure the anchor text used for a link is relevant, and the do-follow method is used when linking internally. Do not always use the same old "insert keyword here" method for links on your site. This can limit the keyword appeal of your site by limiting the things your site is known for. People do not always search for your products or services using the same phrases, so why would you set up your links in a similar fashion?
b. Use a mix of follow and nofollow rules when linking externally and a mix of exact-match and descriptive anchor text. Also, look for the best articles to link from your site. Do a few searches and see what is out there. If you see a couple great articles that cover the subject matter the best, link to them. What you want to avoid is linking to some obscure article on page 10 of Google because you are desperate for a link. That helps no one, including the end user and your site.
Source Search Engine Land
4. Ratio of "Followed" to "Nofollow" Domains
"In simple terms, "nofollow" links are links that bring referral traffic to your page but carries almost no value in the eyes of Google. Nofollow links are comments, tweets, facebook posts & URL shares of that kind". Source. The do-follow link is precisely the opposite of a nofollow, and those come from particular directories, articles or landing pages. Most of the time they are inserted by a webmaster. That’s also the reason why followed links are much harder to obtain since you have to contact the actual admin to the site for these types of links to be added in. If you have hired a marketing company, you should request a backlink profile report detailing what links leading to your site are followed and what links are not.
The summary of this step is easy. Have a healthy mix of follow and nofollow links on your site, and seek the same ratio for inbound links from external sources.
5. Small Proportion of Branded Links
To understand this better, think of how you would describe your brand, products or service to another person in an actual conversation. You most likely would not keep repeating the same keyword over and over. Try to type your pages the same way you would speak in real life. Feel free to lightly add in keywords, but not to overdo it. Check the keyword density of your content by using this tool.
A link’s anchor text, i.e., the text which the link is ‘wrapped around,' helps the linked to page rank for the term contained within the said anchor. Small proportions of branded links has been known to be manipulated by link builders.
This method was used to actively add targeted keywords to link anchor text en-masse, in an attempt to try and get their site ranking for said keywords. Google has been known to demote pages which have what they deemed to be an incredible volume of referring links containing a specific keyword or phrase. This also goes back to what was covered in item 3 and overusing exact-match anchor text in a way that is not natural. If you are looking to redesign your website, make sure your web designer creates pages that can support healthy amounts of content for spreading out your branded mentions.
Continued reading: What is a "Spam Score" and what is it used for?
6. Weak or "Thin" Content
Weak content is identified as low-quality articles that add little to no value to the reader. This can be due to either short articles, or pages that have no real SEO or keyword value. Some examples of Thin Content include duplicate pages, automatically generated content or doorway pages.
The best way to measure the quality of your content should be user satisfaction. The user of the site should find most everything they should need. If visitors quickly bounce from your page to another, it likely doesn’t provide the value they were looking for.
Another reason that thin content is viewed as spammy is that it does not allow for enough words to completely cover a given subject matter. For example this very article. We could have easily given you a Top 10 list of spam flags, but that would not help you to understand the technical details of the spam flags themselves. Simply by covering your subject better, you can decrease the chance of spam flags and improve the SEO value of your content. When looking for a content marketing or content creation provider, look for a team that can deliver powerful articles that completely cover a given subject matter.
7. Site Mark-up is Abnormally Small (or non-existent)
Site Mark-up (also known as Rich Snippets) is code that you put on your website to help the search engines return more informative results for users. The content on your website will get indexed and returned in search results. But with Site Mark-Up, some of that content will get indexed and returned differently after the search.
One of the most common (and useful) types of website markup is called Schema. This markup can assist search engines in displaying important data about your products or services, such as hours, pricing, address, reviews, and many "snippets" of information. You may have seen this this mark up before, but did not understand what you were looking at. This can be the review stars that show up with an organic search result, hours of operation, pricing info, etc. Many large directories use mark up to help their results stand out in search results, such as Yelp, Thumbtack, and others. Once you have implemented your Structured Data, you can test using Google's very own structured data testing tool.
Continued reading: Get Started Using Schema - KissMetrics
8. Large Number of External Links but Little of Your Own
A large number of external links + few going to yourself = bad for SEO. If your site gets this flag, it means that a subset of pages within this domain has a large number of external links, without as many leading back to themselves or other internal pages. While this issue is not as common on informational or local business sites (as webmasters generally have many links going to other pages on their site), it can be rampant on low-quality directories.
In the eyes of search engines, having a large number of external links and few going to yourself can throw up a huge red flag. Years ago, link directories would have people pay to be listed under a specific category and provide a link back to your site. Since these "link farms" could be created so quickly, you could easily have many sites linking back to yours to influence ranking positions.
To combat this, Google introduced an algorithm update in April 2012 called "Penguin" that forced people to work harder to establish quality links and helped weed out the quality links vs. ones that were spammy. This change helped "trustworthy" sites perform better in organic search results since they would have links from universities, major directories, industry forums, and multiple trusted citation networks. This allowed Google to provide users with better choices in organic search, rather than showing a bunch of "minor league" service or product providers buying paid links.moz.com"
- Google: Panda Update - Content Related
- Google: Penguin Update - Link Related
- Google: Hummingbird Update - Keyword Related
- Google: Mobile-Friendly Update - Ranking boost to mobile-friendly pages
9. Low Number of Internal Links
We talked a bit about this in number 8, but you can also have a separate problem that does not involve high amounts of external links, but the under-utilization of internal linking. We understand that the internal links are essential. Relevant internal links drive your audience further to your site, rather than back to an external source.
Having links to other areas of your site can cut back user bounce rate as you help them better understand the products and services you offer, and give users more reasons to become repeat visitors. Having a strong internal link audit is to ensure that all your pages from somewhere relevant to your site. Any SEO company worth their salt should have your pages interlinked, using a mix of exact-match and branded anchor text.
10. Anchor Text Heavy
For the less internet knowledge endowed, we should probably start with explaining what "anchor text" is. Anchor text is visible characters and words that hyperlinks display when linking to another document or location on the web. Anchor text usually appears as blue underlined text but can display as other colors if you have changed your website's link colors and styles through your HTML or CSS. Anchor texts can provide both search engines and users relevant information about the content of the link's destination.
Overuse of anchor text is a blatant attempt to familiarize a site for certain keywords, and Google knows it. The best practice for anchor text to avoid this spam flag is to link to the areas of your site using different variations of the keywords you wish to rank for, rather than using the same anchor text each time. An example of this for an HVAC contractor would be using the phrases furnace repair, gas furnace repair, furnace repair contractors to link users to your furnace repair page. This diversifies your anchor text while still maintaining strong SEO value and keyword focus.
11. Not Having Contact Information on the Page
One thing that is going to surprise a lot of people is a website not listing their contact information. 44% percent of users will leave the average webpage because there is no contact information available. If someone is trying to spend money with your company, how can they contact your business? This is a spam flag because most businesses large or small will have a way to get in touch with them. If you do not list your contact information, it could be identified as a spam site by Google.
Having the correct contact information is essential to having your business grow and keep customers coming back. Make sure that your contact info is in multiple places so that it's easy to find for the customers.
Continued reading: 6 Things Your Website Needs To Get More Clients
12. Low Number of Pages Found
This ties into the area where we discussed thin or weak content but is slightly different. For example, you could have 3000+ word articles, but if you only have five pages on your site, it doesn't offer much value to the user.
Having a small number of pages on your site in contrast to the content can cause Google to flag it as spam. If you think you have an issue with this spam flag, and easy way to fix would be to split your lengthy content across multiple pages. When basic informational pages get too long, it can hurt the user experience, as they will not want to read that much as once about a given topic at once, and if you are trying to cover multiple products or services you offer, it would be better accomplished by giving each service it's own page. Longer top level pages are ok, as long as you are linking to other subpages that go more into detail on a given topic.
Summary: If your content is unusually lengthy and your page count is unusually low, it is likely the case that you are trying to cover too much on a single page rather than spreading it out.
13. TLD Correlated with Spam Domains
To understand this spam flag, you need to understand what a TLD is. TLD is an acronym for Top Level Domain. These domains hold the most significant weight when considering the PageRank of all your site's content. It can be complicated to get a domain name nowadays that is not associated with spam, and steps should be taken to avoid purchasing a domain with a bad history (especially if the domain is expensive).
We created an article in 2014 that detailed "Is Buying Domain Names Profitable?" In that article, we discussed the occasional issue with "getting someone else's dirty laundry." This would involve buying a domain name that has been previously associated with spam, and now your site, (or the site you will be forwarding your new domain to) will inherit the same issues.
Good practice before purchasing a domain would be to run the domain you are interested in buying through a number of free SEO tools, to limit the amount of risk involved in buying a domain with a bad history.
14. Domain Name Length
Did you know that you can have up to 253 characters for your domain name? Do people use domains this long? Hardly ever. The average common domain to be relevant has a favorite length for any name traded on the marketplace, has only 8 characters, the longest being 42 characters. Keeping your domain name length shorter is vital for the end user to find the site with the simplest of titles.
A common strategy in competitive markets is to use a "keyword-driven" or "exact match" (also known as EMD) domain name. This essentially means that the domain name is similar or exact to the keywords you wish to rank for. An example would be "plumberstlouis.com". As you can see in the provided example, the domain includes the keyword and the location that the service is provided in. This can be an excellent way to assist in ranking position as long as your content can support a high ranking. Additionally, you may want to consider using a branded domain over a keyword-driven domain, as branded domains are easier to remember and can be used in marketing if your domain name is creative. An example of this would be flavorgod.com, a company that sells spices.
A poor example of using this method would be to have a domain name that is unusually long, such as "bestplumbersinstlouismowithreviews.com". Would you click on a link like that? No, and Google knows it. Based on our research, Google tends to favor shorter domains as long as they are still relevant to the topic. You can see this in the way Google truncates (does not display the link text of) longer domains names in the SERP index.
Continued reading: Domain Name Length Does and Doesn’t Matter - Crucial.com
15. Domain Name Contains Numerals
Have you ever noticed that most domain names do not have numbers in them? In most cases is because certain numbers have a defined meaning overall or in particular context and would act as a keyword. Having numbers may help in some branding aspects of your domain name, but depending on how the number is placed in the title, it could hurt your MozScore and flag Google.
Unless you have a specific reason to use numerals in your domain name, the best practice is to avoid it.
Continued reading: 8 Mistakes to Avoid When Selecting Your Domain Name - Vertical Response
By following these steps, you can help your site avoid being seen as spam by Google and other search engines. While we cannot guarantee a specific result, if you follow these 15 steps your site should be safe from getting penalized for years to come. Happy optimizing!
Posted By David Kley - November 27th, 2017
Like this article? Follow David Kley on these trusted social media networks to get future updates on Adwords, SEO and Social Media Marketing. View all blog posts by this author »