Down With The Spammers – Preventing User Generated Spam Penalties

By Sarah Wyland | Jul 15, 2013
More Articles by Sarah

User Generated Spam

There are few things that make a search marketer’s heart sink faster than a notification from Google Webmaster Tools saying their site has been hit with a penalty. Mozilla and Sprint recently received notifications, alerting them that Google had applied a manual penalty for user generated spam. The notifications contained no further information, leaving webmasters to scramble to find the affected pages.

First of all, what is user generated spam?

Usually found in comments, forums or guestbooks, user generated spam are those comments containing links that guarantee you will receive $1,000 or win a sailboat through the mere act of clicking it. Or maybe that link will allow you to watch a popular new movie or hit TV show that just aired its season finale.

How can you prevent user generated spam from happening on your website?

Anti-Spam Tools

If someone wants to comment on your video or recent blog post, why not make sure they are human? Turning on CAPTCHA will require the user to type in a series of letters and numbers to prove they aren’t an automated user. While this may decrease the number of comments you receive, it will increase the quality.

Comment Moderation

Comment moderation – which may need to be aggressive, depending on the size and popularity of your site – will help nip spam in the bud. It can be time consuming, but comment moderation is one of the best lines of defense in defeating user generated spam.


Nofollow Tags

If you do find user generated spam on your site, adding nofollow attributes will tell bots not to use the page when calculating page rank. Nofollow attributes are often already added on many blogging platforms.

Say ‘No’ To Links

Most comments and forums allow webmasters to control what users can do in the comment section. Allow them to leave a comment, but turn off the ability to put hyperlinks in their response.

Allow Users to Report Spam

Let community members help police things. Give them the ability to report spam and they will likely use it when they see spammy links promising unicorns and rainbows. There is, of course, the chance they will abuse it, but ultimately, it should do its job.


The most important thing you can do to avoid a user generated spam penalty is to not ignore the Google Webmaster Tools warning. Take the time to act when you receive a notification, even though it may involve scouring your site for an extended period of time in search of the guilty party. This will save you from lost rankings in the long run.

If you do receive a penalty for user generated spam from Google, the page is manually removed from Google’s index, meaning the page will no longer rank in search results. Once you have remedied the issues that caused the penalty, you’ll need to file a reconsideration request to Google which involves telling Google in as much detail as possible what happened to result in the penalty. According to Google, the process of re-evaluation can take several weeks, making it all the more important to address user generated spam concerns as soon as possible and take measures to avoid it all together.

What do you do to prevent user generated spam on your website? Have you ever been a victim of user generated spam, and if so, what did you do to resolve the problem? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below, or tweet me @Sarah_Wyland!

Share this article

Facebook Icon Twitter Icon LinkedIn Icon Google Plus Icon Pinterest Icon

Subscribe today!

Join over 4,000 marketers who receive actionable digital marketing insights.


Blog Search