Google’s Weapon Against Large Scale Link Building: The User Generated Spam Penalty

By Tad Miller | Aug 20, 2013
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Boxes, Axis Graph

There’s been a lot of news of late about Google and the practice of building links to improve search engine rankings:

The gist of it all, in my opinion, is that Google seems to be shifting focus from the people who attempt to build links, and instead seems to be focusing on the platforms that allow users to create those links, especially the platforms that allow for easy manufacture of links on a larger scale.

At the same time, as an agency we have seen penalties come through in Google Webmaster Tools, not for unnatural links, but for allowing User Generated Spam Links.  Google’s most recent stance on User Generated Spam is:

Sometimes, spam can be generated on a good site by malicious visitors or users. This spam is usually generated on sites that allow users to create new pages or otherwise add content to the site.

If you receive a warning from Google about this type of spam, the good news is that we generally believe your site is of sufficient quality that we didn’t see a need to take manual action on the whole site. However, if your site has too much user-generated spam on it, that can affect our assessment of the site, which may eventually result in us taking manual action on the whole site.

Hey, Press Release Websites. Guess What You’re Going to Get?


The biggest change in Google’s stance on link building has been in the area of utilizing links within press releases as a method to improve search rankings.  Barry Schwartz recently reported that John Muller from Google said:

Google wants all links in these press releases to be nofollowed. He did say having a URL at the end should be okay but when he was grilled about it again, he said it is best to nofollow the links. John even said press releases should be treated as advertisements and thus links in those releases should be nofollowed.

I asked John why all of a sudden the change in policy for press releases and John said that it is because SEOs were using these more and more in a way to promote their site [artificially in the Google search results] and Google needed to clarify their stance on them.

There really isn’t a quick and easy way for people to do this within the Press Release platforms, so the real message here is to the Press Release platforms like PRWeb, PRNewswire and BusinessWire.  Those platforms are going to be treated just like blogs that allow comment spam or web directories that allow users to create directory links back to their websites.

Google saying that people should only use nofollow links in press releases is really the equivalent of local TV stations telling viewers to call their cable TV company or satellite provider to tell them to negotiate in good faith with the local TV station in carriage agreements.  It’s meant to put pressure on the platforms to change tactics and force them to make all links in press releases automatically nofollow by the the Press Release distributors.

The reality is that the Google strong arm is coming, just as it did before with social media platforms like Twitter in the past.  Google will use Webmaster Guidelines that will force companies like PRWeb to make all links in its Press Releases nofollow, or it will remove its website from the Google index.

What happened to the Directories?

It’s likely that a great deal of the web directories that used to be a common link building tactic among SEOs have met the same fate with user generated spam penalties.  They have been removed from the index for allowing users to generate links on a large scale and are no longer receiving traffic.

The site owners of those directories are shutting them down and what’s left of most of them are slowly disappearing from the internet…

So How Am I Supposed to Build Links Now?

Link building used to be a game of “Scale.”  Quantity absolutely still matters, but the means of production allowed by Google to get quantity of links are pretty limited.

Mass Production is now “Out” and small scale methods are “In” in terms of what you can try to do manually for yourself in link building. Outreach to those that are already writing about you, but not  linking to you, in order to get a link is vital.

Small scale guest blogging isn’t likely going to set off any alarms with Google.  Note: anything even remotely approaching syndication isn’t going to work and a little goes a long way.

Craft Link Building

The Earned Media Model

When you create cool content people naturally want to share it and link to it.  This is the large scale kind of link building that Google doesn’t have any problem with.  Large brands with loyal followings can usually get this if they create something even remotely interesting.  It can be more difficult to do this if your business is complying with Indian Boiler Regulations, but it’s just as tough for the competition in that space also.

Marketers that haven’t started working on content development, need to start doing so not just for ways to engage their customers, but as a way to generate links to their website.

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