User generated content, a blessing and a curse. On one hand you have an almost unlimited supply of fresh content that you have to do nothing to generate. On the other hand, unless you’re very lucky, at least some of that content (if not a lot of that content) will be poor quality and possibly spammy.
But what do you do when Google has decided that so much of that content is so spammy that it needs to be quarantined? How about the worst case scenario where your site has become so rife with spam that Google decides to remove it from their results pages completely? If you have received a user generated spam warning in Webmaster Tools, or want to prevent it from ever happening, read on through our user generated spam guide.
But first we suggest you view this video of Matt Cutts discussing the subject:
What Is User Generated Spam?
User generated spam is simply spammy content that has been uploaded to your site via it’s user interaction areas. You will know if you have become a victim of user generated spam by receiving a message in Webmaster Tools alerting you to the fact. You are only likely to receive this message if your site has been heavily infected. An example of this could be if you are running a forum and have neglected it slightly, you may then return to find that it has been overrun by spammy comments.
This could be further impounded by the fact people may have created spammy user profiles with names such as ‘discount car insurance’, ‘cheap designer sneakers’ or ‘free business ebooks.’ Make sure you check your profile or user list to find out if this is the case.
You may also have a blog where the comments have been super spammed or a guest book where people have posted spammy entries that you haven’t maintained. There is also a slim possibility that your site and content has been hacked but, as Matt says, that more often than not results in you receiving an entirely different message.
Normally if you receive a user generated spam message it means Google has targeted only that section of your site leaving the rest of your site unaffected. An example of this could be if you have a forum pegged onto your overall site or if you had a blog as an addition to your main site. As long as the rest of the content that is hosted on the domain is high quality you should be fine.
There will be an exception to this rule if your overall site has become overrun. In this instance Google may take action against the site as a whole. For example, if your site is built on a WordPress framework and most pages have a comment section that have been attacked you may find that your whole domain receives a penalty. Matt’s example of a Kentucky Wild Cats basketball team forum (one for our American readership) that you set up and then haven’t checked for a while fits into this definition nicely.
What should you do?
Unsurprisingly Matt’s, and therefore Google’s, main bit of advice is to clean it up! Just like with the disavow tool Google likes it when you put in as much effort as possible to correct the problems yourself. This includes, but is by no means limited to:
- checking for, and removing, spammy users that have been created
- checking for, and removing, spammy threads or areas in your forum
- Site searches. These can be carried out by typing Site:yoursite into Google search and then searching for P.P.C. (Pills, Porn and Casinos). These are three of the most spammed web categories. However, your searches should not just be limited to these areas. Everything that would upset people if they came across it on your site and also everything people would spam for should be checked.
How To Prevent User Generated Spam From Returning
The buzzword here is preventative maintenance. Again this includes, but is not limited to:
- Utilising a captcha. It is best to make it slightly challenging as simple ones can be solved by some spam software. Google recaptcha and kitten captcha (yes, kitten captcha) are good options. By making sure you use a captcha that takes some thinking about you can be sure no programs that use Optical Character Recognition (OCR), for example, can break it.
- Turn comment moderation on. Not only does this allow you to check each comment before it is posted but it also puts human spammers off due to the fact that they don’t instantly see their comment appear. This means they are less likely to return to spam again.
- Don’t allow links to pass page rank. In this scenario spammers are spamming for page rank. You can either set all links to automatically be nofollow, or you could design a trust based system where new posters links are nofollow but links posted by longer standing users, who have proven their worth and contribution, are dofollow and pass page rank.
After doing your utmost to clean up the issue, and put safeguards in place to prevent it from happening again, you should submit a reconsideration request. More information about reconsideration requests can be found here.
In the reconsideration request be completely transparent with Google and try to give them some context. Tell them why you received the user generated spam message and then also be clear about what you have done to prevent the situation from occurring again. If you’ve decided to use a captcha tell them, if you’ve closed the forum to new users tell them. You can’t give Google too much information when it comes to reconsideration requests. By proving to Google that you have tried everything within your power to prevent the same situation from happening again they should be happy enough to withdraw the penalty.
Written by Ryan Hill
Spam Pizza image attribution: cookipediachef
Basketball image attribution: StuSeeger