What is web spam?

Web spam is text, code, or a webpage which is designed to trick Google’s search algorithm and artificially inflate search engine rankings. Usually, this technique is used to generate a profit and drive more traffic with black hat SEO techniques.

Framed another way, web spam is any form of search engine ranking manipulation which falls outside of, or directly violates, Google’s webmaster guidelines.

While web spam was once prolific, today it is less common to encounter overt forms of spam from the search engine results page, as Google regularly updates its parameters to remove web spam from searchers’ path automatically.

Indeed, modern web spam is almost unrecognizable from its historical counterpart, and may not be obvious to the end-user when it takes the form of link buying.

Web spam example

link buying services

(Image Source)

The above is an example of link-buying services that you can – but should never – purchase from the freelancer platform Fiverr.

Buying and selling links is referred to as a “link scheme” by Google and in direct violation of their webmaster policies.

Note that this is not the same thing as affiliate links or sponsored posts, both of which are legitimate forms of marketing as long as a clear disclaimer is made about the relationships between the author and the link owners.

Web spam history

There was a time period where most blogs allowed commenters to create a link to their website or address.

However, this became a source of web spam known as “comment spam” as unscrupulous individuals used this to their advantage to earn illegitimate backlinks from websites with high domain authority by associating their links with keyword-based anchor text in the comments.

Another popular and now defunct strategy of web spammers was keyword stuffing, wherein a page would have artificially high keyword density to attract searchers.

There were two Google algorithm updates which significantly changed and eliminated these forms of spam. Panda, released in 2011, cut back on spam by reducing the pieces of low-quality content that ranked in the top results.

If it was thin, over-optimized, or duplicated from another source, Panda removed or significantly downgraded the content’s rank.

But it was Penguin in 2012 that really turned link spammers out. After Penguin rolled out, pages with keywords stuffed to the gills, deceitful redirects, link schemes, and intentionally duplicated content could no longer climb to the top.

As of June 2018, Google reports it was able to locate and remove over 80% of web spam from the search engine results page.

Web spam uses

The purpose of web spam is simple: to create unearned search engine rankings through unethical practices, although the people who perpetuate spam may not always be aware that their techniques are frowned on (particularly, small and inexperienced website owners).

Even if web spam is able to achieve its goal by bringing in more organic traffic, it’s unlikely to produce qualified leads in doing so.

Additionally, because web spam practices almost always hurt the quality of the user’s experience, anyone utilizing these strategies can anticipate a high bounce rate and negative SEO — assuming they’re not caught by Google first.

Web spam misunderstandings

Perhaps the most ubiquitous misunderstanding about web spam is that it’s effective. Most legitimate sites with domain authority worth leveraging don’t sell or buy links, and indeed, 72.8% of them won’t even respond to the query.

There’s never a good or sustainable reason to attempt to “trick” Google. Web spam may be the dark after-effect of SEO, but it’s not a legitimate SEO technique.

And, perhaps most importantly, the majority of important ranking factors for a webpage are in direct opposition of web spam.

Factors such as time spent on page, pages per session, and bounce rate all have a stronger impact on your search engine ranking than referring domains. If your content or website is spammy, these metrics will reflect it and negate any advantage derived from web spam.