Can your site make a manual penalty recovery?

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  • 6/18/2014
    Spam, the mystery meat of the web - pretending to be something it’s not.

    Seeking quick wins, web spammers use techniques to create the illusion of an optimized website, although these sites are anything but. Can sites that have employed spam tactics long-term make a recovery? We’ll be able to better answer that once we determine why spammers spam, what kinds of spam induces penalties and what effects spam has on the web ecosystem.

    Why do Spammers Spam?

    Black hat webmasters, or spammers, spam in order to cheat the system, to jump to the top of rankings very quickly by exploiting loopholes in Google’s ranking system. The high risks and inevitable consequences that accompany spam provide that it will never be a long-term solution for high rankings. Spammers invest considerable time and money into their web projects when these same resources could easily be focused in the direction of enduring success.

    Essentially, spam tactics are a means of renting rankings rather than buying them (not literally of course). What I mean by this is that your high ranking will most certainly be short-lived, while organic SEO tactics provide a means for making a home on search engine results page prime real estate. Google works tirelessly to control web spam and will penalize sites they deem spammy. Penalties range from dropping off the first results page to full on bans from Google. Although organic efforts do not yield as immediate of results, the outcome will always be worth the hard work.

    What Type of Spam Will Warrant a Penalty?

    Google invests a great deal of time in discovering new ways and revising old ways of fighting web spam. There are a number of factors that contribute to a site earning a penalty, but here are a few of the most common factors that will signal your site is likely spammy in nature:
    • Paid Links/Unnatural Links

    • Buying links is a technique used to manipulate PageRank (Google’s algorithm used to rank websites in their search results). Both buying and selling links, which includes link directories, puts your website at risk of earning a penalty. Keep in mind, not all directories are bad in Google’s eyes. Directories can prove valuable as links if they are built for humans rather than search engines, and are unique, selective and specific.

    • Content That’s Not Useful for a User

    • Several spam tactics can fall under this umbrella. Thin content, and low-quality, shallow pages that do not offer much value to the reader raise a big red flag.
      Duplicate content is another signal that the content likely won’t satisfy a user. Unique and well-written content ranks best and sends a signal to Google essentially saying, “This is legitimate. This will benefit a user.” Similarly, content theft places duplicate content across the web, since it is obviously unoriginal.
      Lastly, over-optimization, or keyword stuffing (going to the extreme with how often you incorporate a keyword throughout a page), looks very unnatural.

    • Hidden Text/Links

    • Black hat webmasters like to hide links and keywords on their page to attempt to deceive search engines about their content’s nature. For example, a payday loan site might use irrelevant hidden text throughout the page such as “bacon, bacon recipes” with the end goal of tricking search engines into sending bacon fanatics to a payday loan page. In addition, keyword stuffing on a page using a font color that blends into the background and can’t be seen by users is still keyword stuffing!

    What is the Impact of Spam on Others?

    Spammy websites are a threat and an annoyance to the web community in a number of ways, including:
    • Unnecessary work for crawlers and search engines
      • Forces them to dedicate time and valuable resources to fight web spam
    • Traffic is diverted away from legitimate businesses
    • Search result quality may diminish, leaving users with a poor experience
    • Spammy websites can contaminate other websites that have the same address and company information

    So, Can Sites that have Employed Spam Tactics Long-Term Make a Recovery?

    It may be possible to fix each issue individually, but this can take a significant amount of time given the long-term nature of the spamming activity. It can be very difficult to analyze all areas that need correction and then implement needed corrective actions. After taking the proper steps to amend your wrong doings, you will need to send a reconsideration request to Google highlighting your attempts to reform. You are not guaranteed resubmission, and the bigger a hole you have to dig your way out of, the more unlikely your request is to be accepted.

    If black hat SEOs continue to go rogue and act knowingly against Google’s guidelines, why should they be trusted to redeem themselves? I relate this to criminals, since black hats are fundamentally criminals of the web world. Criminals commit crimes and when caught they are punished. If their crime is bad enough, the consequence oftentimes is to remain where they cannot further harm the community. The same should go for sites that have kept spam tactics in place long-term. If their reputation is bad enough, why should they get another chance to negatively impact the web ecosystem?

    In short, yes, there is potential to make a recovery. However, this is an extremely difficult process, not to mention nothing is guaranteed. The time, effort and resources put toward cleaning up a tarnished site may be better suited for building a new site and focusing on a sound organic optimization strategy.

    Do you think long-term spammy sites can make a recovery and regain top result real estate? Should they be given another chance by Google? Let us know in the comments section below!

    About the author::Stef is an optimization specialist at thunder::tech. Outside of work you will find her: at the gym, eating a pepperoni pizza, or on a woodland adventure in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
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