An update on spam reporting

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This post has been translated into English from our German blog.

In 2006 one of our initiatives in the area of communication was to notify some webmasters in case of a violation of our Webmaster Guidelines (for example, by using a "particular search engine friendly" software that generates doorways as an extra). No small number of these good-will emails to webmasters have been brought about by spam reports from our users.

We are proud of our users who alert us to potential abuses for the sake of the whole internet community. We appreciate this even more, as PageRank™ (and thus Google Search) is based on a democratic principle, that is, a webmaster is giving other sites a "vote" of approval by linking to it.

In 2007 as an extension and complement of this democratic principle, we want to further increase our users' awareness of webmaster practices that do or do not conform to Google's standards. Such informed users are then able to take counter-action against webspam by filing spam reports. By doing so a mutually beneficial process can be initiated. Ultimately, not only will all Google users benefit from the best possible search quality, but also will spammy webmasters realize that their attempts to unfairly manipulate their site's ranking will pay off less and less.

Our spam report forms are provided in two different flavors: an authenticated form that requires registration in Webmaster Tools, and an unauthenticated form. Currently, we investigate every spam report from a registered user. Spam reports to the unauthenticated form are assessed in terms of impact, and a large fraction of those are reviewed as well.

So, the next time you can't help thinking that the ranking of a search result was not earned by virtue of its content and legitimate SEO, then it is the perfect moment for a spam report. Each of them can give us crucial information for the continual optimization of our search algorithms.

Interested in learning more? Then find below answers to the three most frequent questions.

FAQs concerning spam reports

What happens to an authenticated spam report at Google? An authenticated spam report is analyzed and then used for evaluating new spam-detecting algorithms, as well as to identify trends in webspam. Our goal is to detect all the sites engaging in similar manipulation attempts automatically in the future and to make sure our algorithms rank those sites appropriately. We don´t want to get into an inefficient game of cat and mouse with individual webmasters who have reached into the wrong bag of tricks.

Why are there sometimes no immediately noticeable consequences of a spam report? Google is always seeking to improve its algorithms for countering webspam, but we also take action on individual spam reports. Sometimes that action will not be immediately visible to an outside user, so there is no need to submit a site multiple times in order for Google to evaluate a URL. There are different reasons that might account for a user´s false impression that a particular spam report went unnoticed. Here are a few of those reasons:

  • Sometimes, Google might already be handling the situation appropriately. For example, if you are reporting a site that seems to engage in excessive link exchanging, it could be the case that we are already discounting the weight of those unearned backlinks correctly, and the site is showing up for other reasons. Note that changes in how Google handles backlinks for a site are not immediately obvious to outside users. Or it may be the case that we already deal with a phenomenon such as keyword stuffing correctly in our scoring, and therefore we are not quite as concerned about something that might not look wonderful, but that isn't affecting rankings.
  • A complete exclusion from Google´s SERPs is only one possible consequence of a spam report. Google might also choose to give a site a "yellow card" so that the site can not be found in the index for a short time. However, if a webmaster ignores this signal, then a "red card" with a longer-lasting effect might follow. So it's possible that Google is already aware of an issue and communicating with the webmaster about that issue, or that we have taken action other than a removal on a spam report.
  • Sometimes, simple patience is the answer, because it takes time for algorithmic changes to be thoroughly checked out, or for the externally displayed PageRank to be updated.
  • It can also be the case that Google is working on solving the more general instance of an issue, and so we are reluctant to take action on an individual situation.
  • A spam report may also just have been considered unjustified. For example, this may be true for a report whose sole motivation appears to attempt to harm a direct competitor with a better ranking.

Can a user expect to receive feedback for a spam report? This is a common request, and we know that our users might like verification of the reported URLs or simple confirmation that the spam report had been taken care of. Given the choice how to spend our time, we have decided to invest our efforts into taking action on spam reports and improving our algorithms to be more robust. But we are open to consider how to scale communication with our users going forward.