We’re all familiar with internet “spam”. We see it in pop-up ads, in our email inboxes, and on websites and apps. Consumers normally think of spam in terms of unsolicited marketing emails, but search engines face their own type of spam that is equally detrimental to the user’s experience.
Thankfully, Google has gone to great lengths to minimize the amount of spam that’s put in front of us as we’re browsing the internet. By doling out penalties to websites that demonstrate spammy tactics to get appear higher in the search results, Google has done its best to discourage most “black hat” SEO practices. However, there are still a sizeable number of audacious website owners out there willing to try to pull one over on Google. You’re probably not one of them, but your website can still be affected by spam.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what constitutes as spam in the eyes of Google, how to identify spam that is on your website using Moz Link Explorer, and what to do about it.
Why Does Google Penalize Spam?
As Google emerged as a tool for businesses to reach new customers through its search capabilities, so did the practice of black hat SEO. Black hat SEO is the practice of manipulating Google’s search engine algorithms to improve a website’s rankings in the search results. These unethical techniques include:
- Keyword stuffing
- Misleading redirects
- Poor quality content
- Paid links
- Inaccurate structured data
- Blog comment spam
- Link farming
- Private blog networks
These techniques pose a massive threat to the integrity of Google’s ability to provide useful and relevant content to searchers. That’s why Google developed its own ways to flag spammy activity and penalize those who use it to try to game the system.
Why You Should Be Concerned About Spam
If you’re not employing any black hat SEO tactics – that’s great! Keep not doing that. However, if you are getting backlinks from spam sites, Google might associate your site with those spam sites and you could be given a penalty.
In some cases, spam sites will link out to random other sites to disguise who their customers really are. In others (such as “referral spam”), spam sites are hoping that site owners will see the site in their analytics and visit it. Sites may even be the target of “negative SEO” techniques, where competitors try to get a site penalized for spam by pointing spam links at it. Google has said negative SEO doesn’t work, but there’s room for doubt.
Your inbound links serve as a testament to your website’s trust and authority as well as a relevancy factor, so if you’re getting referrals from less than reputable sites, Google may eventually start to demote your site based on the company you keep. Part of your due diligence as an SEO should be to monitor the links you’re getting to ensure they’re not going to cause any problems.
How To Use Moz Link Explorer To Clean Up Backlinks
Investigate Backlinks With Moz Spam Score
Moz Spam Score is a tool that can be found within Moz Link Explorer. Here’s how to pull your Spam Score:
- Open Moz Link Explorer
Enter your website’s URL for analysis and click the search button.
- Moz will analyze the backlinks to your website and give you a snapshot of your backlink profile.
- In the left-hand navigation menu, go to Spam Score.
- Your Spam Score breaks down the trustworthiness of domains linking to your website, and provides a list of individual backlinks and their spam score.
How Does Moz Compute Your Spam Score?
Moz analyzed a long list of domains that have been banned or penalized by Google, and uses machine learning to compare the features of these websites to the current domains in question. They’ve developed a list of Spam Score Signals that they use to identify the level of “spammy-ness” on a given domain.
According to Moz, these are the 27 signals used to calculate spam score:
- Low number of pages found
- Top-level domain correlated with spam domains
- Domain name length
- Domain name contains numerals
- Google Font API Present
- Google Tag Manager not present
- Doubleclick ad tag not present
- Phone number not present
- No links to LinkedIn
- No email address present
- Missing SSL certificate
- Uses meta keywords tag
- Low number of visits in Jumpshots clickstream panel
- Rel canonical utilizing a non-local rel=canonical tag
- Very long or very short meta description tag
- Very long meta keywords tag
- Missing favicon
- Missing Facebook tracking pixel
- Abnormally high or low external outlinks
- Abnormal ratio of external links to content
- Many sequential vowels or consonants in domain name
- Multiple hyphens in domain name
- Very long or short URL path
- Presence of webspam topic buzzwords (ie. pharmaceuticals, adult content, gaming, etc.)
- Uses webspam topic buzzwords in anchor text for outlinks
Having one or two of these signals present on a domain will not automatically flag the website as spam. Rather, Spam Score works as a percentage system, with each signal contributing a percentage to the spam score. Logically, a domain that has many of these signals will show a higher spam percentage.
What To Do With This Information
This is where things can get a little tedious and some manual checking comes into play. The spam score is not a hard-and-fast determination of whether a linking domain is spam, so use this data as a jumping off point. Legitimate backlinks to your website are very valuable, so you won’t want to simply lop off any links that show up in red or orange. Prioritize the backlinks with a 61%-100% spam score first, and check through them to ensure they are actually spam websites. Visiting spam sites directly can expose you to malware, so before you actually open a link, run it through a link scanner first. Norton SafeWeb, URLVoid, and ScanURL all provide a good idea of whether a link is safe to open.
If you do open a suspicious backlink, you should be able to weed out most of the spam links if they’re located on the following:
- Pages with very little content
- Websites with duplicate content
- Link directories
- Websites with irrelevant content
- Social bookmarking websites
- Comment forms on other websites
How to Remove Bad Backlinks
The cleanest way to get a bad backlink off of your backlink profile is to reach out to the website owner and ask for the link to be removed, though the success rate in doing this is unsurprisingly low. You can also find the hosting company and request the link to be removed due to spam. Use whoishostingthis.com to find the hosting company.
If you have no luck with those requests, you can disavow backlinks in Google Search Console. Follow these steps to give Google the directive not to associate the spammy backlinks with your site. Please keep in mind that using this feature can harm your website’s performance if you do not use caution in deciding which links to disavow. Employ the help of an SEO if you’re still not confident in your ability to discern bad backlinks from legitimate ones.
The final takeaway here is that, yes, webspam can be very detrimental to your website’s performance. Be sure to monitor your backlinks and where they are coming from, and if you’re finding a considerable amount of spammy links pointing to your site, take the necessary steps to protect your site from penalties. Another good defense that you should be consistently working on is building more good links to lower the percentage of links pointing to your site.