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From Robot to Human

Andreas Voniatis | September 06, 2012

The evolving history of white hat web spam

Shortly after its launch, Google had set its sights on being the most useful search engine on the Internet. This quest has led them on a never-ending battle against webmasters who seek to gain an edge on search engine ranking results (SERRs) through any means necessary.

Over the years, Google has deemed some of the high volume application of these practices as “web spam” and has rolled out algorithm updates to remove the authority of the link those websites previously enjoyed from engaging in them. Below, we explore a timeline of link building practices that have been banned by Google and find out how you can prevent your site from being next.

The historic evolution of Google’s organic search algorithmic updates in combatting web spam

2003 Florida
Arguably the most significant update in Google’s early history and widely credited for the introduction of the Hilltop algorithm created by Krishna Bharat which was actually written to power Google News. One approach the Florida update could have used is local inter-connectivity whereby site pages that links from sites ranking in the top 100 for a given search query. If Florida was based on local inter-connectivity, then this would partially explain the phenomena that witnessed many of the websites that lost traffic as a result of the update.

2004 Austin
Google introduce the Austin update, which may have been based on an additional web spam filter targeting websites that are lacking links from trustworthy websites. Consequently, a Sandbox phenomena is created whereby new links don’t get trusted immediately which confuses the SEO community into thinking new websites are being penalized overtly.

2010 Mayday
The MayDay update was a ranking change that affected large ecommerce sites that previously dominated long tail searches due to having product item pages despite lacking original and substantial content.

2011 Panda
The focus of Panda was on content farms generating low quality content which may include free for all article directories, sites scraping and deduplicating news stories generated online and public blog content networks whereby users could upload spintex articles and have these distributed on a large number of websites.

2012 Penguin
Arguably the most significant change since the Florida update in 2003, Penguin targeted a number of factors including key phrase rich hyperlinks and landing page copy.

Don’t be a turkey
Nobody knows what link building practices will be considered web spam. Similarly, nobody knows the value of any link for inbound marketing. It was only a short while ago Matt Cutts considered links from infographics may not carry the same weight as they do now. Given the rampant nature of guest blog posts and the low quality content that gets written for links, that practice will probably come under the radar. The point is to write value adding content to build readership. Building readership w
To evaluate your web search optimisation practices and stay ahead of the curve, keep the following in mond:

1) Drop keyword discovery and think community
If yes, then stop using them. Get involved with your community and write about what the issues are, trawl your GWT accounts, use your experience that puts you in an authoritative position to create content worth consuming.

2) Adopt a code of ethics when writing
It’s important to adopt a journalist code of ethics when writing your content. When writing for geographical markets, use native speaking writers as they will often have the cultural influences that a non native speaker would not have.

3) Publish on a regular basis
If not, you’re missing a massive opportunity because a website like any good book that stays relevant is often updated with fresh content. If the content is well considered and published regularly, the published web pages will earn links and more importantly attract regular readers.

4) Is the linking site socially connected?
Being socially connected means engaging socially online to make yourself heard and noticed in the community you write for thus the published web pages will earn shares giving you more coverage on the web helping you to attract more readers.


SEO Theory

 SEO By the Sea

Andreas qualified as a management accountant (ACMA) after graduating in Economics with honours from Leeds University. In 2003, pursued a career in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and has since held various Head of Search roles for award winning agencies including Infectious Media and prestigious startups. In 2010, Andreas became an independent consultant to international agencies and brands worldwide providing SEO consultancy services and online PR, including Exxon Mobil, Tesco, HSBC, Zurich, Quorn as well as startups including Discount Vouchers. His work has been featured in the Telegraph and Search Engine Watch particularly for reverse engineering the Google Penguin algorithm to a 98% statistical confidence level in 2013.