Passing on the Spam: A Quick & Dirty Recap of Google’s Recent Updates

In some ways, doing research online has become more difficult. Partly, because there’s just so much junk to wade through. Thin reviews regurgitate content from other sites, click-bait articles deliver little substance and no answers, and media conglomerates publish the same article (with slightly different titles) across their entire media stable.

The information highway is drowning in litter. Google’s recent core update and confederate spam update aim to clean up its share of the cyber roadway by 40%. 

Helpful Content Core Update

If you feel like you’ve been hearing about the “helpful content update” for a while, that’s because it started last September. Google’s most recent core update, which ran through most of March and April, added new “helpful content” criteria focused on identifying and devaluing unhelpful web content. According to Google, this includes both generally poor content and webpages that “have a poor user experience or feel like they were created for search engines instead of people.”

Content made for search engines includes pages that are packed with keywords but with no substantive value. A more-specific example would be recipe pages that are laden with “story” content that’s present simply to capture search engines’ attention.

The second focus of the core update heightens the value of real expertise, the second E in Google’s E-E-A-T value matrix. Ostensibly, this means the update will promote content written by experts in a given field or those with similar credibility over all those articles written by, you know, journalists and writing majors. 

Many of the initial hits in March were against sites helmed by self-professed spammers. Google issued manual penalties for these sites that bragged about offering tutorials on how to game the system. But gray- and black-hat sites weren’t the only ones hit by the core update.

Many smaller publishers have gotten hammered in the rankings since the original algorithm changes rolled out in September, some seeing organic traffic drop by as much as 90%. Niche publishers, like HouseFresh and Retro Dodo, claim that they’re being choked out even though they have the expertise that the updates allegedly value, while some critics have rebutted those claims questioning the quality such sites actually offer. Fun, fun. 

Meanwhile, the media conglomerates have continued ranking for the same searches (often with one article repeated in various publications), coasting on their powerful domains . . . until Google released its spam updates.

Site Reputation Spam Update

Google’s site reputation abuse policy rolled out earlier this month, and like the previous update, its impact was immediate. Within 24 hours, some highly recognized publishers got hit, including Forbes, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and CNN.

Google defines site reputation abuse as third-party content published “with little or no first-party oversight or involvement.” This content, often irrelevant to the site’s stated purpose, takes advantage of the first-party site’s reputation and ranking signals to manipulate search rankings. It can be broken down into three types:

  • Scaled content abuse uses either AI-generated or thinly templated content on a large scale to game search rankings. (Let’s be honest, whenever content is pumped out in this manner it’s usually a get-clicks-quick scheme.)
  • Expired domain abuse is the practice of buying a quality expired domain and turning it into an AI content farm while exploiting its reputation for clicks.
  • Site reputation abuse is, frankly, pimping out your reputable site for click-bait rankings. Prevalent forms include hosting coupons (which have nothing to do with your site), publishing low-quality articles on high-search topics (which have nothing to do with your site), and publishing third-party spam content on subdomains or subsites. 

When Google finds these types of spam on a website, it no longer dings that specific URL; it’s now dinging the entire site, making it more detrimental to your rankings. Some publishers aren’t removing the spam from their websites (who doesn’t love coupons, right?); since the sites get money from their ad impressions and affiliate links, they’re just setting those pages and sections to not be indexed.

To be clear, not all third-party content will get flagged as site reputation abuse. Sponsored and editorial content that benefits the first-party site’s readers (or, at the very least, is relevant to the site’s content) should be fine.

What Does This Mean for You?

With the site reputation abuse policy and Google’s recent helpful content update, it’s more important than ever to ensure that all your website’s content is original, high-quality, and related to your area of expertise.

And those are policies EVG Media has always striven to follow. Since no one can fully predict how the cyber landscape will adjust from Google update to update, we focus on largely algorithm-proof strategies: creating content with subject-matter experts that demonstrate E-E-A-T qualities, linking content helpfully and intuitively, and helping clients like WIKA, Randstad, and Accor stay consistently on brand. If you want help developing strategies like these or in understanding the ever-changing world of search, EVG can help you create a plan.

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