Pure spam penalties
Have you received a Pure Spam manual action from Google? I have found that Google’s documentation on these penalties is not terribly actionable. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of people who have been reaching out to me for help in understanding and removing a pure spam manual action.
My point in writing this article is twofold. The first goal is to share with you what I know about these penalties. The second is to offer a review of your website if you are trying to remove a pure spam manual action. If you are interested in this, you can scroll to the bottom of the article or click here for more info.
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My experience with pure spam manual actions
Google has documentation on Pure Spam actions but I find that most people who get one of these penalties are not sure why they got it. I have reviewed quite a few sites and have made a list of factors that seem to be connected to these notifications. I’ll explain in this article factors that we know for certain can contribute to pure spam and also factors that I feel could also be important to look at. I’ll also share with you what kind of reconsideration request you should write.
My first recommendation is to watch Matt Cutts’ video:
In this video, Matt explains some possible reasons for pure spam actions. He also says that webmasters rarely apply for reconsideration to get these penalties removed, but in my experience this is not true. In some cases you can recover from a pure spam penalty provided you can convince Google that your site is worthy of including in their index.
How to know if you have a pure spam penalty
You will receive a message in Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools) that may look like this:
What if you don’t have Google Search Console set up? If you verify your site and add it to Google Search Console you won’t be able to see messages that were previously sent to the account. But, you will be able to find the action in the Manual Actions section found at Search Traffic → Manual Actions. You’ll see something that looks like this:
In most cases you’ll find that the site has been completely deindexed from Google. You can search for this by doing a site: query like this:
Possible reasons for pure spam
Many people who email me asking for help have no clue why they have been removed from Google’s index. Here is a list of possible reasons why your site could have been perceived as pure spam:
1) Previously used for spam
Did you just buy this domain name? You can look at what it was used for previously by looking up the site on archive.org. It’s possible that the domain had a pure spam action on it when you bought it. If this is the case, file for reconsideration and explain that you recently purchased the domain and that the content on the site has completely changed. Please note though, that in order to have the penalty revoked, you actually have to have content on the site. You won’t get the action lifted if the site is still blank or mostly in development.
Also, don't try to fool Google into thinking that you've purchased a new domain, when really you haven't. I've seen a couple of people who have tried to change ownership of a domain in the hopes of removing a pure spam penalty. If the content hasn't changed dramatically, this tactic will not work.
2) Automatically generated content
Google’s wording is confusing because they say, “automatically generated gibberish”. Now, if you have a site that consists primarily of autogenerated text that makes no sense, it is obvious why Google may consider that pure spam. However, some sites can get a pure spam penalty if they've used an auto-translator. I personally believe that some sites that are low quality sites with broken English can be seen as gibberish as well.
Google also considers “stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value” an example of automatically generated content as well. This type of content is very similar to what I’ll describe in my third example, scraped content.
3) Scraped Content
If you have received a pure spam penalty and your site consists mostly of information that can be found elsewhere, then there is a good chance that Google is seeing this content as scraped content, even if you are not using scraping tools to create your pages. Google gives the following examples when describing what they consider scraped content:
- Sites that copy and republish content from other sites without adding any original content or value
- Sites that copy content from other sites, modify it slightly (for example, by substituting synonyms or using automated techniques), and republish it
- Sites that reproduce content feeds from other sites without providing some type of unique organization or benefit to the user
- Sites dedicated to embedding content such as video, images, or other media from other sites without substantial added value to the user
A common type of site that I have seen receive a pure spam penalty lately is the kind that offers things like desktop wallpapers, free Excel templates or printable coloring pages for kids. These sites get content by gathering images from other sites on the web and organizing them into categories. Whether the images are scraped, or are curated by hand, this type of tactic can still contribute to a pure spam penalty. In some cases the images have been modified slightly. In other cases, there was some unique content and then the majority of the images were taken from elsewhere.
I have successfully helped a couple of these sites remove their pure spam action. If you have a site that aggregates content from elsewhere on the web and you have been hit by pure spam, then the key to getting Google to remove the penalty is in convincing the webspam team that your site truly is unique and valuable.
Don’t do the following:
- Argue that others are doing this, so it must be ok.
- Argue that your site offers unique value because of the way you have organized the content.
Here are some of the things that I have done with this type of website to successfully get Google to reinclude them:
- Give evidence that shows that the designs on the site originated with you. For example, you could show Google a particular design and mention the designer who created it and that this designer is employed by you. You could also have a statement from this designer explaining that he or she made it for your site. Obviously though, if you are using someone else’s content, then this is not going to work.
- Add to the content in a way that truly adds value. It’s not enough to just write a unique description or modify the content slightly. You’d have to really find a way to add value. For example, let’s say that you have a website that offers free powerpoint templates and that you’ve gathered these templates from other sources on the web. One thing you could do is create some example powerpoint presentations using these templates. You could write a thorough article called, “5 tips for realtors using powerpoint templates”, and another called, “How to add animations to our free powerpoint templates”. The goal here is not to get unique words on a page, but to truly create a site that Google would be happy to show searchers.A couple of articles is not going to be enough though. You will likely need to completely revamp the site to prove to Google that the content is worthy of being indexed.
This sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? This is why Matt Cutts says that many people do not file for reconsideration when they have a pure spam penalty. If your business model is based on finding easy or quick ways to publish content, then in order for Google to index you, this must change.
Cloaking means that you are showing different content to users than you are to Google. In many cases, cloaking is obvious. If you’re trying to trick Google by showing Googlebot one thing and users another, then remove the cloaking and file for reconsideration.
Recently I have seen a lot of sites get a pure spam penalty because they are using an anti-hotlinking plugin to stop people from stealing images on their site. These plugins can cause Google images to see a different image than users on your site do. In some cases, simply removing the hotlinking plugin can be enough to get the pure spam penalty removed. In other cases, removing the plugin caused Google to modify the manual action to be "thin content" rather than "pure spam". When that happened to one particular site, the site got some of their pages reindexed, but not all.
With this said, Google actually has a penalty specific to anti-hotlinking plugins, called the Image mismatch penalty. If this is the only issue Google has with your site, you’re more likely to get an image mismatch penalty than a pure spam penalty. My personal belief is that anti-hotlinking alone is not enough to cause a pure spam issue. Most of these sites likely have other issues as well. Still, if you have received a pure spam message and you’re using a plugin like this then it’s best to remove it.
5) Repeated or egregious violations of Google’s quality guidelines.
Egregious means “outstandingly bad” or “shocking”. I am fairly certain that sometimes Google will slap a pure spam penalty on a website that they simply do not want to have in their search results. What follows here is not taken from a Google publication, but rather, are my own ideas as to factors that could contribute to pure spam penalties:
Instructing users on how to manipulate Google. I have seen a couple of sites that received a pure spam message despite the fact that there was no autogenerated content, scraped content or cloaking. I believe it was given because these sites repeatedly published articles describing how to game Google or do either blackhat SEO or harmful negative SEO. Why would Google want to include those sites in their index? Calling them pure spam is a way for Google to say that they would prefer not to show searchers this content.
Now, of course there are many many sites that speak against Google or offer advice on blackhat SEO. Google is not going to deindex every site that speaks against Google. But, I believe that if a webspam team member is reviewing a particular site that is repeatedly advising people on how to game Google, they may take action in deindexing it.
Owning many sites targeting the same topic. I have seen several cases where a site owner received a pure spam warning for several sites all at the same time. All of these sites were very similar. In most cases, these sites could be classified as thin affiliate sites. I wondered in several cases why Google didn’t simply give them a thin content penalty. What is the difference between a pure spam penalty and a thin content penalty? My opinion is that in some cases there is a fine line between the two. If you have a single site that contains nothing but affiliate feeds and adds no value to the search results then you could get a thin content penalty. But, if you have even more issues such as having several of these sites, having other issues such as cloaking, or possibly even having unnatural links pointing at the sites then you could be upgraded to pure spam. I think that in some cases, when it's debatable whether the manual action should be pure spam or thin content, it simply comes down to the choice of the webspam team member who is reviewing your site.
If you have many sites in Google Search Console and a good number of them have received a pure spam penalty then most likely Google wants you to concentrate on having a single authoritative site.
Supremely frustrating users. I have seen a couple of sites who received a pure spam penalty because they used a plugin called “Exit Junction” or another one called “PlugRush”. These are plugins that cause ads to appear when someone presses the back button to leave your site. There have been a number of cases in Google’s webmaster forums where plugins like this have been implicated as a cause for the pure spam penalty.
What about unnatural links?
Are unnatural links a part of a pure spam penalty? I think that they can be part of the picture. But, you don’t need to have unnatural links in order to get a pure spam penalty. I personally believe that in some cases when Google sees a number of issues on a site such as perhaps a site that has thin content and also autogenerated content and also unnatural links that they may simply say, “We don’t want to deal with this site” and slap a pure spam penalty on it rather than dishing out individual penalties for thin content, unnatural links and so on.
Reconsideration request tips
It is definitely possible to get a pure spam penalty removed. But, you have to be committed to significantly work to improve your website.
When writing your reconsideration request, here are some tips that I recommend:
- Don’t be argumentative. I have reviewed hundreds of reconsideration requests and it is quite common for a site owner to simply list all of the reasons why they feel Google was wrong to give them a pure spam penalty. Unless you recently purchased a domain that was previously used for spam, you are not going to get your penalty lifted unless you make significant changes to your site.
- Admit to the possible spam tactics. What I like to do is list all of the possible reasons for the site to be hit and then explain what we are doing to rectify this problem. For example, if you think you may have been given this penalty because your site contains mostly stitched together or scraped content, then mention this and explain what steps you have taken to add significant content to these pages so that they have their own unique value. Link to those pages in your request and point out what you have added.
What the webspam team wants to see is that you are honestly putting good effort into improving your site.
Marie is professional, very knowledgeable and prompt in responses. My site was in a "Pure Spam Penalty". She did take a look at it, found the issues and prescribed the right solution. The process was very fast and the delays mostly were because of me being busy .... My request was approved by Google and few days later, the rankings are improving and have already few keywords showing back up on page 1 again. I am very thankful to have found Marie and asked for her help. I highly recommend her service....Thanks again Marie. Yes the rankings have improved and I have already a few KW's on page 1! So we are going to the right direction.
Have you successfully removed a pure spam penalty? Have any tips you would like to add? I'd love for you to leave a comment below.
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