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Every few months, we hear about how Google or Bing have a new program or change in their search algorithm that will kill search spammers. These rumors and announcements have often had an effect but it has never been enough to really make an impact. The last two weeks, there have been signs that the latest changes may actually be working. Can they eliminate search spam altogether by the end of the year?
When Google rolled out their Panda update last year, many of the larger content sites were affected. Low-quality content was the target last year and after nearly a dozen known updates, search results have been better as a result. What wasn't addressed was the plague of "blackhat SEO" that utilizes different tactics to help websites rank better for keywords that can send massive traffic to their clients.
An unofficial announcement at SXSW by Matt Cutts, Google search spam czar, points to changes that Google has planned that addresses the blackhat issue.
"We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there is something we are working in the last few months and hope to release it in the next months or few weeks," Cutts said. "We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and great site."
The changes appear to be rolling out already as there have been reports of large SEO networks being de-indexed and forced to shut down as a result. Is beginning of a true crackdown on search spam?
"We should see this expand tremendously over the next few months," said Rocco Penn, an automotive SEO. "Google and Bing both want real content that people want to read, not automated spam that has worked so well in the past. If they can make this work, I'm pumped."
Finding blackhat SEO networks is relatively easy for a team the size of Google's Web Spam Division. They have been aware of many of the networks that influence search rankings by creating thousands of pages with a paragraph or two of content that includes anchor text to specific search targets. The challenge has been in how to address them.
It appears that the challenge has been accepted and the solution is de-indexing. By removing them from the search index, they completely eliminate the value that they are giving to their targets.
"We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect," Cutts said. "We have several engineers on my team working on this right now."
It's a lofty goal but if they can apply this process on a wider scale they'll make a huge impact. It isn't that they'll be able to track down and de-index everybody, but the sheer threat of losing everything will be enough to make search engine optimization companies switch gears towards more honorable methods.
Google and Cutts have long-maintained that they "do not hate SEOs" and have gone so far as to declare that proper SEO techniques make their jobs easier. Websites and SEO companies that put out relevant content that is valuable to their "customers", the people searching, helps them identify the right websites to rank for relevant terms.
Blackhat SEO is a shortcut. It's a method by which the system can be gamed and the results can be altered. By taking on the spam networks, Google will be able to herd a good majority of the blackhats towards using acceptable SEO techniques.
There will be those who fight the change and try to find new ways to spam the search engines, but this is the first major development in search governing that has the entire SEO community buzzing since the Panda update. Panda only affected the sources of content, not the SEO firms that sculpted the rankings. This algorithm and procedural change affects the SEOs themselves.
Given that they have the power over their own search rankings, it is very likely that this effort will bring and end to the vast majority of search spam within the next several months.
(Article originally published on Fast Company)