Google has made yet another change to its algorithm that has left some webmasters cheering, and others fuming, after thousands of sites were punished for using a technique known as “webspam”.
This comes just weeks after a member of the Google Search team warned at the South by Southwest Conference the company would start punishing some websites that “overuse” search engine optimisation techniques.
The move also comes as Google Australia has applied to the High Court for leave to appeal a Federal Court decision that it engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.
StewArt Media chief executive Jim Stewart says his business website rocketed from about fifth or sixth to second for the search term “SEO Melbourne” – a place it hasn’t been for the past few years.
“We haven’t done anything at all, and our ranking has improved,” he says.
“There are going to be all these sorts of changes to punish people who are using these spammy type of techniques.”
Google posted on its Inside Search blog that effective SEO can make pages easier to find. However, it warns the company is still keen on punishing people using “black hat” SEO, and will launch an algorithm change that will punish websites that are breaking the guidelines.
While Google isn’t being too specific about its changes, the blog post targets a type of webspam where websites take an article posted on their site, recreate it dozens of times and then insert links and keywords into the text.
Those copied articles will be distributed across the internet and link back to the original site, creating more backlinks that trick Google into thinking the original website is more popular than it actually is.
Others are more subtle, such as introducing links with text that doesn’t make sense in articles on other websites.
“Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognisable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings,” Google said in the post.
The changes are expected to affect about 3.1% of queries made in English.
Stewart says he noticed the change was rolled out on Anzac Day, with a number of his clients’ rankings boosted significantly.
“It’s not so much that they’ve done anything, but that others have been punished for spammy content. We saw a whole bunch of sites be demoted.”
“Our clients made massive jumps across the board, and I haven’t seen that happen since at least 2007.”
Stewart says businesses which create this sort of webspam need to think twice, as Google shows it’s more keen than ever on cracking down on spammy and illegitimate content.
“We’ve seen this across all industries as well. There are going to be plenty of changes to stop people using these spammy techniques.”
Meanwhile, Google Australia has appealed to the High Court for leave to appeal a decision by the Federal Court that is misled users through search results, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review.
A spokesperson for Google said it was appealing because “we believe this decision has significant ramifications for search engines, online advertising programs and others”.
The court found that although it was the businesses themselves that bought the deceptive keywords, it was Google as a platform that allowed this to happen.