Google March 2024 Spam Updates Rolling Out - Scaled Content, Expired Domain & Site Reputation Abuse

Mar 6, 2024 - 7:41 am 21 by
Filed Under Google Updates

Google Space Invaders Spam Update March

Google is rolling out its new March 2024 spam updates accompanying the very big March 2024 core update and three new spam policies. The new spam updates kick off this week and target scaled content and expired domain abuse, plus other spam, while giving notice of site reputation abuse for a May 2024 update.

Google announced this both on its main blog and the Search Central blog and I covered this in detail on Search Engine Land. I spoke with Google in detail about all of these updates - so I hope this clarifies some questions.

The spam update rollout may take up 2 weeks to complete, Google said.

Google linked to its evergreen spam updates page about the March 2024 spam update, which partially reads:

While Google's automated systems to detect search spam are constantly operating, we occasionally make notable improvements to how they work. When we do, we refer to this as a spam update and share when they happen on our list of Google Search ranking updates.

Sites that see a change after a spam update should review our spam policies to ensure they are complying with those. Sites that violate our policies may rank lower in results or not appear in results at all. Making changes may help a site improve if our automated systems learn over a period of months that the site complies with our spam policies.

With this spam update, Google announced three big changes to its spam polices. Google will take action on these new spam policy violations both through automated means (i.e. the algorithmic spam updates) and manual means (i.e. manual actions).

Google rolled out two of these updates this week, the scaled content and expired domain abuse spam updates. Google is giving two months notice for the site reputation abuse (some call Parasite SEO) spam update and won't take action until May 5, 2024.

March 2024 Google Spam Update Quick Facts

Here are the most important things that we know right now in short form:

  • Name: Google March 2024 Spam Update
  • Launches: Week of March 5, 2024 and then May 5, 2024 and may take two weeks to roll out
  • Targets: General search spam plus scaled content, expired domain abuse and in May 2024 site reputation abuse.
  • Penalty: It penalizes spam techniques that are against Google's spam policies.
  • Global: This is a global update impacting all regions and languages.
  • Impact: Google would not tell me what percentage of queries or searches were impacted by this update.
  • Recover: If you were hit by this, Google said you should review its spam policies to ensure they are complying with those.
  • Refreshes: Google will do periodic refreshes to the spam update. It can take many months to recover, Google said.

Scaled Content Abuse Spam

Scaled content abuse "is when many pages are generated for the primary purpose of manipulating Search rankings and not helping user," Chris Nelson from the Google Search Quality team, wrote. "This abusive practice is typically focused on creating large amounts of unoriginal content that provides little to no value to users, no matter how it's created," he added.

It does not matter if you use generative AI, manual means, or a mix to produce this "scaled content." As long as the "scaled content" is being published to manipulate Google's search rankings, it will be considered spam and Google will go after it.

"This new policy builds on our previous spam policy about automatically-generated content, ensuring that we can take action on scaled content abuse as needed, no matter whether content is produced through automation, human efforts, or some combination of human and automated processes," Google added.

Google said this will allow them "to take action on more types of content with little to no value created at scale, like pages that pretend to have answers to popular searches but fail to deliver helpful content." I asked what are pages that "pretend" to do this and Elizabeth explained that it was pages that start off by saying we will answer X, Y and Z, then it follows that by adding a lot of fluff content and ends without actually answering what it set out to answer.

Google posted these two additional FAQs on this topic:

Q. Is this a change in how Google views AI content in terms of spam?

A. Our long-standing spam policy has been that use of automation, including generative AI, is spam if the primary purpose is manipulating ranking in Search results. The updated policy is in the same spirit of our previous policy and based on the same principle. It's been expanded to account for more sophisticated scaled content creation methods where it isn’t always clear whether low quality content was created purely through automation.

Q. What’s different from the old policy against “automatically-generated content” and the updated policy against “scaled abuse”?

A. Our new policy is meant to help people focus more clearly on the idea that producing content at scale is abusive if done for the purpose of manipulating search rankings and that this applies whether automation or humans are involved.

Danny Sullivan from Google said this clarification was coming and it is now here.

Note, this is an update to the "Spammy automatically-generated content" which use to read:

Spammy automatically generated (or "auto-generated") content is content that's been generated programmatically without producing anything original or adding sufficient value; instead, it's been generated for the primary purpose of manipulating search rankings and not helping users.

Google's help documentation reads:

Examples of scaled content abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Using generative AI tools or other similar tools to generate many pages without adding value for users
  • Scraping feeds, search results, or other content to generate many pages (including through automated transformations like synonymizing, translating, or other obfuscation techniques), where little value is provided to users
  • Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding value
  • Creating multiple sites with the intent of hiding the scaled nature of the content
  • Creating many pages where the content makes little or no sense to a reader but contains search keywords

The new scaled content spam policy is going into effect this week with both the spam update (algorithmically) and manual actions.

Expired Domain Abuse Spam

Expired domain abuse "is where an expired domain name is purchased and repurposed primarily to manipulate Search rankings by hosting content that provides little to no value to users," Chris Nelson from the Google Search Quality team wrote. The example he provided is when "someone might purchase a domain previously used by a medical site and repurpose that to host low quality casino-related content, hoping to be successful in Search based on the domain’s reputation from a previous ownership."

Google said this is an intentional search spam tactic done specifically to try to manipulate Google's search rankings. Chris Nelson said it is not "something people accidentally do." "It’s a practice employed by people who hope to rank well in Search with low-value content by using the past reputation of a domain name," he added.

Of course, he said it is perfectly acceptable to use an old domain name for a new, original site, but not to manipulate search rankings.

In some cases Google said expired domains "can mislead users into thinking the new content is part of the older site, which may not be the case."

Google's policy documentation says:

Expired domain abuse is where an expired domain name is purchased and repurposed primarily to manipulate search rankings by hosting content that provides little to no value to users. Illustrative examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Affiliate content on a site previously used by a government agency
  • Commercial medical products being sold on a site previously used by a non-profit medical charity
  • Casino-related content on a former elementary school site

The new expired domain abuse spam policy is going into effect this week with both the spam update (algorithmically) and manual actions.

Site Reputation Abuse Spam

Site reputation abuse "is when third-party pages are published with little or no first-party oversight or involvement, where the purpose is to manipulate Search rankings by taking advantage of the first-party site's ranking signals," Chris Nelson from the Google Search Quality team wrote. This includes sponsored, advertising, partner, or other third-party pages that are typically independent of a host site's main purpose or produced without close oversight or involvement of the host site, and provide little to no value to users, he explained.

Some SEOs have been calling this Parasite SEO, and Google has been saying to expect changes with this spam tactic since last November while taking some steps in December but not enough. It also looks like, as expected, Google renamed Parasite SEO to "site reputation abuse."

This does not mean all third-party hosted is bad or spam. Google said "only that which is hosted without close oversight and which is intended to manipulate Search rankings," is a violation of this policy. Google have these examples, "many publications host advertising content that is intended for their regular readers, rather than to primarily manipulate Search rankings. Sometimes called “native advertising” or “advertorial,” this kind of content typically wouldn’t confuse regular readers of the publication when they find it on the publisher’s site directly or when arriving at it from Google’s search results."

Here are two Q&As Google added on this site reputation abuse policy:

Q. What ranking signals does a site have?

A. Our core ranking systems are primarily designed to work on the page level, using a variety of signals and systems to understand how to rank individual pages. We do have some site-wide signals that are also considered. Please note: some third-party services provide “reputation” or “authority” scores for sites. These don't correspond to any of Google's own signals nor come from Google.

Q. My site has a coupon area that we produce in part by working with a third party. Is this considered spam?

A. Many publications host coupons for their readers. If the publication is actively involved in the production of the coupon area, there’s no need to block this content from Google Search. Readers should clearly understand how the publication sources its coupons and how it works to ensure that the coupons provide value to readers.

Google's help documentation reads:

Illustrative examples of site reputation abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • An educational site hosting a page about reviews of payday loans written by a third-party that distributes the same page to other sites across the web, with the main purpose of manipulating search rankings
  • A medical site hosting a third-party page about "best casinos" that's designed primarily to manipulate search rankings, with little to no involvement from the medical site
  • A movie review site hosting third-party pages about topics that would be confusing to users to find on a movie review site (such as "ways to buy followers on social media sites", the "best fortune teller sites", and the "best essay writing services"), where the purpose is to manipulate search rankings
  • A sports site hosting a page written by a third-party about "workout supplements reviews", where the sports site's editorial staff had little to no involvement in the content and the main purpose of hosting the page is to manipulate search rankings
  • A news site hosting coupons provided by a third-party with little to no oversight or involvement from the hosting site, and where the main purpose is to manipulate search rankings

Examples that are NOT considered site reputation abuse include:

  • Wire service or press release service sites
  • News publications that have syndicated news content from other news publications
  • Sites designed to allow user-generated content, such as a forum website or comment sections
  • Columns, opinion pieces, articles, and other work of an editorial nature where there is close involvement or review by the host site
  • Third-party content (for example, "advertorial" or "native advertising" type pages) that's produced with close involvement of the host site, where the purpose is to share content directly to readers (such as through promotion within the publication itself), rather than hosting the content to manipulate search rankings
  • Embedding third-party ad units throughout a page or using affiliate links throughout a page, with links treated appropriately
  • Coupons that are listed with close involvement of the hosting site

The new site reputation abuse spam policy is going into effect May 5, 2024 with both the spam update (algorithmically) and manual actions.

Small Link Spam Policy Changes

Google added this bullet point to the link spam section, "Creating low-value content primarily for the purposes of manipulating linking and ranking signals."

I see no other changes when comparing to the version from last month.

Forum discussion at X.


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