How we fought Search spam on Google - Webspam Report 2019

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Every search matters. That is why whenever you come to Google Search to find relevant and useful information, it is our ongoing commitment to make sure users receive the highest quality results possible.

Unfortunately, on the web there are some disruptive behaviors and content that we call "webspam" that can degrade the experience for people coming to find helpful information. We have a number of teams who work to prevent webspam from appearing in your search results, and it’s a constant challenge to stay ahead of the spammers. At the same time, we continue to engage with webmasters to ensure they’re following best practices and can find success on Search, making great content available on the open web.

Looking back at last year, here’s a snapshot of how we fought spam on Search in 2019, and how we supported the webmaster community.

Fighting Spam at Scale

With hundreds of billions of webpages in our index serving billions of queries every day, perhaps it’s not too surprising that there continue to be bad actors who try to manipulate search ranking. In fact, we observed that more than 25 Billion pages we discover each day are spammy. That’s a lot of spam and it goes to show the scale, persistence, and the lengths that spammers are willing to go. We’re very serious about making sure that your chance of encountering spammy pages in Search is as small as possible. Our efforts have helped ensure that more than 99% of visits from our results lead to spam-free experiences.

Updates from last year

In 2018, we reported that we had reduced user-generated spam by 80%, and we’re happy to confirm that this type of abuse did not grow in 2019. Link spam continued to be a popular form of spam, but our team was successful in containing its impact in 2019. More than 90% of link spam was caught by our systems, and techniques such as paid links or link exchange have been made less effective.

Hacked spam, while still a commonly observed challenge, has been more stable compared to previous years. We continued to work on solutions to better detect and notify affected webmasters and platforms and help them recover from hacked websites.

One of our top priorities in 2019 was improving our spam fighting capabilities through machine learning systems. Our machine learning solutions, combined with our proven and time-tested manual enforcement capability, have been instrumental in identifying and preventing spammy results from being served to users.

In the last few years, we’ve observed an increase in spammy sites with auto-generated and scraped content with behaviors that annoy or harm searchers, such as fake buttons, overwhelming ads, suspicious redirects and malware. These websites are often deceptive and offer no real value to people. In 2019, we were able to reduce the impact on Search users from this type of spam by more than 60% compared to 2018.

As we improve our capability and efficiency in catching spam, we’re continuously investing in reducing broader types of harm, like scams and fraud. These sites trick people into thinking they’re visiting an official or authoritative site and in many cases, people can end up disclosing sensitive personal information, losing money, or infecting their devices with malware. We have been paying close attention to queries that are prone to scam and fraud and we’ve worked to stay ahead of spam tactics in those spaces to protect users.

Working with webmasters and developers for a better web

Much of the work we do to fight against spam is using automated systems to detect spammy behavior, but those systems aren’t perfect and can’t catch everything. As someone who uses Search, you can also help us fight spam and other issues by reporting spam on search, phishing or malware. We received nearly 230,000 reports of search spam in 2019, and we were able to take action on 82% of those reports we processed. We appreciate all the reports you sent to us and your help in keeping search results clean!

So what do we do when we get those reports or identify that something isn’t quite right? An important part of what we do is notifying webmasters when we detect something wrong with their website. In 2019, we generated more than 90 million messages to website owners to let them know about issues, problems that may affect their site’s appearance on Search results and potential improvements that can be implemented. Of all messages, about 4.3 million were related to manual actions, resulting from violations of our Webmaster Guidelines.

And we’re always looking for ways to better help site owners. There were many initiatives in 2019 aimed at improving communications, such as the new Search Console messages, Site Kit for WordPress sites or the Auto-DNS verification in the new Search Console. We hope that these initiatives have equipped webmasters with more convenient ways to get their sites verified and will continue to be helpful. We also hope this provides quicker access to news and that webmasters will be able to fix webspam issues or hack issues more effectively and efficiently.

While we deeply focused on cleaning up spam, we also didn’t forget to keep up with the evolution of the web and rethought how we wanted to treat "nofollow" links. Originally introduced as a means to help fight comment spam and annotate sponsored links, the "nofollow" attribute has come a long way. But we’re not stopping there. We believe it’s time for it to evolve even more, just as how our spam fighting capability has evolved. We introduced two new link attributes, rel="sponsored" and rel="ugc", that provide webmasters with additional ways to identify to Google Search the nature of particular links. Along with rel="nofollow", we began treating these as hints for us to incorporate for ranking purposes. We are very excited to see that these new rel attributes were well received and adopted by webmasters around the world!

Engaging with the community

As always, we’re grateful for all the opportunities we had last year to connect with webmasters around the world, helping them improve their presence in Search and hearing feedback. We delivered more than 150 online office hours, online events and offline events in many cities across the globe to a wide range of audience including SEOs, developers, online marketers and business owners. Among those events, we have been delighted by the momentum behind our Webmaster Conferences in 35 locations across 15 countries and 12 languages around the world, including the first Product Summit version in Mountain View. While we’re not currently able to host in-person events, we look forward to more of these events and virtual touchpoints in the future.

Webmasters continued to find solutions and tips on our Webmasters Help Community with more than 30,000 threads in 2019 in more than a dozen languages. On YouTube, we launched #AskGoogleWebmasters as well as series such as SEO mythbusting to ensure that your questions get answered and your uncertainties get clarified.

We know that our journey to better web with you is ongoing and we would love to continue this with you in the year to come! Therefore, do keep in touch on Twitter, YouTube, blog, Help Community or see you in person at one of our conferences near you!