If you receive a Pure Spam message in Google Search Console, it means Google has detected evidence of ‘black-hat’ SEO techniques on your website.
This can include a variety of old SEO techniques that are no longer considered ethical or acceptable, for example:
- Publishing auto-generated content that reads like gibberish.
- Publishing large numbers of small, low-quality websites.
- Disguising content on the page as something else.
There’s a long list of different factors that can get your site flagged as spam – and because it’s unusual for only one small part of a website to use these techniques, Google typically flags the entire website.
How to check for Pure Spam messages
You can find Pure Spam messages in Google Search Console. If you are not yet registered with Search Console, it’s a good idea to log in and claim your site so you can see your data.
Once you’re logged in, you can find Pure Spam notifications under ‘Manual Actions’ on the ‘Search Traffic’ sub-menu.
By looking here, you can see whether or not you have received a Pure Spam manual action. This won’t tell you precisely what you need to do to recover, but it’s a good starting point, so you know any decrease in your search presence wasn’t caused by something else.
If you need any help accessing Google Search Console or to understanding the data you see there, ask your SEO agency as they should have plenty of professional experience using it.
Which sites are most likely to get flagged as Pure Spam?
Sites flagged as Pure Spam by Google are more likely to share certain characteristics – however, just because your site has similar characteristics, it doesn’t mean you are more likely to be flagged too.
These factors include:
- Websites located on free hosting providers and free subdomains.
- Websites that are part of a large network of identical, very shallow sites.
- Domains recently bought from another person who had used black-hat SEO.
However, in general, you can avoid being flagged as Pure Spam by making sure you publish good-quality content and that your website looks genuine and authoritative.
Individual factors to look out for
If it’s not immediately clear why your site has been flagged as spam, and you have not knowingly invested in any such techniques, look at a few of your pages and look for any of the following factors:
Breaching Google Guidelines
In some cases, Pure Spam penalties appear to be imposed against sites for repeatedly breaching Google’s guidelines of what constitutes ‘good’ content.
You might own several very similar websites as part of an e-commerce network – but if each one doesn’t have unique value to offer, they might all be penalised together.
Or your site might specifically discuss black-hat SEO techniques in a way that could be detrimental to Google.
This is a very broad category, but it’s essential to recognise that as Pure Spam is a manual action imposed by Google, there can be many reasons why a particular website might be flagged.
Content quality is one of Google’s most significant guidelines, but it’s worth looking at the specific types of spammy page content that can trigger a Pure Spam message.
Google refer to auto-generated content, but there are several ways that low content quality can affect the apparent ‘spamminess’ of your site.
Some issues to look out for include:
- Auto-generated content that makes no sense or has significant grammatical errors.
- Auto-translated content that has not been proofread by a speaker of the language.
- Very low-quality content churned out by ‘content mills’ and non-native writers.
The main definition applied by Google is that any reasonably tech-savvy reader should be able to spot that the page is not good content or was not written with a human audience in mind.
Change of Ownership
Google does not penalise websites for merely changing ownership. Still, if the previous owner engaged in black-hat SEO techniques, you might get unlucky and receive a Pure Spam manual action soon after buying the rights to the domain name.
The risk of a manual action is naturally higher with recently bought websites. The old owner might have tried less ethical techniques to make the domain profitable, or the website may have been stagnant for many years, with old black-hat content in place.
It’s unfortunate if you fall foul of a Pure Spam manual action so soon after buying a website, but the best you can do is to invest in removing spammy content as quickly as you can and start to build a new site with good-quality content that offers unique value.
Content scraping is when a website owner publishes content that has been lifted directly from elsewhere on the internet.
This can include:
- Content copied without changes directly from other websites.
- Content republished with minor changes; e.g. individual words substituted with synonyms.
- Content published from RSS feeds with no additional value for visitors.
- Multimedia content embedded into your site with no added value.
Some of these techniques can be legitimate – such as embedding video content or using RSS feeds to populate pages – but the website must offer some added or unique value on top.
Content cloaking is when you attempt to show different content to search robots than to human visitors to your website.
This could be by using CSS to hide certain parts of the page or to make text the same colour as the page background.
Or you might use plugins and scripts to dynamically change content shown to search robots when they crawl your site.
Some of these plugins have a reasonable intention – such as ‘hotlinking’ plugins that prevent other websites from directly displaying images hosted by you (sometimes known as bandwidth theft).
This is one issue that can be relatively easy to recover from, simply by deactivating the offending plugin and requesting that Google reconsider their decision (see below for more details about doing this).
Can I challenge a Pure Spam notification?
Like other Google manual action penalties, you can submit a reconsideration request if you think your site has been flagged unfairly.
Google says this is quite rare with Pure Spam notifications, as they tend to involve clear, site-wide spam techniques that are difficult to recover from.
However, if you want to challenge the manual action, for example, because you only recently bought the website and are working to improve the content, you can do so.
Best practice for Pure Spam reconsideration requests
A successful reconsideration request needs to persuade Google that whatever they based their manual action on no longer applies.
You’re coming from a position of having already been flagged as spam – so the burden is on you to provide sufficient evidence to support the alternate view that, in fact, your site is not spam.
That might be proof that the spammy content is old and not generally accessible, or that your more recent content is high-quality, or that you have deleted the offending pages.
In the particular case that you only recently bought the domain name from someone else, you could provide evidence of this or the change in the domain’s Whois record.
Own your mistakes
You may have fallen foul of Pure Spam completely innocently – for example, by publishing content that has been auto-translated from a foreign language without being proofread.
It’s a good idea to own up to any apparent Pure Spam techniques that you have deliberately or accidentally used in the past and are now taking steps to improve.
Don’t only say that Google was wrong to impose the manual action at all – this is unlikely to result in getting that penalty lifted.
Instead, look at your actions, identify any aspects that you think may have contributed to being flagged as Pure Spam and put the time and effort into replacing or updating content to a higher standard.
How to avoid Pure Spam manual actions in the future
If you’ve received a Pure Spam manual action, it’s a sign that your website makes use of one or more techniques considered spammy or black-hat by Google.
Even if you haven’t received a notification, you might want to avoid any of the methods listed above, to make sure you don’t find your entire domain flagged as spam one day.
As usual, the best ways to achieve and maintain good search rankings on Google include:
- Publish original, good-quality content, whether text or multimedia.
- Offer something unique or some kind of added value for visitors.
- Show the same content to Google’s search robots as human visitors.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help – some of these issues can be grey areas, and a professional SEO agency can help you to stay on the right side of Google’s manual actions.
By doing so, you can avoid Pure Spam manual actions in the future while building a high-quality website with content that will rank strongly both now and over the long term to come.