Google’s Next Spam Update

Apr 30, 2024It Depends - An SEO Podcast, SEO

In this conversation, Jay and Lindsie discuss the upcoming Google update focused on reputation abuse and parasite SEO. They explore the reasons behind Google’s decision to give publishers a two-month notice before implementing the update and the potential impact on large publishers and universities. They also discuss the actions that publishers can take to ensure compliance with the update and the potential consequences for sites that have been using parasite SEO. The conversation concludes with a discussion on the broader implications of the update and the need for further observation after the update is implemented.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Google is implementing an update focused on reputation abuse and parasite SEO
  • Publishers have been given a two-month notice to make any necessary changes
  • Large publishers and universities may be impacted by the update
  • Publishers can take actions such as noindexing sections of their site to comply with the update
  • Sites that have been using parasite SEO may experience a drop in traffic and rankings
  • The update raises questions about Google’s priorities and the financial challenges faced by publishers

Chapters

00:00 Introduction and Background

08:56 The Impact on Large Publishers and Universities

27:20 Actions Publishers Can Take to Comply

33:09 Broader Implications and Post-Mortem

Transcript

Jay (00:02.646)

Hey, Lindsie, what’s going on today?

 

Lindsie Nelson (00:06.536)

Nothing much. I’m ready for a 2.0 episode. I feel like this is one where go and listen to our last episode all about spam and this is our 2.0. So I’m very excited to continue a conversation of a previous episode.

 

Jay (00:26.238)

Yeah, we have the rare occurrence of knowing a Google update is going to happen before it happens, and that’s what we’re talking about today. So why don’t we get into it? What is this update we’re referring to?

 

Lindsie Nelson (00:41.876)

Yes, so this is the kind of continuation of the March spam update. Like I mentioned, we had a whole episode on that as it was rolling out things we were seeing, and Google told us that there was going to be the second piece of it coming out May 5th, and we are rapidly approaching May 5th, and what this second piece focuses on is really this.

 

idea of reputation abuse, parasite SEO, which is where we see these big content publishers, whether they’re news sites like Forbes or universities, where they’re creating sub domains or sub folders of content that is not related to their business, is being kind of sold off and not managed in an effort for other sites to build.

 

links from these high value domains. So again, that idea of parasite SEO, where we have these sites building content on valuable ones, and then trying to kind of get a little bit of value in, to some degree, a sketchy type of way. One interesting piece to note about this is, we have had about two plus months worth of heads up this is coming.

 

And I think talking today about what we’ve seen happen, what does this algorithm update or this update in general look like? Why was there a delay in this release and what people can do to prepare for that?

 

Jay (02:22.642)

Yeah. And to give, before we move forward, dig deeper, just give a little clearer context. This stuff sometimes blends into a website like on, you know, Forbes is one that’s very popular and

 

for the average internet user, it might just look like a Forbes article and not realize it’s not one of their staff writers or freelancers, it’s just written by someone else. Aside from like the naming and URL convention, usually the biggest thing is, it’s almost always a supplement article. Like it’s every time.

 

Lindsie Nelson (02:59.672)

Or something where it’s like I could read this in a million different places and it tells me nothing other than buy these things.

 

Jay (03:07.59)

Yeah. Um, but in a lot of cases, this is like.

 

sites just trying to push more engagement, more ad views, more retention, all that stuff like LinkedIn pulse is one of the big ones and that’s if you use LinkedIn, they’re always trying to harass you into writing an article about something on their platform, you know, then you become a publisher for them and of course SEOs are like hey anyone with a LinkedIn account which is free can do this so I’m gonna write some SEO focused articles on it so that’s the stuff we’re talking

 

And it shows up in a lot of different places in a lot of different ways, but it is again, separate from the main site in some way. And it’s, it’s where usually anybody or with very limited restrictions, lots of, lots of people can come just publish articles on a domain.

 

Lindsie Nelson (04:04.044)

Right, right. Okay, so let’s talk about how this update works and what we’re gonna see. Can you talk to us a little bit about how this is maybe the same or different than what we saw in the March update?

 

Jay (04:19.006)

Yeah, so again, this is specifically focused on like the parasite SEO initiative. And Google said that it’s going to be a mix of algorithmic and manual penalties. So that means in some instances where

 

let’s stick with LinkedIn Pulse, for example, they can pretty clearly see that all of this content exists on a separate part of the site. It’s all in, I think on LinkedIn, it’s all subfolder. I forget, I should know that. But either way, it is separate from the main LinkedIn user profiles and business profiles and whatever. And if Google is like, yeah, this just isn’t good, they can apply some algorithmic thing that will automatically spot that

 

and devalue it in some way. And more than likely, what we’ll see is the sites that, you know, there are sites that exist almost exclusively for Parasite SEO. Those ones are more likely to get hit with the manual action where someone at Google goes and like, I don’t know how it works on their end, but they click a box or something and your site gets hit with a penalty and just kind of the traffic fauces shuts off immediately.

 

Lindsie Nelson (05:36.377)

Yeah.

 

Jay (05:38.224)

it’s going to work and I kind of mention it but it’s important to note that it can target specific sections of sites and that’s probably based on probably the URL more than anything because you know if you have a site where it’s just like you can publish stuff anywhere and it just shows up and it looks like your regular content it might be really hard for Google to know what’s what but

 

You know, if you have the LinkedIn.com slash pulse or pulse.linkedin.com, whatever it is, that would be theoretically very easy for Google to say we’re going to just hit that part of your site. And we’ll, we’ll get to it, but we’ve already seen some of that stuff happening so far today.

 

Lindsie Nelson (06:23.5)

So some, I guess, questions, and I don’t think we have answers necessarily to these right now, but do we think that the larger publisher is going to be negatively impacted? So yes, it can be, like you said, just the pulse section can be impacted, but do you think we’re gonna feel trickles across kind of all over these domains, or is Google gonna be pretty focused on like,

 

just this type of content and we’re not gonna touch anything else.

 

Jay (06:58.238)

I think for at least the big publishers, they’re gonna keep things pretty separate. And I mean, I think there’s some maybe debatably good or bad reasons for that of just like.

 

Forbes is a popular site, LinkedIn is a popular site, and people are gonna expect to find it when they search for stuff on Google. So Google doesn’t wanna mess that up. But also a lot of these publishers keep this stuff pretty separate from their main website. It’s not like you’re reading the, you know, I don’t know, the financial updates on Forbes, and they’re just like interlinking this, you know, like the supplement articles.

 

you know all over the place. I mean they have like promotions and ads and things like that, but they do treat it as like a separate part of their website in a lot of cases. So I don’t know. And I don’t think these articles like

 

Lindsie Nelson (07:47.514)

Right.

 

Jay (08:02.614)

to the extent that they have a navigation and footer that links to other parts of, you know, LinkedIn, Forbes, whoever. I don’t think that those links are passing any real value. So it’s not like if you shut off the rank for these parasite pages that they’re going to, you know, the loss of links to the, the rest of the site is going to have some impact. I don’t know. Probably not though.

 

Lindsie Nelson (08:24.055)

Sure.

 

Lindsie Nelson (08:28.4)

Probably not. So then I guess the second piece of that if Let’s say we have a client and they’re like, oh we’ve been or a potential client and they say we’ve been Doing all this content on Forbes or LinkedIn or whatever Is there risk of domains that are taking advantage of these parasite SEO tactics getting? penalized so obviously they lose

 

that link or whatever that was that they were generating if that gets turned off, but is there risk of further penalization for just doing this action in the first place?

 

Jay (09:11.122)

I think for most sites the problem is so big that Google is hoping we’ll shut off, shut off the rank passing from these links.

 

and that’s going to mean a drop in rank and traffic for you. So like not a penalty per se, someone else got penalized that was linking to you and you lose visibility rank as a result, which is certainly going to be bad, but not a penalty in the sense that like your site’s ability to rank is going to be impacted. For the

 

you know, I’m sure there will be some very like high profile users of this, this form of SEO that Google will be like, Hey, we found hundreds of thousands of links from these domains that we just penalized with this update. And now we’re going to come after you. You know, that stuff, that stuff has happened and it will continue to happen. But I think for the average site that has been using parasite SEO to grow, it’s just, I mean,

 

Lindsie Nelson (10:02.351)

Right.

 

Jay (10:20.018)

it’s going to be harder to do that going forward. Use that growth plan and again, you’ll probably take some steps backwards, but I think you’ll be able to continue to do SEO. It’s just, again, it’s gonna be harder and you might have to do it a different way.

 

Lindsie Nelson (10:36.844)

Right, right, especially if that was your main SEO tactic you were taking advantage of was this way of growing traffic. Likely not gonna be great moving forward. So let’s move on to this delay, this fact that we found out about this May 5th change in March. There was a big note from Google that they’re giving these big publishers a heads up.

 

I will quote a Google blog here, they said, will now consider very low value third party content produced primarily for ranking purposes and without close oversight of a website owner to be spam. We’re publishing this policy two months in advance of enforcement on May 5th to give site owners time to make any needed changes. Why? Why give these sites two months advance notice to make these changes if they feel that this is

 

really truly nasty spam that they need to get out of search results. Why give them two months to try to make some sort of change?

 

Jay (11:45.606)

So if we back up a bit, this, you know, consider this part of the March spam update, that update included scaled content abuse that just like rapid publishing of AI generated content, expired domain abuse, and this thing, the site reputation abuse. Those first two.

 

largely or almost exclusively impacted sites that nobody likes. I mean, just garbage SEO websites that publish stuff that just frustrate people and don’t provide any real value to the internet, in my opinion, and a lot of people’s opinion. This update impacts sites that people do like.

 

Lindsie Nelson (12:24.356)

Mm-hmm.

 

Jay (12:37.53)

maybe not the sections of the site that people like, but it does impact those sites. And maybe this gets back to some hedging on my probably not answer before of like, will this impact Forbes as a whole? Maybe there’s some possibility, but let’s just pretend that this is going to negatively impact Forbes, LinkedIn, whoever.

 

Sports Illustrated, Medium, keep going.

 

Lindsie Nelson (13:08.993)

All of them.

 

Jay (13:10.582)

Sites, yeah, sites that have a lot of value for a lot of people who use Google and who use the internet in general. If suddenly people went to Google and weren’t seeing those sites and maybe even to the extreme of like, you search for Forbes and don’t, it doesn’t come up because they were like penalized that dramatically. Like that would be bad for the average internet user. Like people would care about that. And

 

Lindsie Nelson (13:28.215)

exist.

 

Mm-hmm.

 

Jay (13:38.278)

Also, like these are ad, largely ad partners with Google technology service partners with Google and stuff like that. Google has presumably multiple business interests in not pissing them off too much and not screwing up their visibility in search results. And I don’t think there’s any other way to read this.

 

Lindsie Nelson (14:02.488)

Right.

 

Lindsie Nelson (14:05.848)

And I guess there’s the question too of, you should Google be giving preferential treatment to these large information providers that they have a vested interest in. Is this another way that Google is in like a sideways way, just focusing on its financial benefits and its financial gain versus the actual benefit to the consumer?

 

Jay (14:33.498)

And I think you can, you can make some pretty good case by case arguments in different directions here. Um, like, you know, I keep mentioning Forbes and like, I don’t think that it’s like morally right for Google to give Forbes any kind of preferential treatment. Like I think that’s probably a conflict of interest and I don’t.

 

Forbes is a popular site, so Google can say we’re helping our users, but it’s not like they’re, it’s not like that they’re doing valuable, investigative journalism or providing any real service to people other than like, here’s a site you can go in and like spend time reading things and maybe learning things. But when you get to like, LinkedIn, LinkedIn helps people get jobs. LinkedIn helps people do business.

 

Lindsie Nelson (15:26.96)

Mm-hmm.

 

Jay (15:30.05)

Like it does provide a valuable service to the internet that like can’t be replaced. And like, yes, you can get to LinkedIn other ways than searching for things on Google, but like, you know, I think you can make a better case that like Google is trying to, or could be trying to preserve like some.

 

value in like the internet user experience. And I don’t know, we haven’t talked about the university sites yet, which is a hot mess. We can spend more time on it, but like universities publish, you know academic and research papers and that stuff is super important. So

 

Lindsie Nelson (16:08.938)

Mm-hmm.

 

Jay (16:10.846)

you know, the fact that they also are hosting these garbage SEO articles, like I think there’s real public value in being able to continue finding the good stuff that comes out of these university websites, aside from all of the like public service things with, you know, enrollment and whatever else you do on a university site. Um, so the, the reasoning of like business interests might be the, the

 

know the root cause of all of this but I think you can if you wanted to you could look at it in a more positive lens for some sites more than others.

 

Lindsie Nelson (16:52.08)

This is total diversion from it being a Google topic, but I think that this is also an indicator of just the dire financial place that so many news sites, journalism sites, true sites of giving information are in. They have to find a way to make money.

 

And one of the ways that they are able to do that is through advertising and through these other type of platforms and um With people being less and less likely to pay for information these days um It’s I think put a lot of these sites like the university sites like the forbes sites any of these that are

 

providing some sort of content and information, and trying to do it in a free way as much as they can in some cases. It’s kind of one of those tough pieces of, this was potentially a revenue generation aspect for them that is now gonna be just another thing that’s been turned off.

 

Jay (18:05.266)

I mean, tough luck, honestly, like, you know, I forget if we’ve talked about it on this podcast, but I mean, I’ve definitely talked about this elsewhere plenty. And it’s this, this whole like, entitlement that comes from people who are like renting their audience from one of these big, you know, publishers or

 

Lindsie Nelson (18:08.857)

Hey

 

Jay (18:30.746)

whatever you want to call Google as an entity. I mean, they went through the same thing with Facebook, where it’s like, we’re getting all this traffic from Facebook, and then Facebook is like, hey, it’s in our business interest to keep people on our site and not send them to your site. So that’s what we’re gonna do. And Google’s saying the same thing, you know? And I think SEOs have that same, or not all,

 

Lindsie Nelson (18:48.226)

Yeah.

 

Jay (18:54.646)

but a lot of SEOs, especially the ones that are doing this like parasite stuff and the niche sites and all that, like they get this entitlement as if like Google is a public service.

 

you know, as if it’s like the local library or something like that. And it’s like, no, Google’s a private company. They, they have been forever and they’re going to do what they think is going to make them the most money and profit and sending, you know, allowing, allowing people to like benefit from publishing. Supplement articles on Forbes. Uh, if Google decides that’s not in their business interests, then they’re going to crack down on it and they have every right to do.

 

Lindsie Nelson (19:07.108)

Hmm.

 

Jay (19:36.912)

says like, hey, keeping in the good graces of LinkedIn is like, again, in our business interests, that’s what they’re going to do. And you don’t have to like that as a user or marketer, SEO person or publisher, whoever. But I still have every right to do it. And whatever go to bin.

 

Lindsie Nelson (19:59.157)

Go to DuckDuckGo, my gosh, come on. We’ll just go somewhere else. All right, well, is there anything else that we should know about this that we haven’t talked about yet or haven’t touched on?

 

Jay (20:15.496)

I think you kind of touched on it, but what’s, where do you come down on, on like the whole controversy, like should they have given publishers a heads up or should this have just rolled out in March with the rest of the spam update and consequences be damned.

 

Lindsie Nelson (20:34.22)

I don’t know. I really feel conflicted about it in the fact of, I do feel like Google is so quick to penalize SEO activity, whether good, bad, or otherwise, in a lot of ways, and it’s done in a very rapid fashion in many cases.

 

You know, I do feel like this was given a little bit of priority to sites that there is a financial investment into and that feels a little icky. Honestly, it feels a little like, yeah.

 

Google is just looking out for itself. When again, if you look back at the origination of Google, it was like doing good was essentially what they were, they were supposed to be doing. And we have veered so far, far away from just giving people information. And I think we just continue to see it more and more in these types of updates. Now, I don’t, it is what it is. Like we can’t do anything about it. We have to exist within this ecosystem at this point.

 

Jay (21:46.614)

Yeah. Also Larry and Sergey are not at Google anymore. So that mission is, has changed. Uh, but I, I think they’re, they’re kind of screwed either way. Like the PR hit is bad with this. I think it, I think it does look bad, uh, regardless of the reasoning, which, you know, of course Google’s not going to say they’re, they’re real reasoning for this. Uh, but.

 

I think the PR hit of sites that millions of people enjoy disappear from Google results, that’s gonna be a worse PR hit. So whatever, they’re minimizing their headaches, hopefully.

 

Lindsie Nelson (22:24.484)

For sure.

 

Lindsie Nelson (22:29.592)

Well, and I mean, there are non-SEO sites talking about the general spam update, but it’s all been focused really on the hit on AI generation and that type of content that’s being created at mass is being impacted negatively by these updates. But I do feel like this like parasite SEO idea, this May 5th kind of implementation of this,

 

kind of gone under the radar unless you’re looking for it. You really have to be listening and reading these things or else it’s just gonna it’s just gonna float by as another thing and like you said that’s probably to some degree within its purpose here is why it was made this way because you’re right it would have been a lot louder if they had totally dm’d x’d or something

 

Lindsie Nelson (23:28.432)

this and then it would have been like censoring the news and you’re you know then there’s a lot of other issues that start to come up when you start to penalize these sites that are providing some level of information to the average user.

 

Jay (23:47.178)

Well, it’s also April 25th as we record this, so maybe after May 5th, it will become a much bigger story. We’ll see what the wreckage looks like. But, all right. Let’s keep moving this along. There’s a little more to discuss here, I think. So I’ll jump in with like a little bit of additional context.

 

Lindsie Nelson (23:55.917)

Maybe.

 

Yeah.

 

Jay (24:13.734)

Minor waves were made in some for somewhere in Europe Gary Isles from Google was doing a talk and he mentioned that Some stuff was already done in the March update to address parasite SEO Later walk that back on LinkedIn said he was mistaken. It’s still coming but we have seen some stuff happening in just like the serp monitoring so like

 

LinkedIn pulse and medium to you know popular sites that get a lot of parasite abuse just over the last week or so Have started to see some like notable drop in visibility after being through the roof in the last several months Hub pages which as far as I can tell just exists for parasite SEO But it’s a popular one like they’ve started to go trend downward You know and so far it seems to be

 

at least for a lot of these like directory specific like it’s not all of LinkedIn that’s going down at the moment you’d have to assume that is related to the like never-ending March core update but if there is some algorithmic component of this maybe they are starting to roll it out early I don’t know you I mean usually

 

Lindsie Nelson (25:28.984)

right.

 

Jay (25:38.534)

Usually there’s some sort of rumbling before, like the search status dashboard updates and tells us that a thing is happening.

 

Lindsie Nelson (25:50.)

Well, and we’re also seeing sites that have been doing this historically make changes. So, you know, Forbes applying a no index tag to certain sections of their site. And so whether the rumblings are happening or not, I do think that there is movement happening. And I don’t know how they couldn’t.

 

include some of this parasite SEO and what was like a penalization of like large scale AI generated content which is essentially what these like sections are like they’re not being written by humans in 99% of the time here so I mean it probably is being impacted maybe not to the level that will be on May 5th or after May 5th but there is no way.

 

in my opinion, they weren’t somewhat affected by the March update, which is likely why we’re also seeing sites starting to actually take the May 5th threat somewhat credible.

 

Jay (26:56.36)

Yeah, totally.

 

Lindsie Nelson (26:58.136)

Okay, so let’s say theoretically you are a big publisher or a university and you have this type of system going on. What can somebody do to make sure they’re in the good graces of Google prior to this May 5th?

 

Jay (27:20.41)

So the one caveat I’ll say is I wonder how many of these publishers have some like Promises they’ve made to people or even contracts That are gonna be at risk here. I won’t name names because I’m just kind of remembering the details off top my head, but there is a popular business publisher that

 

uh, likes to reach out to business owners and say, you can, you can pay a subscription for the ability to publish articles on our site and it will be good for SEO for your site.

 

So for cases like that, I mean, I guess I’m very curious what happens. But I think for the majority of them, you know, it’s, you can sign up and publish and we’re not making any promises about links or SEO or whatever. It’s just, we allow it.

 

You just have to noindex. You know, like eventually after like the noindex tag gets applied to all of these sections, you’ll have to block it from being crawled. Like you don’t, you’re not gonna want Google to like.

 

even waste time on this stuff if it’s not going to be indexable, but that’s the recommendation from Google. And if you think that you’re going to get hit by this or you do get hit by this, and especially if it impacts your site as a whole, just no indexing that stuff is the way to go. If that means there’s no reason for these sections to exist because people only publish there for SEO purposes, then I guess you just stop doing that thing and delete it.

 

Lindsie Nelson (28:39.226)

I don’t know.

 

Lindsie Nelson (29:04.556)

Just just stop. Um, is there anything that sites that were using Parasite SEO? Anything that they’re going to need to do? Do they need to like… I don’t know. Do anything other than just stop?

 

Jay (29:25.21)

Yeah, I mean, to be determined, I mean, like it’s, yeah, the penalty shouldn’t pass through the links. You know, again, the like most extreme, you know, 99th percentile of these sites that are doing it at absurd scale probably have to worry, but they probably would have had to worry anyway that Google would eventually crack down on it, but.

 

Lindsie Nelson (29:28.388)

We just don’t know.

 

Lindsie Nelson (29:53.776)

share.

 

Jay (29:54.358)

Yeah, I think for most sites, it’s gonna just be, I mean, honestly, like, if you’re knowingly doing parasite SEO, you’re just gonna have to find other sites to publish your articles on. I think that’s how it’s going to happen. The, you know, the folks that do SEO this way keep doing SEO in that way. It’ll evolve. But yeah, if you were maybe like,

 

paying an agency or consultant or you thought it was a good idea and we’re like oh we can’t continue this I think you can just you know probably say goodbye to some traffic and rankings but otherwise move on with your life and try and recover through other means of SEO

 

Lindsie Nelson (30:40.176)

Mm-hmm. Okay. All right. Well, I think we’re at the point of kind of closing things out. Any final thoughts or things we haven’t talked about that we need to make sure we include before we end our 2.0 spam update conversation?

 

Jay (31:02.382)

The, I think the biggest question, well, the biggest question is like, does this end up impacting more than, than just these sections of sites for the big publishers, but the biggest thing I’m interested in is probably the university site. That’s, that’s the thing to watch. Um, because a lot of times there’s, there’s just like the

 

parasite posts are published in the same subdirectory or at least like you know same student or you know whatever it’s called directory as like Academic papers and things like that Or there’s not any real structure to things and You know a lot of universities. It’s it’s still like unclear at least to me how this is happening There’s clearly some folks that like went to a school and just like you never got rid of your

 

Lindsie Nelson (31:40.365)

Mm-hmm.

 

Jay (31:58.384)

That means you also have access to like publish on the student directory of the site, your own little page or whatever. And then those people got into SEO and are just using it, or they sold the access to it. There’s clearly some amount of hacking going on just based on the type of content you see. But I think it’s

 

Like this touches on like a bigger mess with like, there’s a lot of university websites. They have a lot of prestige and there’s so little gatekeeping of just like what can get published there. For public universities, you get into like free speech stuff if you try and restrict it too much. So it’s just a big complicated mess. And I’m really curious to see how it gets dealt with. Or I think in a lot of university cases, it’s if it gets dealt with.

 

Lindsie Nelson (32:31.952)

Mm-hmm.

 

Jay (32:50.41)

That’s the thing to watch. Otherwise, I mean, to be honest, I don’t know. There might be some websites that we all know and love and think do good stuff that have been benefiting from Parasite SEO and have drop-offs. That’ll be interesting to see, but I think this mostly impacts a lot of the like worst of the internet. And it’s probably a good thing.

 

Lindsie Nelson (33:09.488)

Alright.

 

Lindsie Nelson (33:14.528)

Yeah, well, it’ll probably a good thing overall, at least for the average user. Hopefully this cleans up some of the garbage that we get served up. Um, so overall, probably a good thing. Uh, but it will be interesting to see. I think the, the ripple effect will be, uh, very interesting to watch and see. Uh, how that, uh,

 

how that plays out and we won’t know until after May 5th. And who knows if it is a big ripple and it is worth talking about, maybe we’ll have a 3.0 and explore what actually happened rather than our speculations of what may or may not happen. So stay tuned.

 

Jay (34:01.406)

Yeah, looking forward to the spam update post-mortem. Talk to you later.

 

Lindsie Nelson (34:05.849)

Alright, bye Jay.

 

Jay (34:07.747)

Bye.

 

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