Active Rain Banned By Google : Link spam ruins great resource

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I would imaging that got everyones attention - It's not true, but it could happen and unless some changes are made, it may very well become a reality.

This will be a very long post, but if you would like to see Active Rain stay in Google's good graces like I would, I think it's important that you read this.

Active Rain is a social networking / blogging community that has opened it's doors and very graciously allowed it's users (Realtors and other professionals servicing the real estate industry such as myself) to post unmoderated user contributed content. Now I do realize there is a flagging system in place and there are in fact moderators who respond to flagged posts and profiles that may violate the terms of service of Active Rain, but where are the search engine spam guidelines? Did I miss them?

I decided to research and write this post following the recently reported Google penalty of Squidoo another high quality (Although not real estate related or niche specific) social networking website that allows user contributed content to be published without manual review. You can read more about the Squidoo penalty here

Before writing this post, I read every guideline and FAQ I could get my hands on at Active Rain, and to my surprise there was not a single mention of search engine spam, or link farm creation. Now I cannot pretend that I am aware of the level of knowlege the owners and moderators have when it comes to search engine spam, but because they are not search engine consultants, and do not make their living from working with search engine algorithms, I highly doubt that they have ever had to deal with a search engine penalty, or ever had to concern themselves with search engine spam - Don't get me wrong, Active Rain is great, and the people behind it have done an excellent job - I just think that because the whole social networking and user contributed content thing is so new to them, they may need some help from those of us a little more familiar with search engine algorithms, and have run forums or blogs for long enough to encounter some of the serious consequences that can come about from not having the proper checks (rules, guidelines, education, enforcement and moderation)

So what are you talking about Morgan? What do you see at Active Rain that could cause problems with the search engines?

There are quite a few things I see as "potential" issues, but for the purpose and scope of this article I am going to focus on link spam or link abuse.

The first case I am going to point out (Has already been dealt with, thank you Active Rain) and that is an active rain member who had created a profile on both Active Rain and Localism that links to TONS of spammy cookie cutter websites, his intention was to attempt to create a link farm which he could hopefully increase his main websites rankings (He is wrong btw, this is not a good search engine technique) - in fact, this spammer had a whopping 303 outbound links to 303 different doorway pages with cookie cutter content - Link farms, doorway domains and cookie cutter content are all violations of the Google webmaster guidelines. For your convenience I have quoted Google and provided a screenshot of the spam links below:

Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links. Active Rain was doing this without their knowlege as this user was creating a bad neighborhood right on Active Rain. This user has sinse been reported and the link spam removed (Thanks again)

Don't create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content. (Yup this guy was doing that to, and then of course using Active Rain to link to them.

Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines, or other "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content. Three strikes, I could rip this guy apart some more, but by now I hope you are starting to paint a picture. (The above quotes were sourced from the official Google webmasters guidelines.)

Here is the screenshot so that you can see how ridiculous this looks (I can only capture so many links with a screen cap, but trust me there were 303 different links on one page to 303 different domains!


Now you be saying to yourself, well this isn't the majority of users at Active Rain, we care about our content and try our hardest to maintain quality posts, how could this one guy spamming get us into trouble? In truth just one person doing this sort of thing would likely not be able to earn Active Rain a penalty in Google - but what you must understand about spammers is that when there is an opportunity (Such as there is at Active Rain) they flock to it. Soon your website is overrun with spammy profiles and articles, and Google is receiving thousands of spam reports daily, reporting the link spam their competitors are implementing via Active Rain, in order to gain them an unfair advantage. No matter what reputation a website has guys, if enough of these happen, Google will respond - and when they do Active Rain will have to deal with a very unpleasant situation which can (I believe) be avoided by implementing appropriate (rules, guidelines, education, enforcement and moderation) - We as Active Rain members can help as well by flagging any spammy post or profiles we see, so as to help the moderators out doing their jobs - I am sure they do their best, but they can't catch everything, with our help I think they can.

Ok - I was really planning on writing more on link spam, and providing some more examples of link spam, but it is getting late - and hopefully I can continue this article as a Part 2 - In the meantime, please share this article with your friends at Active Rain, or anyone who cares about conserving the great place the Active Rain staff have created for us.

Some initial suggestions for the Active Rain support staff and moderators.

Allow no more than an average of 1 outbound link per 150 words of content posted.

Implement a no follow algorithm - If a particular user was reported a certain amount of times by other AR members, apply a rel="nofollow" to all outbound links in profiles and posts on their account. This is an attractive alternative to suspending or banning because it would provide the user the opportunity to clean up their act and request removal of algorithm - I would imagine a one shot deal is enough - if they do it again, the algorithm becomes permanent, or suspension or banning may be required.

Limit of maximum 5-10 outbound links in side navigation of blogs and in user profiles (Does anyone really need more than 5-10 websites? If they do, they are likely attempting to game the search engines.

No hyper linking of keywords in text to websites irrelevant to the subject matter of the article posted.

Apply nofollow to all new user accounts (Blogs and profiles) - This could removed after a user has at least x amount of blog posts, could be small - like 5 or 10 blogs. This would help discourage fly by spammers just interested in links, or at least stop them from getting credit for the link dropping they are doing. As a positive note this would also encourage new users to post.

Comments

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mikepannell

I glad to see you jumping on my band wagon, I was the first to report this guy. He is in my area. That is just plain crazy. I also reported it to Google also.

jimolenbush

You are right Morgan - if a few spammers are allowed to abuse the system then a thousand more will follow. Spammers are kind of like weeds!

Eric Blackwell

Awesome job... I hope that the folks who get to read this post will GET the fact that it is done out of concern for them as much or more than anything. Like E. Bramlett, I really liked the fact that you provided some practical solutions. I know for a fact that you've had to implement many of those solutions here to prevent the sort of spam vulnerabilities that they are facing... Does it slow membership growth to be more picky in building a community. Yes. But if they aren't like minded about not spamming the site, then they aren't a COMMUNITY anyway. They are spammers. True community growth requires diversity with the respect for the rule of law. Relaxing the rules may stimulate short term traffic, but that ain't true growth and it isn't authority.

Benjamin Dona

It will be interesting to see how the AR community responds to your sound suggestions.

SVRPaul

Even without a penalty, What it really does is ruin it for everybody contributing to the Blog which dilutes the value of the domain. I would think there is far more content on AR then REW but it is being diluted so much with blatant self interests that the SE results have a lower value then what it could be and is the reason why REW does better in the search engines. I've done my tests for SE results on both blogs and I do know the results. Morgan and the staff have done an incredible job in helping to maintain REW as a better content provider for the SE rankings which is going to be harder and harder to do as more members use the REW blog platform with some bad techniques. Case in point - an AR user that I consider a spammer in AR posts their first REW blog tonight with the headline "Las Vegas Real Estate" - How to add widgets to your site. And they add AR widgets. No content -- that's it. I've read some crappy stuff (yes-- I do read many of the blogs posted) but that has to take the cake and it's not good for anybody who has contributed to REW with some thoughtful content. My thoughts -- REW bloggers should have to have some experience on the REW forums (50 posts minimum maybe?) before they can blog on REW. My thoughts on that? Honestly, I've done the bad stuff (for years I must add) long ago from being on forums looking for the short cuts (which certainly hurt very badly in the long run) and I've learned a ton of things in The REW forum that I wish I would have known years ago instead of just looking for the short cuts. The REW blogs are very powerful -- keep it that way with the knowledge learned from reading the REW forums. Honestly, I don't even think you would have to bring this topic up to REW forum members with 50+ posts.

SVRPaul

On another note -- there is some incredible blogging talent over at AR. It's kind of a shame they are not on a more friendly SE domain.

bigtoe

Now there are groups of people creating link farms by writing blog posts about each others websites in an organized circle. They are keeping the groups small to avoid detection but it is catching on.

mkrotchie

Great post Morgan, and completely true. I find myself reluctant to post/read at AR because there is so much spam content and sometimes it gets frustrating; you want the site to be successful and you don't see anything being done about it. Hopefully they realize the benefits to policing their site soon!

judyo

There aren't judgement calls being made, imo. We are all active AR members and only hope it continues to thrive, especially after what happened to Squidoo.

Eric Blackwell

Andy; Please realize as I said in my comment above that Morgan's post was written to HELP, not to hurt. I signed onto AR and haven't posted much--mostly due to the SPAM getting in the way of some GREAT blogging talent over there. Seriously. I for one am not judging ANYONE. WE don;t make the rules. This was written right after the Squidoo penalty and is IMO also written out of concern that Google may take more severe algo penalties against social networking in general, which hurts us all. Yes every social networking site goes through these types of growing pains. It cost Squidoo much becuse the spammers were doing a wholesale business there. I don't understand why you are upset with someone warning you that there is smoke coming from your house...especially we are all pretty close neighbors and friends. I'd also second what Mike Dammann said above. (PropertyHogs--sorry). Darn well said IMO Mike.

SVRPaul

Andy, I think all of us are on AR and actually since Morgan posted this, the blatant abuse has dropped significantly including the person I mentioned in the above comment who went and learned about Google Guidelines and even created a post about it! .... I think all of us agree AR is Addictive and we all like it or nobody would care!

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