With the proliferation of “fake news” and spam across the world wide web, it is a constant struggle to identify and weed out the truth from the frauds.
In February of this year, Google published a whitepaper explaining their philosophies and methods of evaluating the trustworthiness of information online. In the paper, it is explained that Google views “disinformation” and “spam” to be one and the same in many regards, and as such, they are caught by the same systems.
“Spam” is used to describe attempts to circumvent or game their ranking algorithms to promote content that is not in the best interest of the end user, while “disinformation” is used to describe content that is intentionally misleading or flat out false.
How do these systems work to catch spam?
Because the specific algorithms are Google’s trade secrets, we can never know exactly what factors are affecting them. However, they do give us an idea in the whitepaper they released.
The whitepaper states that Google does not make an attempt to evaluate the content’s truthfulness directly. Instead, one avenue they use is user testing metrics and analytics information to determine how people are interacting with the content. Another example is the PageRank system, which evaluates how websites are linked and connected together, building authority from each other. There are many, many pieces involved in this process, but these are two of the main methods that have been outlined.
So how exactly is this going to help me?
Matt Southern from Search Engine Journal published an article highlighting an issue that a webmaster was having: being hit with so many malicious backlinks to their site from known spam domains that they couldn’t keep up with disavowing them. They tweeted at John Mueller, who responded, “I’d ignore them. Someone’s wasting their time on something our systems have a lot of practice at ignoring :).”
This is almost certainly in reference to the aforementioned disinformation and spam filtering systems. Based on this response, I share Matt’s conclusion that this means Google’s algorithm has evolved to the point where it can automatically filter out negative SEO attacks. If your site has a bad backlink profile, you should still try to get it cleaned up as best you can, but it is not the end of the world to have bad backlinks.
Note: Google still penalizes the worst kinds of backlinks, such as those from porn sites or the ubiquitous Viagra shilling sites. If you have these types of links in your backlink profile, you definitely need to work on disavowing and cleaning them up.
If you have spent money or time building links in “link farms” (sites that are set up specifically for the purpose of building links), you are wasting it. These links will be ignored by Google, and while they may not hurt you as much as they did in the past, they certainly aren’t going to help you.