Is Your User-Generated Content SEO Mostly SPAM?

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by Andrew Shotland

UGC sites can be great for SEO.

One of the biggest challenges with any SEO program is creating content that matches up with what potential customers are searching for. If you have an active community, user-generated content can solve that problem at scale, virtually at no cost to the site, other than what it costs to maintain the service. The cherry on top is lately Google has been ranking UGC sites like Reddit, Quora, and the thousands/millions of niche forums near the top of the SERPs.

Awesome, right?

In general it is, but UGC sites are also SPAM magnets. If anyone can add content to your site, you can be sure there are hundreds of thousands of SPAMMERs out there who want to use your site to rank their affiliate links or whatever in search engines. And they will do it. I launched a blog on a new domain a month ago with no linking or anything. It’s not indexed in Google or Bing. And within 48 hours, one of the posts already got a spam comment from someone who had likely been monitoring new domain registrations.

We have worked with many UGC sites and typically they have some kind of SPAM detection system in place. The challenge is that SPAM doesn’t stand still. So your detection system that worked last week, is likely out of date by this week. I recall having a conversation with the former VP of Engineering at Pinterest who told me the problem was such a challenge that he was considering leaving Pinterest to start a SPAM Detection SaaS company.

I mention this as a way of reminding UGC sites that they must always remember the SPAM factor when looking at SEO performance.

Case in point: A UGC site came to us concerned that their Google rankings and traffic had been tanking since April after a big gain:

UGC SEO Traffic Pattern
They figured with all the Google algo updates, AI Overviews, etc. that they were getting hit. But that up-and-down traffic pattern instantly looked familiar to me. It’s what happens when you flood Google with a lot of pages, Google tests them out, sees they are crap, then demotes them.

It would have been pretty straightforward for the client to pull the pages that had been created around the time of the gain in Google traffic. But it was faster for me to just go to Google Search Console and check which pages started gaining around that time. Let’s just say it wasn’t a shocker than many of them had “onlyfans” in the URLs.

I quickly built a regex to capture all of the strings I suspected were in the spam URLs. I couldn’t get all of them, but I am guessing this graph captures about 90% of them. Notice a familiar pattern?
UGC SEO Spam Traffic PatternNot only does this show that the SPAM content represented ~100% of the up and down. Even more important, before the big increase in April, it represented ~20% of the overall organic traffic.

When I showed this to the client, they were puzzled as they had built “robust” SPAM detectors. I asked when the last time they had been updated was. No one knew.

So if you have a UGC site that relies on SEO, consider this a PSA to regularly update your SPAM filters.

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