When you search on Google, the last thing you want is to click on a top result only to find that you have reached a low-quality page. In the best case, you find that the low-quality page was created to merely generate advertising traffic and waste a few seconds of your time. In the worst case, the page contains dangerous malware or a phishing scam and your cybersecurity comes under attack.
Google has managed to build up an impressive 92 percent global market share by providing the most relevant and informative results for search users. A large part of this is the constant improvement to their search engine systems to eliminate bothersome and harmful spam. According to their statistics, an astonishing 25 billion spammy pages are detected every day. The fact that we hardly see spam in Google search engine results pages (SERPs) is a testament to the quality of their efforts.
What is Spam Score?
Why Spam Score was Created
Google defines spam as a web page that tries to imitate the characteristics of a quality web page by using fake content or misleading tactics. In their Webmaster Guidelines, there is a specific list of techniques to avoid, including the use of hidden text, keyword stuffing, and scraping (reproducing content wholesale from other sites). When a site violates any of these guidelines, a human reviewer at Google may assess it and choose to take manual action. While manual action does not come with any visual indication to the end-user or website owner, the pages or site will be ranked lower or even banned from SERPs.
Google’s spam elimination algorithms are fantastic for the end-users but may pose problems for site owners who are seeking to improve their SERP rankings. Because you have no way of knowing if Google sees any spam issues with your site until it is severe enough for you to get penalized, there could be latent factors causing your site to rank poorly. So, how can site owners evaluate and remedy their web pages in order to avoid being demoted? This is where Spam Score comes in.
How Spam Score was Created
Spam Score was created by Moz in 2015. Moz is a company specializing in SEO tools. They have become recognized as one of the forerunners in the SEO field on account of their extensive research into the inner workings of Google.
Because Google is notoriously secretive about its search engine algorithms, companies like Moz must undertake their own research to develop relevant SEO strategies. Aside from Spam Score, Moz was previously responsible for the development of the Domain Authority (DA) metric, another widely-utilized indicator of SEO efficacy.
To come up with Spam Score, Moz analyzed an array of known domains that were penalized or banned by Google. Each of these domains had unique characteristics and was populated with different kinds of content. By compiling the similar attributes of the penalized and banned sites, Moz came up with a list of “spam flags” or key signals that they believed correlated to a poor ranking on Google. At its launch, the Spam Score metric was based on 17 key signals. Today, it is based on 27.
Spam Scores are delivered in percentages. 1-30% is a low score; 31-60% is a medium score; 61-100% is a high score. Contrary to common belief, a 10% Spam Score does not mean that your site was found to trigger 10% of the key signals.
What it means, is that 10% of the sites (in Moz’s research data) that carried similar characteristics to your site had been penalized or banned by Google. Therefore, the higher your Spam Score percentage is, the larger your chances are of Google search computers and SEO analytic tools viewing you as a spam site.
What Is My Spam Score?
Website owners can find out the Spam Score for their sites by using the Moz Link Explorer tool. You can enter a root domain, a subdomain, or the URL of a single page. The Spam Score (A) appears as a percentage on the right-hand side. A supplementary metric is supplied on the left-hand side which shows a breakdown of the Spam Score ratings of the domains that link to your site (B). A little further down the page, you will find a list of the Inbound Links to your site and their corresponding Spam Scores.
It is important to note that having high Spam Score sites linking to your site is not necessarily a bad thing. Remember that the Spam Score percentage is correlative and not causal. However, Google does seem to be sensitive about the company you keep and a large number of high Spam Score backlinks could adversely affect your rankings, albeit in a minor way. If you want to eliminate suspicious backlinks, the Inbound Links list on the Spam Score page is a way to get a feel of the links that need to be reviewed.
Help, I Have a High Spam Score!
Often, legitimate websites can generate a high spam score too. Especially if the domains are newly registered and the pages contain limited content. With time and concerted content creation efforts, a fresh website will begin to appear more credible, and the Spam Score will likely decrease in tandem.
However, if your site has considerable amounts of content and has been in operation for several years, it could be prudent to perform an audit to rectify your high Spam Score. Certain questionable SEO techniques that were under the radar of search engines a few years ago are frowned upon today. Therefore, if your established site is not doing well on SERPs, it might be time for an SEO tune-up.
Domain Names and URLs
As aforementioned, there are 27 key spam signals used by Moz to determine a Spam Score. By checking your pages or site against them, you can figure out where there is room for improvement. Some of these signals are related to the domain names themselves. For example, if a site’s top-level domain extension is frequently used by spam sites, it will trigger a signal.
This is why registering a .com site is preferable to using lesser-known extensions such as .cc or .xyz. Likewise, domain names with multiple numeric characters, excessive hyphenation, or sequential vowels or consonants are flagged as they are typical of spam sites. Abnormally short or long domain names and page URLs will also trigger spam signals.
Now let us look at possibly outdated SEO efforts. When the public had their first contact with SEO, meta keywords were the first point of page optimization. Developers stuffed meta keyword tags full of words and phrases in attempts to rank higher in SERPs without putting effort into producing appropriate content. Hence, meta keywords have been devalued by Google and most other search engines. The use of meta keywords is now cause enough to trigger a spam signal. In addition, very long meta keyword tags and very short or long meta description tags will trigger further spam signals of their own.
Pages and Their Content
This brings us to the site content itself. The number one flag on the Spam Score list is that a low number of pages are found on the domain. This is not inherently an issue as highly visual one-page sites are currently popular with small businesses and creative industries. If that is the aesthetic you are after, then disregard this issue. But, if your website follows the conventional corporate sitemap, perhaps you should think about adding more blog posts or useful content to mitigate the problem.
When writing content, be careful to avoid specific words associated with spammy topics like adult content, gambling, and pharmaceuticals. The presence of these ‘poison words’ in either content or anchor text will trigger spam signals too. As spam sites generally do not publish any contact information, not publishing a phone number, email address, or LinkedIn link will trigger a spam signal as well.
Aside from these, other spam signals may be active on your site. Many of these are comparatively technical and involve Google Font APIs, Facebook Pixels, rel=canonical tags, and more. The number of outgoing links, the number of linked domains, and the ratio of links to content are significant signals, although bona fide websites usually need not consider these.
Does Spam Score Matter?
Now that we understand how Spam Score is calculated, its relevance becomes clear. Although Google does not take Spam Score into account when ranking pages, it remains a powerful indicator of how the elements on your site will be judged by search engines.
At its core, the Spam Score metric is a good guideline to have in mind when crafting content or working on the structure of your website. Google’s AI is evolving to mimic human communication and so factors that lead Google to doubt your legitimacy would probably shake the confidence of your audience as well. You want to differentiate yourself as far as possible from disreputable sources and Spam Score shows certain steps that you can take to achieve that.
Ultimately, SEO can be complicated. In times of doubt, it would be best to reach out to digital marketing agencies who can use their experience and industry expertise to improve the standing of your website. Search engine methodology is constantly evolving. With the help of marketing professionals, you can stay ahead of the curve and avoid being penalized by search engines like Google.