This Week in Google: Manual Actions for Spammy Rich Snippets and No-follow Google+ Links
February 14, 2015
Well, technically it’s only Wednesday so who knows what the rest of the week could hold but so far we’ve seen a couple of new changes from Google. Both have some interesting implications for SEO and already the world of internet marketing has been abuzz with accusations of mixed messages from Google.
Manual Actions for Spammy Rich Snippets
The first item I’ll address is manual actions for spammy rich snippets. Structured markup using rich snippets is a practice that was introduced and endorsed by Google as a way to enhance the data displayed in SERPs for products, local businesses, articles, software applications, movies, restaurants, and TV episodes. The one most of us are familiar with is Google Authorship, which links an author’s personal Google+ page with the content created on a website, making the author’s picture appear adjacent to the website listing in Google SERPs. Recently, some webmasters operating websites with structured data received the following message from Google:
Spammy structured markup
Markup on some pages on this site appears to use techniques such as marking up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content, and/or other manipulative behavior that violates Google’s Rich Snippet Quality guidelines.
Basically, what this means is Google is issuing manual penalties for sites that are using spammy techniques or deceitful practices with their structured data. Although I was previously unaware that structured data could be used for black hat purposes, it’s apparent that there are marketers out there using this practice and Google is attempting to close the loophole.
As many know, the phrase “manual penalty” sends shivers up any respectable SEO company’s spine. Google’s manual webspam penalties are notoriously hard to remove and have often times been issued to sites who were not engaged in black hat SEO activities but had spam backlinks as a result of malware or possibly even negative SEO. It will be interesting to see how easy structured markup penalties will be to remove. I would think that removing spammy markup data like fake reviews, hidden content, fake G+ profiles, etc. would be sufficient to reverse the penalty, or barring that, removing structured data all together.
Of course, the mixed message being sent here is that this could potentially hit sites that are not engaging in black hat practices. Time will tell as Google sends out more of these messages and more webmasters chime-in.
No-follow Google+ Links
SEOs everywhere have long beat the drum that “you need to be on Google+.” While this remains true, as a healthy presence on G+ sends social signals that can benefit SEO, there’s no longer any value to links included in your profile. Recently it was discovered that any URL listed under the section marked “Links” on Google Plus profile pages is automatically marked as “nofollow” by Google. Some theorize (albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that Google had initially set these up as “dofollow” links in a bid to get more people to join Google+, as they would get a decent link in return. I think it’s more of an attempt by Google to level the playing field a bit. However, it’s possibly sending a mixed message that Google+ may not be as important to SEO as it was previously.
In closing, where there’s a loophole, there’s a way. Savvy black hat marketers will continue to find the chinks in Google’s armor and exploit them to the fullest and in turn, Google will crack down on them. Of course, the fear is that sites practicing white hat SEO could be penalized, too. Regardless, there are no shortcuts in SEO outside of good SEO practice, so spammy or shady activities should be avoided at all costs.