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How To Find & Remove User-Generated Spam

Is user-generated content spam jeopardizing your rankings in Google search results? If you’ve received manual actions or are concerned about spammy comments on blog posts or forums, read on to learn how to identify user-generated spam and the steps you can take to eradicate it.

Aug 23, 2022

5 m read

No one likes coming across user-generated spam. Not only is it a bad look, but it can also result in a Google user-generated spam penalty. Here’s what you need to know about how to find and remove user-generated spam before it has a chance to hurt your web pages’ rankings. 

What Is User-Generated Spam?

User-generated spam refers to spammy content that has been posted to a site by third-party users and visitors. Sites that allow users to interact with each other through forum boards and blog comment sections are especially vulnerable to user-generated spam. This type of spam can include unsolicited links, promotional content in comments, fake reviews, fake user profiles, spammy posts on forum threads, and comment spam. User-generated spam can negatively impact the user experience.

The User-Generated Spam Penalty

Spammy user-generated content can pollute search results and make it harder for search users to find what they’re looking for. That’s why Google removes this kind of content from their indices.  

If Google detects user-generated spam on your website, it may apply a manual action penalty that’ll demote or remove the page in question from its rankings. If it believes your site is of sufficient quality and the spam is an isolated problem, the Google user-generated spam penalty will only affect a single URL or directory. 

However, if your website has too much user-generated spam, Google may conclude the whole site is spammy. In this case, it may apply the user-generated spam penalty to the entire site, which can affect the ranking ability of all your pages. 

Google will alert you about user-generated spam warnings or penalties through Google Search Console. A Manual Actions Report will show you what actions have been taken against your site and which pages they affect. A warning or a user-generated spam penalty is a wake-up call to clean up your site. If user-generated spam already exists on your site, it’s vulnerable to further spam content. 

How To Find User-Generated Spam on Your Website

Before you can clean up user-generated spam on your site, you first need to find it. Have a look over the user-generated content posted to your site, and make a note of any problem pages. Identify all the areas of your site where visitors can post content, and scan through them to find any potential user-generated spam. 

If your site has comment or discussion sections on its blog posts, you’ll need to look over every post to make sure spammers have not hijacked those sections. If your site hosts a forum, check it for suspicious behavior, link spamming, spammy usernames, and fake accounts that only post spam. 

Have a surge in new users? It’s not just spammy content you need to watch out for. Fraudulent accounts may qualify as spam as well. If your site allows visitors to create an account, check out new accounts to see if their activity is legitimate or fraudulent. Accounts with spammy names will be easy to spot and block. 

How To Remove User-Generated Spam

Once you’ve identified any problem posts, threads, or pages, you can remove user-generated spam from your website. Go through the pages you’ve identified as containing user-generated spam and manually delete posts or comments by hand. Also make sure to delete the accounts that created the spam or take away their posting privileges. 

If your site has experienced user-generated spam, it’s likely to be home to more in the future. So even if you’ve managed to get it all cleaned up, that doesn’t mean you can just forget about it. If you have considerable amounts of spam on your site, you’ll need to perform regular checks and cleanups to keep it free of user-generated spam.

9 Tips For A Healthy Comment Section or Forum

You don’t want to get stuck constantly combing over your content to remove user-generated spam. That’s why it’s best to focus on prevention. Proactively implementing practices to protect your site from spam is often the best defense. Here are eight tips to help you keep your site’s user-generated content healthy and spam-free. 

1. Keep Your Software Up-To-Date

Spammers tend to take advantage of security issues in older versions of blogs, bulletins, and content management systems (CMS). Keeping all of your software patched and up-to-date will help protect your site from known software vulnerabilities. Keep an eye out for essential security updates and apply them quickly.

2. Add a CAPTCHA

Not all user-generated spam is generated by humans — much of it actually comes from bots. Adding a CAPTCHA to your site will block automated account creation and make it hard for bots to post spammy links. Just how effective a captcha is at stopping bots is still up for debate, but it adds another layer of protection to your site you can count on to keep out at least some spam bots. 

3. Use a Honeypot

Spammers aren’t manually surfing the web, looking for forms to fill out or reviews to submit. A large percentage of spamming is done utilizing bots. When a bot discovers a form or field to fill out, it fills in the fields with predetermined information, not knowing anything about the field other than what it discovers scanning a web page’s HTML To take advantage of this fact, web developers implement a honeypot field. A field only visible to bots that scan the HTML using stylesheets to hide it from the human eye. When the bot fills out the field and selects the respective form submit button, custom scripting checks if the field contains a value, discarding the submitted form if it is not empty.

4. Blocklist Certain Terms

Another option is to blocklist certain terms you’ve seen used in spam on your site or commonly used in spam across the web. For example, blocklisting pharmaceutical-related terms widely used in spam will protect you from pharma-spam. Continue to update and add more spam terms to your blocklist as you see them pop up on your site. Certain CMS features or plugins may help you identify spam terms on your website and block them more quickly. 

5. Disallow Link Posting

One way to reduce link spam is by disallowing link posting altogether. Since much of the spam on the web today is links, disallowing them will deter many spammers from vandalizing your site. Even if someone posts a spam link in plain text, it’s less likely someone will click through on it, and it won’t get any link equity

6. Set All Links in Your Forums or Comments to ‘Nofollow’ 

Setting the links left in your comments or forums to ‘nofollow’ will remove some of the incentive to post spammy external links. A nofollow tag tells search engines to ignore the link, which means no link equity can pass through it to the inbound destination. Many blogging sites add this attribute to new posts automatically. 

7. Add Your Forum to Your Robots.txt File

If you host a forum and don’t need it to rank on Google, you can use the robots.txt file to disallow search bots from accessing it. 

If the pages have already been indexed, use Google Search Console’s URL Removal Tool to have them removed from Google’s indices.

8. Moderate Comments & Posts

Hands-on moderation can help keep your site clean of spam. Requiring each new post to be manually approved before it goes live is the best way to keep spam off your site, but it’s practically impossible on large websites. The next best thing is a hands-on team of moderators to look over the activity on your site and keep it clean from malicious or unsavory user-generated content. 

You can also restrict new members’ posting abilities to limit spam. Use your moderation powers to manually approve the posts of new members or members under a specific post count. This will prevent malicious actors from creating new accounts to spam your site and allow you to spot and block troublesome accounts quickly. 

Blocking anonymous posting and requiring users to have a certain number of posts before they can post links may also reduce spam. 

9. Close Forums & Comments After a Certain Amount of Time

Old blog posts or forum threads that don’t see much action can be especially vulnerable to user-generated spam. Consider closing down comment sections and threads after a reasonable amount of time. 

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