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Spam and Spamdexing

"Spamming" is the practice of sending someone something they didn't ask for and don't want, like all those junk emails we seem to get. ""Spamdexing" is attempting to influence Google's ranking of a website through use of certain old, discredited SEO techniques. Back in the early days of Google, one could rank well for several websites that were basically identical but had different domain names, or different page names showing the same content.

History lesson: "Spam" is a cheap, slimy, lunch meat-like product, sort of a cross between a dry sausage and balogna, made primarily from ham byproducts, that comes in a can. The word is a portmanteau of "spiced ham." It was an alternative to expensive meats introduced by Hormel in 1937. It was very popular in the 1950's and Baby Boomers grew up eating it with some regularity.

Or perhaps you prefer the alternative etymology: SPAM is the name of a can of "Specially Processed Assorted Meat" that was an unrationed "meat substitute" during World War II. There may be some truth in both of those origin stories.

These days, many people buy Spam and like to eat it; it seems to be a staple of people living in Hawai'i.

Spam was something we ate down South, growing up; it was cheaper than pork chops or steak or even liver; it great to take along on fishing trips in case the fish weren't biting. It's not too bad diced, fried and stirred into an omelet, if you aren't watching your cholesterol.

Don't Send Spam.

Spam became the butt of the joke on several episodes of the "Monty Python" TV show. They performed comic skits where people would go into a restaurant and, no matter what they wanted or ordered from the menu, what they were eventually served would always include—you guessed it!—Spam.

On the internet, "spam" is the practice of sending unsolicited commercial email ("UCE", also known as junk email) and is considered very bad manners. It can get you in deep trouble. It can cause the company hosting your website to shut down your site. It can cause you to lose your email address completely and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to shut you down. This can happen quicker than you think: I knew one person who was shut down (website gone and email address cancelled) within ten minutes of sending out spam through his Internet Service Provider.

Why We Call It "Spam"

How Not to Spam Google

Spamdexing is the practice of making pages specifically for Google and Bing with overly repetitious keywords (or irrelevant key words having nothing to do with your site). Spamdexing can get your site kicked off the bottom of the SERPs, essentially banned forever from Google's search results.

Spam is bad. Spamdexing is bad. Don't do either of them. Spamdexing will get your site VERY poor listings in Google, or kicked out altogether.

"Don't Spamdex Google" Rules of Thumb:

  • Don't repeat keywords in the keyword meta tag or description meta tags. There's really no need to use the keyword meta tag at all these days. We don't build them into the websites we make.
  • Don't repeat the same word (even capitalized differently) right next to itself. In other words, if "bananas" is your keyword, don't put "bananas, Bananas, BANANAS" in a row like that. It's idiotic as well as ineffective.
  • Another spamdexing practice: avoid using tiny text or invisible text. Tiny text is text that is too small to see or read. Try specifying text that is one pixel high and you'll see what we mean—actually, you WON'T see it, and that's the point. Visitors can't see it, but it still exists. Don't do it! Invisible text could also be white text on a white background, or black text on a black background, etc. Variations of invisible text are using colors that are just one degree away from the background color. If the contrast between text and background is not enough, it will be considered invisible text by Google. Don't do that. Using invisible text, one could repeat "Banana ..." endlessly across a page that way, if one were trying to optimize a web page for the key word "Banana". This used to be done by idiots who gave SEO a bad name years ago. Don't do it!
  • Another spamming practice: using CSS to put tons of text so far to one side of a page that it can't be seen by a viewer. Don't use CSS in some other fashion to hide text. It's amazing to me how many people want to put text that isn't visible on their website. The rule of thumb should be: "Let Google see what you show humans."
  • Another practice to avoid in selecting keywords for a web page (which is also considered a form of spamdexing): Don't put your competitor's names or products in your meta tags. So don't put copyrighted terms (belonging to someone else) in your meta tags without obtaining specific permission from the copyright owner. While it may seem like a good idea—you can get people looking for your competitors' products coming to your website that way—it backfires when their lawyers send you a letter telling you to cease and desist, or when Google drops your site altogether.
  • Another spamdexing practice employed years ago: Don't set up many pages with the SAME content, but with different page names. Just don't do this. This is why Google has created some very sophisticated methods to help it determine who published something first. Don't flood Google with duplicate content under any guise. There's no penalty for it, but there's also no reward.
  • Spamdexers also set up duplicate websites, using different keywords as the domain names. Or sub-domains with the same content, just differently named folders or sub-domains. Don't do this.
  • Spamdexing includes simply ripping off someone else's (often top-ranking) website and setting up your own domain and placing a copy of that stolen content in it. Entirely aside from the copyright violation liability this creates for you, it doesn't work as a way to get Google to rank your website. My own site has been copied and duplicated across the web many times in the past. There are ways to request Google to take down the stolen content, and they typically get around to it sooner or later.
  • Spamdexing also includes the lame black hat technique of cloaking—which is where one serves humans content of a website that you would not serve up to Googlebot, or you serve Googlebot content that humans wouldn't see. This was done by determining that Googlebot was crawling a site (through IP address matching and other methods) and switching over to serve pages optimized for Google, but not shown to humans visiting the site. A random human visiting the site would see different content than the Googlebot crawled.

What Google Says about Spamdexing

For more information about what specifically is considered by Google to constitute "spam" or "spamdexing" techniques, read this article from Google How Google defeats spam techniques.

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