Google Charts “Manual Actions” Against Spam In Search For First Time

How often does Google take “manual action” against websites for spam, where a human being reviews a site and decides it deserves some type of penalty? For the first time, Google’s released a chart showing this, going back nearly 10 years.

The chart is part of Google’s new “How Search Works” area, and it stretches back from August 2004 to today (click to enlarge the chart):

actions over time“Legacy” indicates manual actions that Google took that weren’t classified into a more specific category, Google told me. Until around the end of 2007, most everything was either over “unnatural links” or “legacy” — I.E., “other.”

Pure Spam Big, Unnatural Links, Not So Much

Today, by and large, the biggest category involves “Pure Spam,” something that is deemed to violate Google’s guidelines in some way but not in a specified manner, such as for unnatural links or cloaking, both of which are other categories — and which generate few actions, relatively speaking.

Google provides definitions for all these types of spam in an associated page. Oddly, “pure spam” is listed as also including some spam types that also get itemized. The definition:

Pure Spam: Site appears to use aggressive spam techniques such as automatically generated gibberish, cloaking, scraping content from other websites, and/or repeated or egregious violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

After pure spam, “hacked sites” generate the most manual actions, where Google is penalizing sites that have been hacked and are no longer providing the content they originally gained rankings for.

Unnatural link actions, which gained huge attention last year, are well down on the action list.

Not Shown: Automatic Actions

Of course, part of that is due to the fact that Google also does “automatic actions” against web sites, things like the Panda Update of 2011 to fight “thin content” or the Penguin Update of 2012 to fight unnatural links. In these cases, no notifications are sent out. You’re just automatically penalized.

In that regard, the chart doesn’t fully reflect all the spam actions Google takes. It would be nice to see a future chart with complete numbers like that, but this is a start.

“Peak Spam” & The Spam Timeline

The chart lacks a “total” line, but the “Legacy” and then the “Pure Spam” lines give you a pretty good sense of when manual actions have peaked. “Peak spam” was 553,994 manual actions in one month:

How Search Works - The Story – Inside Search – Google-3

Unfortunately, the date doesn’t show next to the count. Dates are shown for most other points, so I can tell from the points before and after that peak spam — well, the most manual actions over spam — happened in June 2011.

That’s where the associated timeline comes in. Under the chart are key moments in Google’s spam fighting history, such as these:

spam history

But whatever it was that generated all those actions in June 2011, that didn’t make the timeline. Panda Update 4 (formerly Panda 2.2) happened then, but as that was an automatic (or “algorithmic”) action, it shouldn’t have caused a spike in manual actions.

Reconsideration Requests

Those hit by an automatic actions can only make changes to their web sites and hope that Google will automatically spot these and return them in into good graces. See also these stories for more about that:

For manual actions, people can do what’s called a “reconsideration request.” How often do people do this? Google’s got another chart for that:

Reconsideration request

Unfortunately, dates aren’t show on this chart, only week numbers. Thanks to a nice week number conversion site, I can see that week 43 in 2010 was the height for reconsideration requests, October 25-31, 2010.

The associated timeline does explain this spike, indicating it was due to an upgrade to Google’s notification system and the start of it sending out more messages about manual actions, resulting in more reconsideration requests.

What percentage of those requests is deemed successful? There’s no chart for that, sadly.

Be sure to read more about Google’s new “How Search Works” area that these charts are from. Our story about that and related features of the area:

Also, at our SMX West search marketing show later this month in San Jose, we have a special session all about search spam, featuring Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester:

The Search Police: Matt & Duane’s Excellent Search Engine Adventure

You name it; Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester have seen it all when it comes to trying to bend, break or shatter search engine rules. In this session, both will share examples of what not to do and why, ranging from accidental mistakes to horrifying spam, as well as general tips directly from the search engines on how to succeed with them.

You won’t want to miss it, and it’s one of over 50 great sessions we have planned. Check out the entire agenda and register!

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Google: Webmaster Central | SEO: Spamming | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • @steveplunkett


  • Michael Freeman

    Danny, great article. Small typo that says “June 2001″ instead of “June 2011″ just before you mention Panda Update 4.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Thanks, fixed.

  • aaron wall

    Peak spam? Aren’t we still climbing the Matterhorn? ;)

  • TmWe

    Google should improve their indexing process so as not to index so much pure spam in the first place.

  • Durant Imboden

    It says something about Matt Cutts that he’s still a cheerful guy after looking at this kind of crap every day. If I were in his shoes, I’d have given up on humanity by now.

  • مغرد ملكى
  • Jm Maillist

    Danny Great Post. Thanks.

  • Carol Manser

    It’s not rocket science, and Google has always been very clear: it values high value Content, good site navigation, and relevant links that are useful and in your topic niche.

    Google will penalize Spam, spammy links, unnatural and Paid Links, links to or from unrelated topic areas, and blatant manipulation like keyword stuffing.

    All the rest is noise.

  • larrybaldwin

    Google is removing websites without reason. If u do white hat seo, clean, good, and grow to fast, you will be banned. G wants us all to be stupid and just pay for adwords. What is the worst thing, is that nobody gives us an alternative. I mean, a good one. I would like the search “maket” to be divided in 3-4 search engines with about the same amount of users. But these are just dreams …

  • Alwayswinterair1

    I like ur post very much.It is a brief description but very useful, so I am very thankful to u for this valuable work.

  • aureliogarciashoes

    friend I like your blog very much.It is very intersting and knowledgeable.I am very happy to read ur blog.

  • cheryl511

    If you think Jacob`s story is surprising,, 3 weeks ago my friends sister worked and got paid $4147 putting in a thirteen hour week from there apartment and they’re roomate’s ex-wife`s neighbour was doing this for 9-months and errned more than $4147 part-time on there labtop. the advice on this link… jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • Harsh Bawa

    Well, whatever Google says, it still comes up with lot of Gibberish, unnecessary results for many keywords I have often seen Google+ results which do not have good content but are purely ranking just because those people have a well optimized G+ profile. So whatever they write, it is still ranking as Google tries to integrate blogspot, youtube and G+ results in results.

  • Clayburn Griffin

    They should take this spam and make a spin-off search engine full of spam. Spam, spam, eggs and spam.

  • deborah638

    just before I saw the bank draft which was of $8858, I accept that my sister was like they say really receiving money parttime from there computar.. there aunt has been doing this for under fifteen months and at present took care of the mortgage on there appartment and purchased themselves a GMC. I went here, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • jrwl

    Dear Danny Sullivan,
    Recentely we have developed a new scrape software which is fully functional,fast and free. Free Proxies of IP.Now we are carring out public testing and inviting you to do it together.Please give us more comments.Welcome to experience and we will develop more software and service soon.It’s fortunate if we can get support from you.
    Download Link:

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