Fixing Google Manual Action: Spammy Freehosts

Oh, the nerve.

Every day, bloggers get excited over ‘new comment’ notifications on their content, only to find a pile of semi-coherent word soups that end in awkward advertising for probable scam services. Then, they have to remove it all. In some free hosting services, spam users and spam comments are practically inevitable fact of life.

Spam bots can eventually drown out actual user-created content, too. End result? Either the human user base leaves for greener pastures, or the entire service goes the way of the dodo (you know, extinct), a la Geocities and Angelfire. RIP.

What is Google Manual Action for Spammy Freehosts?

Businesswoman screaming at her lap top
Coping with Spam 101.

As a general rule, like we’ve discussed, Google is not a fan of robot-created, shallow, or otherwise low-quality content that doesn’t contribute to an informed web. Google’s general policy is to address individual spammy or thin-content pages by Sparta-kicking them down the search ranking–or removing them from search altogether. But, if the freehost ship starts sinking under the weight of too many spammers, well…

We’ve seen some web hosts and bulk subdomain services become major sources of malware and spam. We try hard to be granular in our actions when protecting our users and search quality, but if we see a very large fraction of sites on a specific web host that are spammy or are distributing malware, we may be forced to take action on the web host as a whole. – Google

What’s that?

Say it louder for the people in back!

Action upon the web host as a whole. It’s a service-wide ban, and that’s going to cover every site using that service.

What Makes Accounts Spammy?

Stressed and desperate businessman screaming for chaos
One of our favorite types of images: people yelling at spam and clown horns.

Spamminess is easily identifiable, but more difficult to pin down to a short description. What they all have in common, however, is their purpose.

[bctt tweet=”Spam accounts do not exist to interface with websites the same way humans do.” username=”DominateWithSEO”]

They exist to drive user traffic to another location–where the business or cause behind the bot can gather resources (whether money or data) from your actual, human users. Bots are also not human–they’re programs. They fundamentally do not contribute, they only farm for resources. They’re also annoying as hell, but we all knew that.

The trouble is, bots are becoming more and more sophisticated. The old bot-detection algorithms don’t always flag newer, subtler bots. Bot-detection is a growing service industry by itself–which tells you just how much of a problem spambots have become.

Okay, but Spammy Freehosts?

man with glasses having eyesight problems confused with laptop software
Sorry, what?

Generally, if your freehost seems to be some sort of spam haven and rest home, Google may place an action on their entire operation to prevent their web users from interacting with such a drastic volume of spam.

Spammy Freehosts Solutions and Preventative Measures

Future technology smart glass red touchscreen interface. Caution screen concept
Here’s an alert for ya: we’re sick of spam.

Once your spam problem has been addressed and you’ve removed said overwhelming spam from your site, you can submit a Reconsideration Request to Google. But, therein lies more questions. What do you do about spam bots and spam accounts? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Do not allow automatic account creation. At this point, that’s just shooting yourself in the foot. In addition to CAPTCHA, you can make use of a number of ‘humanity tests.’ Evengrounds lists over ten alternatives, including Hidden Fields and Math Problems. Options can also include SMS Verification and Voice CAPTCHA for the sight impaired. In reality, there is no reason not to use at least one of these humanity verification tests.
  2. Make it clear in your Terms of Service that you do not tolerate spam abuse in your service. You should consider making an abuse policy, and communicating it to all of your users.
  3. Monitor for spam accounts. You can make use of one or many of the available spam-detection services available. Then, get rid of them. See ya, suckas!
  4. Switch hosts. If your freehost has become magnetically overwhelmed with spam, find a quality host, whether paid or free, and take your content elsewhere. It’s a pain, but sometimes it’s the best solution.

Spam Detection and Prevention for WordPress Users

man's hands keyboarding on net-book while sitting at the wooden desk
Spam, are you unaware how much shit we’ve got to get done? Ugh.

For those who have WordPress sites, here are another set of actionable options to cut down on the spam bots:

  • Don’t let just anyone comment! If you go into the Settings > General, you can find a box that says ‘Anyone can Register.Uncheck that. You can also then set the default role for new users as ‘Subscriber.’ At that point, you can go into the user roles and permissions section and work from there.
  • If you aren’t a fan of CAPTCHA, or you’ve had a problem with spambots getting past them, you might try a Honeypot. In a way, they’re almost like a reverse CAPTCHA. They’re meant to be invisible to human users, but Spambots will detect the invisible form and input data. If anything is filled out, it’s marked as spam. This option is also under Settings > General, and is enabled by default.
  • In the case of a persistent spammer, you can flat out block an IP address. If you go back into Settings > Notifications, click ‘Show Smart Tags’ next to ‘Notifications.’ This allows you to see a user’s IP address with your next email notification. After you have a user’s IP address, you can contact your host company for assistance in blocking the offending user, or make use of a security service like Sucuri.
  • Both User Registration Forms and Email Activation for User Registration are also worth considering. It’s doubtful that any of your user base would object to either in the name of avoiding spam bots.
  • There are also a variety of plugins you can use to halt spammers. WP Forms requires a pro account, but if you use it you can have an administrator go through the applications one by one. If you’ve gotten to the point where spammers are starting to get out of hand, this may be the method for you.
  • A plugin called WangGuard will wade through the user database on your WordPress site, and compare them against databases of known spam users. Then, you can manually delete those users from your database.

Worst case scenario, you may want to notify your real users of the problem, and then wipe the slate and start from square one. Again: a new host may be your best solution. Remember, even if your site has been flagged, you can still also submit a Reconsideration Request after you’ve fixed your spammy freehost problem.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

You don’t have to go it alone. Our team of experts is ready and willing to accompany you on this journey, and we’re even professionals. Contact us and let’s discuss your business and your needs. We’ll take good care of you.

More in Our Google Manual Actions Series

Unnatural Links to Your Site

Unnatural Links from Your Site

Cloaking and Sneaky Redirects

Hacked Site

Pure Spam

Spammy Structured Markup

User-generated Spam

Spammy Freehosts

Hidden Text and/or Keyword Stuffing

And more coming soon!

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