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User Generated Content: Google to Crack Down on Spammy UGC
Friday, March 05, 2010
User Generated Content (UGC) can provide great value for your web properties.  In fact, Bazaarvoice reported that 80% of consumers are now seeking user generated content and reviews to guide purchase decisions.  (For the record, Bazaarvoice recently served up its 100 billionth piece of UGC).  However with the good comes the bad and user generated content can be easily exploited if not monitored.

If you are a large e-commerce site, or any site for that matter, that features substantial pieces of user generated content, you will want to take note that Google will be again looking to crack down on spammy user generated content to help clean up the Web. Google is also looking to clean up the Web from sites that have had their content hacked as there continues to be an increase in hacks from things such as Wordpress plugins and the like.  Sites are being hacked like never before, so this is welcomed news from Google.

Announced earlier this week, Google will continue to use Google Webmaster Tools to notify Webmasters of additional issues that Google has detected on their sites.  These issue include:
  • Spammy or abused user-generated content
  • Abused forum pages or egregious amounts of comment spam
  • Suspected hacking
 According to Google,
These notifications are meant to alert webmasters of potential issues and provide next steps on how to get their sites fixed and back into Google's search results. If it pertains to a hacking or abuse issue, the notification will point to example URLs exhibiting this type of behavior. These notifications will run in parallel with our existing malware notifications.
Fighting spam and hacked sites is a large task that Google cannot tackle alone.  The fact that Google is taking steps to address these issues will help, but at the end of the day, Webmasters need to be responsible for their Web properties.  Again not always an easy thing to stay on top of. 

We have noticed an increase in what appears to be spammy user generated content on large e-commerce sites.  From a user's perspective this makes it difficult to trust these sites knowing that due to fake profiles or "phony reviews", our search for information is being tainted.  As Google illustrates, there are those people who create user accounts and will create accounts and "fill their profiles with gibberish, blatherskite and palaver. Even worse, they'll add a sneaky link, a bit of redirecting JavaScript code, or a big fake embedded video that takes your users off to the seediest corners of the web."  These spam profiles have caused issues with comments, communities and user generated content on numerous web site out there.  Quite honestly, Google said it best when they stated the fact that the social web is growing incredibly quickly and spammers look at every kind of user content on the web as an opportunity for traffic.

 Tips for Safely Leveraging User Generated Content / Hacked Content
  1. Understand your CMS - CMS systems are great because they make it easy to deploy content to your site, but auto-generated pages can be abused if you're not aware.  Ensure that you are aware of the possibilities of auto-generated content being populated on your site.

  2. Be Aware - know what to look for.  Watch out for suspect behavior such as multiple user accounts being created from the same IP address, insertion of questionable links in comments or reviews etc.


  3. Employ standard security features on your web properties - use things such as CAPTCHA to help crackdown on spam commentary.

  4. Establish Rules for Publishing User Generated Content - make it clear that users may not upload infringing content to your web properties.  Work to follow the fundamental principles of user generated content services.  For more information visit: http://www.ugcprinciples.com/

  5. Leverage Monitoring Tool - tools such as Google Alerts can be set up to help monitor questionable activity on your web properties.

  6. Consider placing nofollow on comment links or on questionable user profile pages.
  7. Allow users to report spam - empower your users to help control spam commentary and phony reviews.

  8. Perform Spot Checks - do periodic checks on your reviews, comments and areas where user generated content is found on your site.  

There is no question as to the value of user generated content.  However, it really should be monitored to ensure that spam commentary is not dominating the conversation.

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posted by Jody @ Friday, March 05, 2010  
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