Google is constantly trying to get a grip on spam, both on the organic as on the paid side of search. They have entire spam teams dedicated to finding and getting rid of those trying to falsely manipulate not just the results, but also the users. One of the main areas in which spammers are active is free web hosting. Many spammers try to get cheap and easy ways to create hundreds of sites all aimed at spam. That means that those who think they have a nice site for cheap money might just be part of a network which is not considered to be ‘clean’ by Google. Potentially that could hurt also the ‘innocent’ ones. Google therefore is now trying to protect these users and is giving hints and tips to those free or low cost web hosting services to make sure spammers will not abuse them. In a blogpost on the Google Webmaster Central blog Kaspar Szymanski of the Search Quality Team and Fili Wiese of the Ad Traffic Quality Team handed out some tips that they “think may help you save valuable resources like bandwidth and processing power, and also protect your hosting service from these spammers”. Here are the tips:
- Publish a clear abuse policy and communicate it to your users, for example during the sign-up process. This step will contribute to transparency on what you consider to be spammy activity.
- In your sign-up form, consider using CAPTCHAs or similar verification tools to only allow human submissions and prevent automated scripts from generating a bunch of sites on your hosting service. While these methods may not be 100% foolproof, they can help to keep a lot of the bad actors out.
- Keep a record of signups and try to identify typical spam patterns like form completion time, number of requests sent from the same IP address range, user-agents used during signup, user names or other form-submitted values chosen during signup, etc. Again, these may not always be conclusive.
- Keep an eye on your webserver log files for sudden traffic spikes, especially when a newly-created site is receiving this traffic, and try to identify why you are spending more bandwidth and processing power.
- Try to monitor your free web hosting service for phishing and malware-infected pages. For example, you can use the Google Safe Browsing API to regularly test URLs from your service, or sign up to receive alerts for your AS.
- Come up with a few sanity checks. For example, if you’re running a local Polish free web hosting service, what are the odds of thousands of new and legitimate sites in Japanese being created overnight on your service? There’s a number of tools you may find useful for language detection of newly created sites, for example language detection libraries or the Google Translate API v2.
These tips are interesting for web hosting services, but also for webmasters who are setting up new sites. If they choose to do business with smaller, cheaper or even free web hosting services the above signals might be an indication whether or not the web hosting service is trustworthy.