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Google’s Site Reputation Abuse Policy Rolls Out: Manual Actions Hit Big Sites

March 2024 Core Algorithm Update Image

On Monday 6 May, Google confirmed that it had started to enforce its site reputation abuse policy. This new policy forms a key part of Google’s March 2024 Core Update – you can read more about that here

This new policy is being implemented in two parts: the first via targeted manual actions and the second via an algorithmic roll out. So far, hundreds of large sites have been hit by the manual action stage. This includes the likes of The Telegraph, Daily Mail, CNN, LA Times and USA Today. 

But exactly how is this policy being enforced? What are the next stages? And how could the site reputation abuse policy impact your website? Here are the key details.

What is Google’s Site Reputation Abuse Policy?

Google’s site reputation abuse policy is a new spam policy. It was introduced as part of Google’s March 2024 Core Update and it details prohibited practices for sites that host third-party content. The details of this policy can be found within the ‘Spam policies for Google web search’ documentation under ‘Site reputation abuse.’

According to these guidelines: ‘Site reputation abuse is when third-party pages are published with little or no first-party oversight or involvement, where the purpose is to manipulate search rankings by taking advantage of the first-party site’s ranking signals.’

The document also provides several examples of site reputation abuse. This includes ‘A news site hosting coupons provided by a third-party with little to no oversight or involvement from the hosting site, and where the main purpose is to manipulate search rankings’ – more on voucher-related pages later.

The policy was also outlined in Google’s ‘Our March 2024 core update’ blog, which states: ‘Our new policy doesn’t consider all third-party content to be a violation, only that which is hosted without close oversight and which is intended to manipulate Search rankings.’

What is Parasite SEO?

If you’ve been following the news about this policy, then you’ve probably seen the term ‘parasite SEO’. Parasite or parasitic SEO refers to the practice of leveraging the authority of one website to boost the ranking of another. The strategy relies on, or piggybacks off, the success of another website – hence ‘parasite’. 

This is a strategy that has long been utilised by many websites and brands, and many of these tactics have legitimate uses. For example, publishing content that contains backlinks on sites like Medium, press releases that include a branded link or adding comments that feature links on forums and platforms such as Quora and Reddit. 

So, what’s the problem? Some ‘parasitic SEO’ practices have been included within the new site reputation abuse policy – e.g., news sites hosting coupons. Why? Because these techniques are often employed for the purpose of manipulating search engines with little involvement from the hosting site.

The Current Situation: Google’s Manual Action

The core update was completed on Friday 19 April 2024 and the site reputation abuse policy was scheduled to come into effect from Sunday 5 May. However, news of the roll out was announced one day later, on Monday 6 May.

On that day, Google SearchLiaison replied to a post enquiring about the site reputation abuse update, clarifying that: ‘It’ll be starting later today. While the policy began yesterday, the enforcement is really kicking off today.’

However, rather than enforcing the policy algorithmically, Google started to take action manually, de-ranking and deindexing pages across hundreds of individual websites. This initial wave hit largescale news websites with actions targeting their voucher, coupon and discount pages.

As expected, SEOs have been watching and commenting as the action unfolds. One of our favourite responses came from Carl Hendy, who dubbed the process ‘Vouchergeddon.’ Meanwhile, Lily Ray warned ‘it seems like Google is NOT messing around with site reputation abuse.’

If you want a clear representative of what’s happening, this infographic shows a sample of the sites that have been hit so far:

Infographic courtesy of Glen Allsopp

What to Expect Next: Google’s Algorithmic Roll Out

While Google’s manual actions are underway, the second step of the policy enforcement involves the algorithmic roll out. Exactly when this will occur remains unclear but Google has stated that it will happen soon.

The algorithmic roll out of the policy was confirmed by Google SearchLiaison on X during the early hours of Tuesday 7 May. The post confirmed that ‘The algorithmic component will indeed come, as we’ve said, but that’s not live yet.’

Although the policy has already come into effect, we expect Google to continue targeting large low-scale offenders before implementing the algorithmic component of the update. 

How to Prepare for the Site Reputation Abuse Policy Roll Out

With manual actions continuing and the roll out on the horizon, now is the time to ensure your website complies with the site reputation abuse policy.

Do you have any queries about how this policy could impact your site? Are you concerned about the upcoming algorithmic roll out? Whether you’re trying to plan your site’s recovery or you need advice about operating within Google’s guidelines, we can help. Get in touch with our experts to find out how we can bolster the performance of your website.

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  • Alex Gregory

    Alex has worked with big companies and government agencies to deliver excellent digital experiences. From strategic digital campaigns to website builds and compliance, he’s an experienced marketer that knows how to grow brands online.

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