Calculating The Risk Of Search Engine Spam


Every year, I donate my time and expertise to a worthy cause. This year, my worthy cause was helping a small company get a Google spam penalty lifted from its website.

The reason I wanted to help? The Google penalty happened over a year ago. The small company cleaned up the spam mess that over three search engine optimization (SEO) firms created for it, including (but not limited to) a network of “bad neighborhoods” pointing to its website.

Then I thought, What would I do if my website were hit with a spam penalty, and I lost qualified search engine traffic for over a year?

That’s a good question to ask, isn’t it?

Impacts Of Lost Search Engine Traffic

Professionally, I have witnessed some of the effects of lost search engine traffic due to spam penalties.

Some websites were online publishers. The majority of their online traffic came from search engines. The loss of that traffic resource resulted in decreased advertising revenue. Furthermore, because the only search engine visibility the sites could get was from paid search engine advertising, there was an increase in ad spending.

Both of these items are quantifiable. How much decreased revenue would your site receive from losing all organic search engine traffic? How much would you have to increase your ad spend to maintain qualified search engine traffic? Just these two numbers alone might be enlightening.

I also ask clients about the impact of their online reputation on a scale of 1-10. Of course, this is a somewhat emotional number. Almost every client claims that his or her website’s online reputation is very important.

In the case of the web publishers, being known as the premier online resource of topical information is critical to their success.

Why am I bringing up some of these impacts? I would prefer to see website owners calculate the financial and reputation impact of losing qualified search engine traffic before they choose to implement a specific search engine tactic or hire any SEO firm.

If Your Website Currently Gets Qualified Search Engine Traffic

Assuming your site currently gets qualified search engine traffic, calculating the financial risk should be straightforward. Be sure to include:

  • Leads
  • Direct sales
  • Short-term or one-time sales
  • Repeat sales or orders
  • Advertising expenses
  • Outsourcing expenses (if used)
  • Validation (what would happen if no one could find your website by querying with Google or Bing?)

Don’t forget to include expenses such as staff time and their associated costs.

The idea behind this exercise is not to get a 100% accurate number, but to arrive at a ballpark range so that you genuinely see what might happen to your organization’s online presence if you lost that traffic.

If Your Website Currently Gets Little Or No Qualified Search Engine Traffic

No risk here, you might think. But there are costs that you might not have considered in these circumstances.

How much time and expense went into creating, launching, and maintaining your website? You have hosting costs, design and development costs, connectivity costs and so forth.

Even if your website only receives traffic from navigational queries, what is the impact of losing that traffic?

Note: A navigational query is a search engine query where the searcher wants to go to a specific website, or to a specific web page on a website. If you are unfamiliar with navigational queries, please see:

Not A Scare Tactic, But A Reality Check

I did not write this article to scare anyone. I wrote it because I regularly observe the negative impact of not following search engine guidelines.

I also observe business’ general distrust of all SEO professionals as a result of a spam penalty.

For example, I think that the domestic violence shelters in each state in the U.S. should link to each other. That sort of link network could help victims of domestic violence locate the nearest shelter online.

But to a person whose site got a spam penalty and lost traffic for over a year? If you talk about link partners that person might discount a legitimate, desirable way of showing both searchers and search engines that content is valid (such as the example above).

It’s a shame, because so many search engine optimizers do follow the quality guidelines of Google, Bing and other search engines.

Moral of this article? Don’t brush off the risk of a spam penalty. Please be informed. You won’t regret it.

If you have any spam penalty stories to share, please share in the comment area below.

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