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  • Sniff Test for Pure Spam - niche surfer Wave Issue 179

Sniff Test for Pure Spam - niche surfer Wave Issue 179

Biggest Search News of 2024; Core Update; Spam Update; Manual Penalties; AI-Content Competition; Google Lies; E-E-A-T Quick Wins; and Much More!

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The Sniff Test …

Warning: It’s a lengthy intro - go grab your coffee first. This is my version of others’ emails, except there’s also a lot of curated goodies below 😁 

It’s a hot mess out there 🥵 

I’m sorry to those who have been hit with a manual action and de-indexed. I’m just waiting for mine at this point because I have some test sites that deserve to be de-indexed too if I just base it on the content.

From the algorithmic side, one of my pure-AI sites was more than halved. Another site that could be better was hit about 20% 😢 The rest are stable or a little up at the moment.

When it comes to manual penalties, I've noticed many publicly-shared sites that were removed from search results as examples. I'm not entirely convinced that they shouldn't have been removed.

They all have some things that would lead a human reviewer to think that it’s spam. Remember, it’s about the spamminess and not just AI-generated content.

AI-generated content does not mean the site is spammy.
Human-written content does not mean the site is good.

Disclaimer: I’ve never been hired directly nor indirectly by Google. I’m just another guy in this digital world offering up my thoughts based on my experience and what documentation there is.

I’m sure there are automated systems that do some initial analysis before a manual penalty, but it’s a human who needs to do a final review and press the button to give a site a manual action.

These reviewers don’t have a lot of time to review your site. They’re going to give sites a quick review - a sniff test:

  • UI/UX - Does it look like a real site and business?

  • Purpose - Is this site/wepage monetization-first and full of ads?

  • Real People - Does it look like the authors are real?

  • Content - On a quick skim, is the information readable and seem factual? Does it look like AI spam?

If you land on the greatest page in the world with unbelievably amazing content - but it was covered in ads - what would you do as a reviewer?

Unfortunately, that’s the “niche site” stereotype. All niche sites are covered in ads and that’s why many “expert SEOs” and even John Mueller himself have said niche sites are eye sores on the internet (not a direct quote).

“Experts” see the purpose of niche sites as money grabs and all black hat (I’m stereotyping “experts” stereotyping niche sites 😉 ).

“Purpose” is a big part of the sniff test. It’s also part of the Search Quality Guidelines:

“The purpose of a page is the reason or reasons why the page was created…Some pages are created merely to make money, with little or no effort to help people.”

Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines March 2024

If you were a human reviewer with a list of hundreds to thousands of sites….How much time would you spend on each site? Are you going to spend your time sifting through ads or waiting for the ‘X’ to appear to close the ads before you can find the content?

I bet it would be just enough to give a 👍️ or 👎️ 

Will legitimately good sites get caught up? Absolutely.

There are the automated systems that still flag sites based on whatever factors. Then a human still needs to give it a pass or fail. These human reviewers are meant to be the backstop and catch these incorrectly flagged sites. But…

They still need to meet their quota and get things done quickly. So why wouldn’t they just open the domain and do a very quick sniff test before pressing ‘Yes’?

Will very spammy sites not get manually penalized? Absolutely.

I’ve seen some sites that are being publicly outed as spam sites (don’t do that), but didn’t get hit. Then someone at Google flags it to get a human review. It then gets hit with a manual penalty and de-indexed.

But why weren’t they hit initially? I only saw two of those and they passed the sniff test. They didn’t look like spammy sites. It wasn’t until you dug deeper did you notice that there were thousands of spam pages or other things hidden under that top layer.

No systems are perfect and it’s a big-ass internet that Google is meant to moderate. I’m not trying to apologize for Google, but that’s just the facts.

And all the public-facing influencers out there who got hit - were they targeted? Absolutely.

Let’s say you’re Google and trying to promote “write content for the people and not for search engines” and “don’t create AI-generated spam.”

What sends a clearer message than going after the people who are promoting “how to game the system” or “Google is bad/dumb” or anything that Google doesn’t like?

If you want to be public, just know that it might happen - even if you don’t publicly share your sites. Think about all the digital footprints you’re leaving behind for someone at Google to find your sites.

But you take it on the chin and you keep moving forward.

What do you do if your site got hit by the Core Update? 👀 

I wouldn’t make any major changes unless you know it’s something that needs to be fixed. Review your site as objectively as possible. Get a friend or someone more experienced to take a look. The update is still going and it will take up to a month, so it’s unclear what will stick in the end.

One thing we could all do is what I’ve said for some time - build the brand. Treat it as an online business and not a hobby blog. If you treat it like that, your visitors (and reviewers) will treat it like that because they see it.

Human reviewers are easier to analyze and predict than Google’s search algorithm.

If you want to see sites that were de-indexed yourself:

Review the sites yourself and see what you think.

As a test - scroll through Ian’s table of 837 sites and list out the sites that you think are brands/businesses and not a blog. Then check them out and see if you’d consider it a brand/business or a blog.

How many can you get through in 10 minutes? Can you get through 5-7 sites and give a 👍️ or 👎️.

Here’s the direct link to the PDF of the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines so you can read for yourself what they tell their raters to do.


Huge updates and it’s all anyone can talk about in my X feed. Here’s what Tuesday, March 5th brought to the world:

  • Core Update: This latest core update is more comprehensive than previous ones, introducing changes across several core systems to better identify and prioritize helpful content. The rollout could take up to a month, with possible fluctuations in rankings. Creators are advised to focus on producing content that is genuinely useful and satisfying for people.

  • New Spam Policies: Aimed at combating expired domain abuse, scaled content abuse, and site reputation abuse. These policies target practices that degrade the quality of search results, with offenders potentially facing lower rankings or removal from search results entirely.

  • Expired Domain Abuse: Using old domains to host low-value content for Search manipulation.

  • Scaled Content Abuse: Generating large volumes of unoriginal content primarily to influence Search rankings. Focus on AI-generated spam.

  • Site Reputation Abuse: Publishing third-party content without oversight to exploit a site's ranking signals. Parasite SEO. Starts May 5th - two months to clean up your act.

You can read more directly from the horse’s mouth:

Google has put up a new FAQ page for how core systems work to show helpful content. A few of the questions:

  • Is there a single "helpful content system" that Google Search uses for ranking? No, Google Search does not use a single system for ranking helpful content. It uses a variety of signals and systems.

  • Do Google's core ranking systems assess the helpfulness of content on a page-level or site-wide basis? Google's core ranking systems primarily assess content on a page level, although some site-wide signals are also considered.

  • If I remove unhelpful content, do I have to wait for a core update to see potential ranking improvements? No, ranking changes can happen at any time for various reasons.

Matt G. Southern shares the recent updates to Google's Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. Aimed at helping raters identify untrustworthy websites, the guidelines now include new characteristics and illustrative examples of low-quality pages. While raters' feedback doesn't directly sway rankings, it influences future algorithm updates.

My Take: Adding examples in the guidelines is a great plus for us, because it gives us something to use for reference. It’s not just a general “blah blah make it for people-first"….But…Google is expecting a lot from human raters who aren’t given a lot of times to do things like fact-checking. Here is a reply I made that easily shows how a lot is still to-be-desired when it comes to facts -

Garrett Sussman from iPullRank breaks down Google's latest core and spam updates. He sheds light on the integration of the Helpful Content System into Google's core ranking systems, aiming to significantly reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results.

He also discusses Google's efforts to improve search quality by targeting spam tactics like expired domain and obituary spam, and offering insights on adapting to these changes.

Roger Montti draws from a range of insights shared by industry experts and affected website owners. He reports on the unprecedented scale of manual actions targeting low-quality sites and shares his personal observations alongside major updates like Florida, Panda, and Penguin.

He highlights specific cases from the community, including impacts on sites with AI-generated content and those previously unaffected by updates:

  • Widespread Removal of Low-Quality Sites

  • Impact on Previously Unaffected Sites

  • Manual Actions Across Various Niches

  • Inconsistent Communication from Google

  • Penalties on AI-Generated Content

  • Affecting Old and Established Sites

  • Fast Implementation of Penalties

He also has another article on four changes to links that include the deemphasis of links, link manipulation content, and expire domain signals.

SEO Ripples

  • ~80% of X users say that the Google March cord and spam updates will not reduce unhelpful content from showing up in the SERPs by 40% in Barry Schwart’s X poll.

  • Danny Sullivan, via Google SearchLiaison, says they still try to avoid overlapping updates, but the core and spam updates were both ready. ME: Please…multiple instances where updates overlap, one after another, because they’re all so intertwined now. It can sometimes be hard to decipher what updated caused what (which I believe is also a core reason).


Cuppa.sh is launching an SEO competition starting Sunday, March 10th, offering a chance to win $4,300 in prizes, including cash, consultations, and subscriptions.

The contest is open to Cuppa customers, who must create content on fresh domains without link building. Winners are determined by ranking after 30 days on one keyword. Here are the prizes:

  • 1st place: 1 Year Power User Upgrade, $1,000 in cash, 1 hour consult with Charles, 1 year of a business plan from URL Monitor.

  • 2nd and 3rd place: 1 Year Annual Subscription to Cuppa, $500 Cash, 1 Year of a Pro Plan to URL Monitor.

Cyrus Shepard shares how to evaluate your site using a scorecard directly based on Google's guidelines. He leverages his experience as a Quality Rater to help website owners assess their pages against Google's quality standards. It’s designed to make the complex task of aligning with Google's Rater Guidelines simpler, offering a practical approach to improving your content's performance in search results.


Michael King’s sheds light on the discrepancies between Google's public statements and its actual practices. He covers topics like Google's use of clicks in rankings, the truth about content creation and its impact on SEO, and the evolving dynamics between ads and organic search results. He also goes through a content pruning process with a template.

Google is not here for us;
we are here for Google.

- Michael King

In Moz’s latest Whiteboard Friday, Itamar Blauer offers actionable E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authority, Trust) strategies for boosting your site's credibility with both users and Google. He provides practical tips like using real authors, showcasing expert bios, employing original imagery, and leveraging ChatGPT for content enhancement.

source: moz.com


Elon Musk is suing OpenAI, alleging the company has veered from its founding mission to create artificial general intelligence (AGI) for the collective good. He claims that OpenAI's for-profit pivot and Microsoft partnership betray their initial promise.

OpenAI hits back with their version of the story (with emails), including how he want to merge OpenAI into Tesla to compete with Google. They also say he wanted “majority equity, initial board control, and to be CEO.”

Claude released the Claude 3 model family for use on claude.ai and the Claude API: Claude 3 Opus, Claude 3 Sonnet, and Claude 3 Haiku. Opus is the most powerful and capable. The context window is also a huge 200k. A benchmarking chart they shared in the announcement:

My Take: I did some quick tests and it’s definitely much better than Claude 2.1. I haven’t used it enough to say it’s better than ChatGPT 4 though. For now, Claude 3 is better with creative writing. But ChatGPT 4 is still better with logic and reasoning.


Amanda Natividad shares her secrets behind SparkToro's 40%+ email open rates. Her approach focuses on providing value directly in the email with a mix of audience research tips, diverse resources, and engaging social media content without requiring clicks.

My Take: I like this because it’s what I also try to do here. That’s a reason why my emails are longer. I try to put in the highlights of resources into the email, while also respecting the original creator and not putting everything here.


Charles Floate interviews Jason Barnard, who literally wrote the book on Entity SEO. Jason shares his insights on the evolution of SEO and the significance of entities and topical authority in today's SERPs. Lots of great information here to help your understanding of entities and Google’s knowledge graph.


Jonathan Gillham and Originality pulled together a couple studies in the last 24 hours:

  • Study 1 - List of Websites That Had a Manual Action in March 2024

    • 1,446 websites had a manual action applied to them out of 79k websites checked

  • Study 2 - Was AI Content Spam to Blame for the Manual Action?

    • 100% of the websites had some posts that were AI-generated

    • 50% of the sites had 90%-100% of their posts as AI-generated

Glen Allsopp gives us an updated glimpse into the SEO strategies of the digital elite. He dives into the way these corporations monopolize Google search rankings. It's a must-read for anyone keen on understanding the depth of strategy involved in achieving and maintaining top search engine rankings. Some of the key highlights:

  • These 16 companies collectively receive over 3.5 billion clicks from Google each month.

  • The conglomerates comprise of at least 588 individual brands. 😯 

  • Each site within these networks garners approximately 5.9 million monthly clicks average from Google, highlighting the significant traffic and visibility each brand commands.

  • They dominate across a variety of niches including Pets, Tech, Food, and Sports, indicating the companies' strategic presence across diverse content areas.

  • The article lists the 20 biggest sites managed by these companies, ranked by estimated monthly search traffic. Fandom, the top site, receives 606.2 million monthly visits and MayoClinic gets 342 million.

  • In a study of 10,000 affiliate keyphrases, these companies' sites rank on the first page of Google search results for 60% of them.

  • These brands depend on search traffic, with some attributing over 70% of their site visits to organic search.

source: detailed.com

Ethan Lazuk dives into Document #833 from USA v. Google LLC, presenting key takeaways for SEOs from the trial. He highlights insights into user behavior, search engine competition, and the diminishing importance of user interaction data due to advances in natural language processing and machine learning.

Flori Needle presents an overview of the current ecommerce landscape, offering insights on how online shopping habits and strategies are evolving. Some of the interesting statistics:

  • The average number of products per online order is 4.95, with a global conversion rate of 1.9%.

  • Ecommerce sales are expected to surpass eight trillion dollars by 2027.

  • A majority of social media marketers (68%) use social media to drive traffic to products on its own website.

  • Smartphones account for 66% of online orders.

  • Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook offer the highest ROI for social selling.

  • Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are the platforms social media marketers most commonly use for social selling.


If you’re in the dog and/or cat game with your sites and online businesses, Charlie Williams at Sistrix has done a lot of the competitor research for you here. Some interesting insights:

  • Charities dominate the pet care sector content.

  • Utilizing top-level hub pages that link to sub-topic articles is effective for informational subjects with many potential questions.

  • Satisfying a searcher's intent and answering their questions can improve your reputation with Google, especially with concise answers to niche questions.

  • While the length of individual articles may be less important, having a large, comprehensive library of content on a topic, like pet care, is beneficial for brand reputation and offers internal linking opportunities.


Mediavine outlines their strict policies against monetizing low-quality AI-generated content, while encouraging the responsible use of AI.


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