In defense of spam assessment and the concept of toxic connection


The author’s views are entirely his or hers (except for the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect Moza’s views.

I am writing this after John Mueller caused a minor uproar on Twitter on Monday with this post:

Now in Moz, we don’t actually use this “toxic” language in our tools or accompanying guides, so it’s probably not for us. Nevertheless, I think there is an interesting discussion here, and our competitor Ahrefs made an interesting conclusion about how this applies to third-party measurements of “Spam Estimates,” which is of course the term we coined:

At the risk of being ruined by John Mueller and perhaps the entire SEO industry on Twitter, I want to pull this off a bit. To be clear, I don’t think he’s wrong or acting in bad faith. However, sometimes there is a gap between how Google talks about these issues and how SEOs experience them.

Google has been suggesting for some time that essentially bad (“toxic”) links will not have a negative impact on your site – at least in the vast majority of cases, or perhaps even in all cases. Instead, the algorithm will presumably be smart enough not to simply reap any positive benefits from such a connection.

If this is true now, it has certainly not always been true. Even today, however, many SEOs will say that this description is not consistent with their own recent experience. This could be a confirmation of their bias. However, there may also be a case where Google’s algorithm has a phenomenon characteristic or an indirect effect, which means that it may be true that something (or not) is a ranking factor. in that it also affects rankings in one direction or another. (My former colleague Will Critchlow had spoke about this pattern in SEO a lot, and I have written on the distinction between something that affects ranking and being a ranking factor.)

Either way, whether such links are negative or simply useless, it’s certainly helpful to have a few hints about what the links are. This way, you can at least determine the advantage or contextualize your or your competitor’s or potential acquisition efforts.

This is the purpose of Moz’s Spam Score metric and other similar measurements that now exist in the industry. True, it’s not perfect – there can be nothing in this space – because Google’s algorithm is a black box. It is also, like almost all SEO metrics, very often misunderstood or misused. Spam assessment works by quantifying the common features of sites that Google has penalized. As such, this is not magic and it is quite possible that the site has some of these features and will not be penalized or even remotely deserves punishment.

Therefore, we encourage you not to monitor or attempt to optimize spam estimates on your site, as this is likely to result in you investing in things that, although related, have no causal link to search performance or penalties. Similarly, this is not a useful metric for questions that do not relate to links to Google’s penalties – such as a site’s user experience, reputation, editorial rigor, or overall ranking ability.

Nevertheless, spam assessment is a better tip than having access to SEOs to determine which links may be less valuable than they seem at first. That is why we are offering it and we will continue to do so.


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