Downgraded by Google for Search Spam, Squidoo Cleans House

When marketing author Seth Godin joined with Megan Casey and others to found Squidoo in 2005, their stated mission was to give people a place to share knowledge online — with the understanding that marketers would likely use it to project their expertise and generate new business.

What the company may not have counted on, and certainly failed to prepare adequately for, was the swarm of black hat SEO practitioners — a.k.a, “search spammers” – that have pummeled the service with pages intended primarily, and sometimes exclusively, to boost their organic search placement.

Recently, that oversight has caught up with the company in the form of a flurry of unwelcome attention from search bloggers and Google, which seems to have penalized the content sharing site following a drop in its rankings, several affiliate marketers and search bloggers have observed in the past week.

The firm allows people to create topic-specific pages it calls “lenses,” and shares with them, or the charity of their choice, a portion of ad revenue resulting from their pages. SEO and SEM spammers have exploited the service by funneling user links through those lenses, automating comments on lenses or redirecting viewers using iFrame technology. Recently, Squidoo began offering new anti-spam tools and filters that block spam or allow its users to alert the company to potential violators more easily.

A certain amount of damage has already been done however. Seth Godin acknowledged yesterday that Google has dropped Squidoo approximately 30 percent in its rankings.

“There’s no question that with Google’s last shift in their algorithms and ranks we lost traffic,” said Godin. “[But] it’s very easy to get superstitious about why organizations do one thing or another. Our expectation is that as our lenses get better, and our site gets traffic, our Google rankings will get back to where they were. It’s overly optimistic to think it’s going to happen in a week though.”

He added, “We have been working on this spam issue for months, putting in place the systems that we are going to use and have done so this week. We found that there were several dozen people that were dramatically exploiting the systems within Squidoo that were previously only used for good. People using the site for nefarious ends will come to an end. That’s what we’re doing without Google’s input.”

For its part, Google has declined to confirm or deny any action it’s taken against Squidoo. “As a matter of policy, Google does not comment on the ranking of individual sites in our index,” said a Google spokesperson.

Following the drop in rankings, a number of search bloggers and affiliate marketers, including Jason Calacanis of competitive site Mahalo and several others hailed Squidoo’s anti-spam efforts but insisted that Google is taking a hard line stance on Squidoo for not having done enough about spam.

“There must be something going on,” said Barry Schwartz, president of Rusty Brick, a search engine marketing firm, who added, “For something like that it’s never really too late. If they do clean up their act, typically a small Webmaster would have to go to Google Webmaster tools section to get updated, but with a large organization like Squidoo, that can happen in a matter of hours as long as there is publicity around it.”

Steve Jacoby, president of SendTraffic, also believed Google penalized Squidoo and agreed the outcome was predictable and inevitable.

“It all comes down to Google protecting its assets. Its number one asset is the relevance of the content and the ads it serves up. If people are out there link spamming or writing duplicate content, Google needs to step up and protect their assets,” said Jacoby. “It’s the same with any of the search engines…. If you’re doing something of a risky [nature], or people are doing it and you have oversight over those people, then it’s a game of chance that you end up playing.”

Godin insists that, “We have excellent relationship with Google and we’re always talking to them and are optimistic about the future.” He also explained, when asked why it took two years for Squidoo to implement spam fighting tools on its site, that he was reluctant to overly police Squidoo and preferred to “Err on the side of good will.”

“We gave people tools and trusted them to act like grown-ups,” Godin said. “Where do you draw the line? If someone will give me the manual I will follow it. Meanwhile we keep experimenting with it.”

Zach Rodgers contributed reporting to this story.

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