In two of our recent posts, we talked about the difference between manual warnings and Penguin (algorithmic) penalties, and how to protect your website from getting hit. Well, it seems that these posts are salient as ever given that Google is at it again, with Search Engine Land reporting that the search engine has started sending a new manual action penalty warning to webmasters.
This particular penalty is a spam notification for "spammy structured markup", and reads as follows:
Markup on some pages on this site appears to use techniques such as marking up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content, and/or other manipulative behavior that violates Google's Rich Snippet Quality Guidelines.
What Are Rich Snippets?
Rich snippets exist to summarize the content of a page in a way that helps users determine how to choose between results. Webmasters markup content such as reviews, people, products, recipes, events, etc., which Google includes in search results. For example, the snippet that appears for a restaurant may include the average review given to the restaurant or depict the price range.
What Does The Manual Action Target?
The new manual action is identifying and penalizing sites that are marking up content in a manner that is misleading or disingenuous, in order to manipulate rich snippet creation and make their site appear more attractive/relevant to searchers on SERPs. This could be the practice of marking up content that is invisible to users, or it could involve marking up things like fake reviews or unrelated content. For Google, this is an example of webmasters trying to find a loophole rather than focusing efforts on providing a good search experience - something it always frowns upon, regardless of what the particular practice may be.
What Does This Mean For Your Website?
If you're not engaging in any practices that are in contradiction to Google's Rich Snippets Guidelines, then you don't run the risk of being hit by this particular manual warning. If, however, you are trying to circumvent the rules, you are leaving yourself susceptible, and should bring yourself back in compliance with Google's rules. So, if you have marked-up content that is irrelevant to the page or have included things like fake reviews, you should fix it - Google doesn't tolerate people who are trying to game the system.
Instead you should focus on providing relevant, up-to-date, original content that will actually help a user understand the contents of your page. That way, you provide both a great search experience and attract users to your page based on merit, not on finding loopholes that make your site appear more useful than it actually is.