I recently dis­cussed the insep­a­ra­ble nature of user-generated con­tent and SEO and their com­bined role in guid­ing user responses.  Given the value of user-generated con­tent to SEO, it’s impor­tant to also be aware of some of its pit­falls. Although search engines have come a long way in deter­min­ing the line sep­a­rat­ing user-generated con­tent from user-generated spam, I believe the topic war­rants fur­ther discussion.

Google recently released a video out­lin­ing the gen­eral nature of user-generated spam and some of the com­mon web­site blun­ders that result in man­ual Web spam actions. The video, spear­headed by Matt Cutts, coin­cides with last year’s addi­tion of man­ual Web spam actions in Web­mas­ter Tools, a fea­ture that shows any action taken against your site that will directly impact ranking.

Cutts lists sev­eral user-generated spam hid­ing places; forums, com­ments, guest books, spam pro­files, and even user­names topped the list. Any place where com­ments and links can be dropped should remain red flag areas, he said. Con­se­quently, these are also the areas that gen­er­ally receive the least amount of web­site maintenance.

As there are so many effec­tive tac­tics out there for pre­vent­ing web­site spam, the extent of user-generated spam on your web­site may ulti­mately reflect the webmaster’s approach to site main­te­nance. If the approach is a pre­dom­i­nately defen­sive one (e.g., clean­ing up spam after it occurs), the chances of spam run­ning ram­pant on your web­site are high. An offen­sive approach to user-generated spam will embody tac­tics like com­plex captcha codes, more in-depth com­ment mod­er­a­tion such as apply­ing rel=”nofollow” to user-generated links, or apply­ing fil­ters to user pro­files, all of which serve to pre­vent spam before it occurs.

User-generated con­tent is most valu­able for SEO when it’s designed to be an SEO-friendly con­tent build­ing machine that works at scale. When design­ing your user-generated con­tent strat­egy, plan ahead for pre­vent­ing user-generated con­tent spam at scale. When pos­si­ble, auto­mate your spam pre­ven­tion processes and sim­plify the spam mod­er­a­tion processes so that spam mod­er­a­tion occurs efficiently.

Unless Google finds many aspects of your site over­run or defaced by user-generated spam, any man­ual spam action taken against your web­site will be tightly scoped to the prob­lem area instead of penal­iz­ing the entire domain. It may be as sim­ple as Google adding a “don’t trust this forum” action to deter users, which can be reversed once you have addressed any man­ual Web spam actions.

What auto­mated spam pre­ven­tion processes do you use?