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?