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Fuel Interactive Answers the Question: What is Spam?

 A few weeks ago, Google's Matt Cutts sent the SEO world into an uproar with his latest announcement.

In response to some criticism from high-profile bloggers and writers that Google's search results have gotten spammier, Cutts claimed that Google has seen an uptick in low quality search results and they are moving to do a better job to combat more spammy sites.  One of the primary emphases in this proposed crackdown has been on what are known as "content farms".  For those not familiar with the term, a content farm is a site that employs "large numbers of (often freelance) writers to generate large amounts of textual content". (Wikipedia)  One of the biggest problems that Google faces is that, technically, there is really nothing wrong with the content on content farms; it's just that the content is low quality content, not actually spam.
 
That last sentence sparked some debate here at Fuel Interactive, not over whether or not Google's search results have gotten worse, but about the nature of spam itself.   Fuel employs a wide variety of smart people from all backgrounds and experiences.  We work with the web every day, so we've experienced every form of spam imaginable, yet we still disagree over what spam is.  Here are some definitions for spam from Fuel Interactive employees:
"Spam is something delivered to me that's completely irrelevant of my needs.  I consider something to be spam when I glance at it and realize that it doesn't pertain to me or what I'm looking for.  For example, if I have put myself out there that I'm interested in booking a vacation, I would expect to receive offers about deals relevant to my search or requests.  I do not, however, expect to receive offers about diet or sex pills, YouTube videos, princes of Nigeria requesting a western union money transfer, etc." - Email Marketing
 
"Overload with non-contextual and/or heavily biased information, either with intent or without; related to marketing definition of 'noise'.  In service management terms it would be information that is delivered, which has low utility or warranty for the individual user/customer." - Guestdesk Customer Support
 
"To me, spam can be a lot of different scenarios.
 
1.) Anything, either via email, instant message, or a social media network that is unsolicited. This I think would be considered the traditional view.
 
2.) Sites that you can tell the content is just SEO fluff content that's jammed with keywords. 
 
3.) Emails/messages from places where I've signed up for, but they end up annoying me by sending 3+ emails a day, For example, signing up for a restaurant to get a coupon, and later you find out you get 3-4 emails from them a day talking about nothing of interest.
 
4.) Sites (especially file downloading sites) that have "disguised" download buttons. Ones where you find, say an old printer driver that you need, and you go to download it and there are ads everywhere plus multiple download style buttons that aren't actually the real link, just redirects you to other places." - Designer

"After personally ruining and fixing dozens of systems and fixing hundreds more for other people, I'm at a point today where I feel totally comfortable recognizing spam, scams, and bad overall bad information online.  I believe the ability to recognize those things do not depend on a set of skills that you can learn but rather another sense that you have to develop with time and experience.  I have a system that's been online for over 2 years without an antivirus and is completely bug free whereas I know people who have an antivirus, malware protection, adware protection, spam filters, and do everything I recommend them to do and still manage to "catch" everything thrown their way.
 
Recognizing spam specifically is equivalent to recognizing a fake Rolex being sold to you in Chinatown. Your only weapon there is getting over the excitement of buying a real Rolex for $50 and looking at the offer objectively, same with spam." - Programmer

"I think spam falls under the old pornography description from the Supreme Court case years ago - "I don't know to define it, but I know it when I see it".  I think even the owl.ly toolbar is a form of spam.  Any kind of obtrusive or "in the way of what I want to do" kind of advertising, to where functionality for a user is inhibited qualifies for me more than keyword overloading (though, like we talked about, that's also annoying)." - Designer

"I never like sites that are returned in the search on the top pages that are just a page of links to other sites.  I immediately leave those sites.  I almost find the paid ads on the top and left (I use Yahoo) as a SPAM type of ad as well because I know those are paid and may or may not be what I am looking for.  I see them as being the overbearing used car salesman of search results." - Customer Service

"Any type of unsolicited or useless content on the web." - SEO Specialist
 
These are very different definitions, and what these definitions demonstrate is that "spam" is a very relative term.  Even a group of savvy web professionals can't agree on what it is.  This debate demonstrates how large the challenge really is for Google to ward off spam from SERPS.  Some people find content farms to be spammy.  Personally, I find banner ads or rollover ads spammy, but they're an industry standard marketing technique.  It will be interesting to see Google's ongoing solutions in their war against "spam". Until then, be sure not to eat ham if it's from a can (just kidding...sort of).

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