Is subdomain spam killing local SERPs?

We’re all aware of the *cough* ‘quality’ of some of the local SERPs results we’re served these days. Poor sites, with keyword density spam beyond legibility and crammed footers, full of towns and postcode lists. Frankly, they suck, but more annoyingly they still seem to be working. In the wake of Panda and Penguin, supposedly targeting ‘low quality sites’ and blatant web spam, did local search get left behind?

You don’t have to look hard to find what we’re talking about, a simple {local service:town/city} search should suffice. Aside from actual site quality, sure we have a splattering of exact match domains as you would expect, but one thing that becomes apparent very quickly is the number of subdomains ranking highly for these search terms.

I decided to have a deeper look at the problem and how this dated, spammy technique is alive and well in our local SERPs. I’m not in the business of outing, so to get some sense of the problem I picked a random city and used ‘keyword:city’ for 3 or 4 popular services that a person might need. Lets say you couldn’t get into your house, or had a leaky tap, you get the idea.

Of the 4 services I picked here’s how things panned out.

Excluding the Google+ (places)

12 subdomains
9 subdirectories
16 directories (Yell.com etc)
3 exact match domains

The next step was to take the subdomains and research which of them were indulging in spam practices. I did this by undertaking a [site:] search on the top level domain. The aim being to produce a result something like this.

Forgiving the blurring for a second, examples like this one, which was using town and postcode spam were shockingly commonplace. All the pages themselves were simple lead pages of duplicate content, with the chosen keyword dropped in for apparent relevancy.

After looking into results for both sites using subdomains and subdirectories, over 80% of these first page ranked sites had at least 10 permutations. Some like the example above had hundreds.

This is no empirical study, every town/city and choice of service will be different, but where subdomains and sub directories are being used the correlation between there appearance and usage for spam practices were undeniable.

Whether this is just a short term problem of newly built sites gaining quick wins before they’re removed, its unclear. What is clear is this ageing technique is still out there, still giving results and ruining Google’s ‘apparent’ drive for search quality.

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