In this article:
How Does Google Define Abusive Experiences?
Google has established a process for reviewing websites for content that they perceive to be misleading or deceiving to viewers. It should come as no surprise that there are many web pages on the internet that perform certain actions used to trick users into any number of actions. This can be anything from a page that simply auto-redirects to a different page when a user hasn’t taken any action, or a full scale scam message that pops up in order to fraudulently convince people to send money.
Google’s full list includes:
- A website that auto-redirects a web page without any user action
- A website that deceives users to interact with the pages or features. The examples stated by Google include
- A false operating system or website warning in the form of error messages
- “Your system is in danger of a virus. Click here to download our premium malware detection software!”
- A pop-up that simulates any form of message, dialog box, or request notification
- A page link which appears as a friend request from a pop-up asking if you want to chat
- Internet ads or other web page elements that shows features on the page that don’t actually work when selected
- An element on a site that shows a “close” button that, when clicked, doesn’t close but, instead, goes to another website
- Any element that redirects the user when they click anywhere on the page outside of the element
- A false operating system or website warning in the form of error messages
Why is Google Reviewing Websites for Abusive Experiences?
The online ecosystem is the general makeup of the entire internet. Just like the world is made up of many different ecosystems which all contribute to the whole planet, the internet is a reflection of this concept.
An article published on EcosystemWatch.com explains how your website fits into the overall internet.
“[The] online ecosystem is the network of sites which create a neighborhood around an industry, website, brand, product, people, or topic – it includes all your stakeholders and more – partners, suppliers, competitors, customers, analysts, commentators, journalists, bloggers, prospects, and citizens.” (Christian, retrieved 11/14/2017)
As a leader in shaping the way the internet functions, Google is essentially saying that they want to reduce negative or deceptive online experiences, thereby “cleaning up the neighborhood.” The implications of this process are extensive and demonstrates just how influential the technology giant really is.
How Does Google Review My Site?
All sites that have linked to Google Search Console (GSC) are subject to review. The process begins one of two ways.
First, Google is processing the sites registered with GSC by default. Given the vast size of the internet, this process is going to take time.
Second, webmasters have the option to submit their site to Google themselves. This gives them a way to preempt any potential concerns, push their site through the GSC troubleshooting process, and get another feather in their cap. The feather, so to speak, is the opportunity to tell users that their site has been reviewed and is free and clear of any potential abusive elements.
The review process is not comprehensive. Instead, Google performs a review on a random sample of pages from a given website. The positive side of this is that pages which may contain content deemed abusive may be overlooked. However, if pages are flagged and subsequently fixed by the webmaster, it’s possible that Google will perform another review and find new pages in violation of their terms.
While a site is being reviewed, the webmaster will not be able to submit any other reviews. This may seem obvious, but developers who build complex pages using questionable elements will not be able to run them through this process until the previous process has completed. This may not be an issue at this time, but it does have potential to be troublesome in the future.
During the review, the status will be added to the web page asset in GSC which states, “Review Pending.” The review status will also be added to the GSC change log.
Once the review is complete, Google will notify account holders of their results. The “Review Pending” status will be replaced with a “Passing” or “Failing” flag, and the change log will show that the review is completed.
What Happens When a Site is Flagged as “Failing” by Google?
Google performs these website reviews on websites that have been added to the Google Search Console. It’s likely that most sites have yet to be reviewed, based on the fact that this is a newer feature. If you have any elements on your website that may meet the abusive criteria, it’s recommended that you fix the issues before your site is reviewed.
In the event that Google finds an abusive experience on a web page, the first action taken is to flag the site as “Failing”. When this happens, there are four possible flags:
- If the flag reads “off,” this means that the Chrome browser won’t prevent your site from opening in a new window or tab
- If it says “on,” Chrome will prevent the page from opening. This means that Google has flagged your site for abuse and will not allow Chrome users to open your site until the issues have been fixed.
- A “paused” flag indicates that Google is in the review process and the Chrome enforcement feature is not in effect. Once the review is complete, your status will be updated.
- “Pending” is Google’s indicator that your site has failed their abuse review and the violating pages will be prevented from opening in Chrome.
- It’s important to note that, if your site is flagged, you must have an active Gmail account to receive an email of your status from Google. If you don’t have an account and your site has been flagged, you will not get a notification. Notices are emailed at least 30 days before Google pauses the flagged pages.
Note that this flag is only affected in the Google Chrome browser. Theoretically, opening your website in Firefox or Internet Explorer should continue to work. How long this will last before other browser developers create a similar process is unsure. Either way, the implications of your site failing to open on Chrome are significant. Anyone who has that particular browser won’t be able to see your page and you will quickly lose any traffic that may have otherwise gone to your site.
How Do I Fix a Site Flagged as “Failing” for an Abusive Experience?
Google’s help pages on their Abusive Experience process is vague about how issues should be resolved. The best way to approach the flagged pages, and the rest of your site, is to systematically review each page for potential violations. This can be a tall order if your site has a huge number of pages. The good news is, you have 30 days to make the necessary changes before “Chrome Enforcement” begins and your site won’t open in Chrome.
No doubt, a developer will soon release a site analyzer that will detect violations on a website before Google proceeds to review it. This will be the most sensible option, but there isn’t currently anything that does this.
Generally speaking, the web developer for your site will need to go through every web page and make sure that any abusive elements are removed. Once this process has been completed, the items listed in the Abusive Experience Report can be checked off in GSC as “I fixed this,” and an explanation of how the issue was resolved can be input to the associated dialogue. An overview of the steps taken to repair all of the tagged experiences should also be filled out. It’s always best to add as much detail as possible so that Google can see that everything has been reviewed thoroughly.
Next, the site can be resubmitted for a second review. The second review will go over your entire domain and subdomains. As stated above, the initial review is only completed on a sampling of your sites pages. Before submitting for another, it’s imperative that every web page that has potential issues is fixed. Once you’re absolutely sure, you can click, “I have fixed all the issues,” sending your site back to Google.
How Can I Tell if my Website Has Abusive Experience Elements?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, according to Benjamin Franklin. The best way to prevent your site from failing a Google review is to preempt the process. The next issue is determining if any content on your website will count as abusive.
There are three sources that a developer can use to make a determination about potential elements. The first is the definition description given by Google, reiterated in this article in the text above.
The second source is the Google Terms of Service. This covers anyone using a Google product that requires registration to use. In a sense, this covers everything by the internet giant. More specifically, this will cover paid users who have purchased any one of many subscription services.
Finally, to make sure everyone else is covered, the Google Terms and Policies regarding all Google users. This document outlines the policies for User Content and Conduct on any of Google’s services. It includes those users who may not be using a paid service, but who are using social media, such as Google+, Hangouts, or Photos.
What Will Happen Next With the Google Abusive Experiences Report?
Being that this service is still shiny and new, there are going to be countless unanswered questions. It will be imperative for webmasters to approach their site design while keeping an eye out for plug-ins, paid services, or marketing strategies that may employ abusive elements. Furthermore, the infinite sea of scammers floating about the internet may very well be curbed, at least for a period.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen if this service will do more good or more harm for internet users. Will this be pollution adding to the convoluted mess that is the internet environment? Or, will this be a step in the direction of a safer, better internet?
To find out more about Google’s Abusive Experience program, visit the links below:
- Abusive experiences
- Introduction to the Abusive Experience Report
- About abusive experience reviews
- Request a review of a violation
- Fixing issues and submitting for review
- About your site domain
- Google Privacy & Terms
- Google Terms and Policies
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