« Back to front page

Interview with a Google SpamFighter

Johannes Mehlem from Google’s Search Quality team reveals to us what it takes to fight spam on a daily basis and shares practical advice for SEO savvy webmasters!

1. How did you get to work for Google? How do people decide to become a “spam fighter”?

I have been interested in the online marketing industry since I started my studies in media management back in 2008. I have always been a fan of Google and in particular a follower of Matt Cutts’ videos on the Google Webmaster YouTube channel. Between my bachelors and masters, I worked for an online marketing agency in Singapore and then during my masters in UK, I managed to apply successfully to the Google Search Quality team based in the EMEA headquarter in Dublin, Ireland.
I consider Google Search as an awesome, ever-changing product, paired with my sense of justice and order, an analytical job like spamfighter with its requirement of problem solving skills has been since then very appealing to me.


2. How do you personally perceive the German SEO industry and how high is its degree of professionalism compared to the industry in Google’s home country USA?

If you ask me to characterize the German SEO industry, three attributes come to my mind: analysis-driven, sense of community, fast-moving.

1. While most marketing professionals are naturally exposed to analytical work such as market research, competitor analysis, or performance tracking, it seems that there is particular attention paid to this in Germany. Among the internationally recognized SEO analytics software providers, German companies are strongly represented.

2. I perceive a strong sense of community within the German SEO industry. There are numerous industry events across German-speaking countries (D-A-CH), which offer a platform to share knowledge and experience. There is a well-established group of seasoned professionals, among whom there is a constant dialogue and entrusted atmosphere. At the same time, there is a growing group of younger professionals, who appears more diverse in terms of background and aspirations, bringing in fresh ideas to the industry.

3. Usually, we observe the German SEO industry on average to be quick in adapting new strategies and responding to changes in the industry. Currently, we are hoping that more German websites get mobile-friendly, so that the search experience of mobile searchers can be further enhanced.


Relating back to your question about a comparison between USA’s and Germany’s SEO industry, I believe it is difficult to make back-to-back comparisons between countries as the markets in the United States and Germany have different needs and hence professionals in the SEO industry have a different focus in their work. The degree of professionalism or quality of work will be measured by how well customized the solutions are to the specific business needs. Germany’s SME sector contributes heavily to its GDP. There is a strongly contributing segment of traditional brick-and-mortar companies, which serve partially quite niche markets and there is potential for them in having a professional and well-frequented online presence as well. SEO will be an important part of that, depending on audience characteristics, but by far it will not be the only part. Germany can move forward in the broader theme of digitization and online economy with the help of holistic digital service agencies that are not only competent in SEO.

3. As part of your core job, you are uncovering fraud and abuse of Google products and react to it in a timely manner. Is there something that bothers you in particular?

Generally, I would like to say that all types of fraud and abuse bother me. However, in the wider world of fraud and abuse, I am particularly bothered by phishing emails. The level of brazenness is absolutely appalling how spammers and criminals are trying to lure people through emails with forged company logos and sophisticated trust building texts to click-through to fake websites, which then request the input of sensitive data, for instance covered as a genuine looking security form from a bank, asking for a confirmation of a person’s bank details and login access. I have to praise my colleagues in email spam for doing a great job as Gmail is actually really good at filtering or detecting those phishing emails.

Specifically in the webspam space, what I dislike are websites that are purely generated for search engines and not at all for users. Apart from the fact that those pages are not compliant with our webmaster guidelines, I think that organizations or webmasters are already discrediting themselves with such methods in front of their visitors and potential clients.

4. You are responsible for the German Webmaster Central blog, which is arguably the most read resource around search engine optimization. Many SEO beginners are usually overwhelmed, when diving into the available resources; do you have a tip or any particular resources or required reading every webmaster should know? Which sources do you use to keep informed about what’s going on in Search?

There are indeed many online resources around SEO, probably due to the general online affinity of this group. In fact, it is a large part of the job of Google’s global Search Outreach team to create resources that support webmasters. Let me broadly categorize those available resources depending on the webmaster’s situation in the following.

• You are considering to create a website but you do not know how:

Webmaster Academy (Module 1 – Make a great site)

A basic introduction to the online world, covering questions like: how to decide whether a website is for you, how to create a website with valuable contents for your target audience and how to keep it organised.

• You created a website and want to better understand how Google and other search engines perceive your website, ensuring your contents are discoverable by searching users:

Webmaster Academy (Module 2 – Learn how Google understands your site)

The continuation from above, covering questions like: how Search works, how to check whether your pages are indexed by Google and how to familiarize yourself with Google’s webmaster guidelines.


Illustration 1: Webmaster Academy

SEO Starter Guide

An introductory guide to search engine optimisation

SEO One-pager

One-page overview of the most essential aspects covered in the SEO starter guide

Search Console (previous Webmaster Tools)

Communication tool between Google and webmasters, offering analysis on search traffic, indexing and crawling of your website

• You created a website, which is discoverable through Google, you are in a dialogue with Google by using Search Console and now you want to further improve your website or troubleshoot a specific problem:

Mobile Guide for Webmasters

A complete guide on getting your page mobile-friendly (optimized for smartphones)


Illustration 2: Mobile Guide

Search Console Help

Our help resource around the Search Console product and beyond

Google Webmaster Central blog

Our blog for webmasters to stay up to date with recent developments


Illustration 3: Webmaster Central

Google Webmaster Central forum

Our forum for webmasters to ask specific questions

Google Webmaster office hours

Hangouts with John Muller for specific questions


Illustration 4: Hangouts

There is partly a certain overlap between the resources and it is generally a good idea to register for Search Console to understand priorities in regard to the specific website and then learn further by doing.

Regarding your second question around sources to keep informed, I read Search Engine Land as well as my social media streams on Google+ and Twitter. Occasionally, I skim through MOZ’s blog and lesser known blogs.

5. How important do you consider a decent onpage optimization for websites? What should be the focus of webmasters to rank better in search results with their website?

Onpage optimization is a frequently underestimated field that requires technical diligence and consistency across pages and sits directly on the design concept of a website. A decent onpage optimization contributes to high usability and user satisfaction as well as traffic quality and is therefore central to every business’ online presence.

Generally, we do not give ranking advice to webmasters. We encourage webmasters to follow the motto that Google follows as well: Focus on the user and all else will follow. Creating a website that works well for users and search engines can be very challenging. This type of work is not going away and will remain critical in the future. In particular for larger sites, understanding crawling and indexing is crucial for making content quickly findable in search and beyond including Google News, Google Now, knowledge graph and structured data. Overall, there is no magical meta-tag that makes a site crawlable, indexable and thereby also rank in search. It is always a combination of various factors that you should keep in mind. The most awesome site can’t improve its rankings, if search can’t even read its content.

Thank you for the Interview Johannes, we wish you all the best and good luck for future Spam fighting!

Ryte users gain +93% clicks after 1 year. Learn how!

Published on Jul 9, 2015 by Andreas Bruckschloegl