Someone asked me today if reporting web spam to Google hurts the spammy competitors or not.
The short answer is no, but it is good to report it.
In this case, the law firm who inquired has multiple competitors showing star ratings in search. Unfortunately, the star ratings were rich snippet spam. I have watched this niche for a while, and there was just 1 law firm doing it and getting away with it. Then, in early 2015, a second law firm became jealous and implemented the same tactic. Rich snippet spam is never a good idea. If you’d like to know more about this, read my article about spam star ratings in search.
It is a good idea to keep track of the competition occasion, but your time and energy are much better spent on focusing on great content and non-spammy SEO techniques. Spam like this comes and goes; worrying about it doesn’t help anyone.
The longer answer to: does reporting spam to Google hurt competitors?
This client in particular is extremely successful and did not want to hurt his competitors.
I turned them in anyways.
What happens when you turn in competitors?
Over the years I have seen every type of spam there is. Links injected into CSS feeds, Google local spam, maps spam, link spam, 301 spam, and rich snippets spam. Generally speaking, you turn in a spammy website, and it appears that nothing happens.
I personally believe Google uses these spam reports and gives the information to the spam engineers to assist them in tweaking future algorithms.
I think it would be extremely rare for Google to manually penalize a site for spam when they are turned in. Why? Because I have yet to see it, and, I see LOADS of spam every day. In fact, I’d turn it all in if it were worth my time, but, I’d need some sort of kick back from Google (hint, hint). But anyways, over the years, I have turned in all sorts of spam for a variety of spammy issues and none of them have ever been penalized. Most of the perpetrators get away with their spammy tactics for weeks, months, or years into the future. That said, I do predict Google cracking down on rich snippet spam quite a bit in 2015, so keep on sending in those spam reports.
What Google says about reporting spam
You can’t believe everything you read online, but previous statements by Google coincide nicely with my experience.
“Google has been working on some new algorithms and tools to tackle linkspam and we’d like to ask for linkspam reports from you.” – Matt Cutts March 3, 2010
“Google’s search quality team uses spam reports as a basis for further improving the quality of the results that we show you…” – Google Webmaster Central November 4, 2010
“Spam Reports are submitted directly to our engineers and are used to devise scalable solutions to fight spam.” – Reporting Spam / Seach Console
Go here to report spam to Google.