Part. 2: Nervous about the google spam update?

Google recently rolled out a new update that targets sites that have paid for spammy backlinks. Naturally, people are slightly worried, as the search engine has always been pretty ambiguous about what they actually class as one. 

Called SpamBrain, it’s an AI-preventative bot part of their spam detection system upgrade. And as well as being able to detect them directly, it will also be able to identify sites buying links plus sites used for building outgoing links.

So, let’s unpack this update to see whether or not it will impact your site…

What exactly is SpamBrain?

It’s Google’s new algorithm that’s been designed to filter out low-quality and spammy sites, and it’s very high in accuracy.

Apparently, the algorithms get to know your website, and the more it learns about your pages, the better it gets at identifying links that violate Google’s guidelines. If it keeps locating dodgy ones, the search engine will continue to punish you.

So, to ensure your site isn’t affected by the update and the algorithm, make sure your site is constantly adhering to those said guidelines. A snippet from Google and SpamBrain reads:

“Links still help us discover and rank results in meaningful ways, and we made a lot of progress in 2021 to protect this core signal. We launched a link spam update to broadly identify unnatural links and prevent them from affecting search quality.”

What’s the deal with the google spam update, then?

Google has already said that rankings could change as the new link spam update comes into play. They’ve said it will neutralise unnatural links and remove any signals passed to the linking domain.

It’ll affect every language, and could potentially have a massive impact. So whether or not your website is compromised all depends on how you link out to other sites, who links to you, and how you achieve those links.

So, let’s take a proper look at Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to give you a bit of an insight as to what qualifies as a violation and what does not. In their own words, here’s what they class as link spam:

“Buying or selling links for ranking purposes. This includes:

  • Exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links
  • Exchanging goods or services for links
  • Sending someone a product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link”

Google also has guidelines about qualifying links that are passed to other sites. For example, if you’re embedding an affiliate link within some copy, you need to qualify it with a rel=sponsored tag.

Not tagging affiliate links appropriately could see your website being affected by the incoming link spam update. 

Also, guest post links need to be tagged with rel=nofollow, or again, Google could penalise you. 

Bottom line – if you do as the search engine says and follow their best practices in terms of outgoing and incoming links, you shouldn’t need to worry about the update having a negative effect on you.

What have the SEO professionals said?

SpamBrain has provided some peace of mind for website owners from SEO pros about the change, too.

In a testimonial-style round-up, some have said that if you build your links right, it’ll be “business as usual.” 

One professional has admitted that “in most cases, nothing changed at all,” and the only thing you need to make sure of is that “you build links smart.” Apparently, the “main problem with links are: index, anchors and dynamics.”

A second has said that the new algorithm is a great tool, especially for SEOs who use white-hat techniques and don’t disrupt the guidelines. 

“SpamBrain’s ability to identify disruptive and malicious behaviours among billions of web pages has allowed us to keep more than 99% of searches spam-free,” they explained. 

Some info on buying links

We took the liberty of researching and writing a whole blog on link buying, and whether people are still doing it.  A study by Authority Hacker reported that a massive 74.3% of link builders admitted to paying for them.

So could the introduction of the link spam update be the catalyst for people to stop?

There are a few potential reasons why link purchasing is still a thing. Charles Floate,  suggested in a podcast that it could be to do with the fact that “SEO’s have spammed and outreached that much that we’ve taught every blogger on the planet that they need to ask for money.”

Or, he also surmised it could be because “Google’s positioning of going after links has not worked well enough.”

Regardless of which route is (or could be) the major reason why link-buying is so popular, we also dropped a few alternatives to the practice. From replacing broken links with backlinks to your content to using Digital PR, if you’re an SEO who’s still buying links, you might want to take note before your site freaks out with Google’s new algorithm. 

Sophie Crosby

Head of Content (UK & ES) at Minty.

CIM qualified. Brand and content nerd. Cat lover and full time ice cream enthusiast.
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