What Is Google’s SpamBrain Link Spam Update?

If you’re following the world of SEO practices and Google search updates, then you’ve probably heard of Google’s December link spam update. Just putting the word “update” anywhere near Google can strike fear into the hearts of website owners everywhere; even legitimate sites with nothing to worry about can be negatively impacted by Google updates thanks to quirks in the way algorithms work. Nobody, it seems, is ever truly safe from even a well-intentioned Google update.

With that said, what exactly is the link spam update? What does it mean for your website, if you have one, and what could it mean for users? It’s fair to be worried about what impact the update could have for your site, but depending on your practices, you may not need to even think about this update. Here’s our rundown of the Google link spam update, the SpamBrain AI detection system, and what effect these things could have on your site’s day-to-day operation.


What is the link spam update?

You can read a rundown of the Google link spam update via the official Google developer website. Google says the update is intended to “neutralise the impact of unnatural links on search results”, which, in a nutshell, essentially means it’s a crackdown on links that shouldn’t be where they are.

You might have been browsing a website and seen a link that seems out of place, for instance, or a link that appears to have been crowbarred into an existing article without regard for the content’s subject. If you’ve seen that, then you’ve probably seen the kind of site that Google is targeting with this update.


What has the update actually changed?

It’s hard to say what exactly has changed with this update, as it often is with Google updates. In the days and weeks after a Google update drops, website owners anxiously watch their rankings to see what impact it’s having, then try to back-engineer a reason based on their observations.

However, we can make an educated guess. Google’s SpamBrain AI system, which is the system it uses to detect link spam and weed it out, is now capable of detecting sites buying links and sites “used for the purpose of passing outgoing links”. It sounds like Google has made some improvements to the SpamBrain system.

Furthermore, we can get another clue from the update’s introductory sentence. Google says that it’s “leveraging the power” of SpamBrain in order to crack down on unnatural linking procedures. With that in mind, it’s probably fair to say that this update is a push for SpamBrain to root out more bad links.


What does Google define as link spam?

The next logical question to ask after finding this out is what exactly Google defines as “link spam”. Well, we don’t need to speculate on this; we have answers from Google itself, courtesy of its spam policies page.

Here are some of the things Google would define as link spam. It pays to learn these things so that you can avoid using these techniques on your website.

  • Buying or selling links for ranking purposes, including exchanging money for links, exchanging goods and services for links, or sending someone a product in exchange for links
  • Excessive link exchanges, i.e. “give me a link and I’ll give you a link”, and pages built for this purpose
  • Automated link creation programs or services
  • Requiring a link as part of your Terms of Service, or perhaps a contract or another arrangement along a similar line
  • Ads with optimised anchor text, i.e. text where there are multiple advertised links, all of which contain terms optimised for SEO
  • Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
  • Keyword-rich or hidden links distributed across widgets on other sites
  • Forum comments or signatures with optimised links

Please be aware that Google knows buying and selling links is par for the course online, and it doesn’t expect websites not to do this. As such, if you are buying or selling links as part of your business, you’re safe as long as you add a nofollow or sponsored tag to your HTML in order to disclose that the link is a sponsored one. If you don’t do this, then you might fall foul of Google’s linking practices, which could mean taking a serious hit in terms of search engine optimisation and ranking.


What can you do to deal with this update?

Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to make sure you don’t fall foul of this update. Here are some of our tips and tricks to keep your site above water when it comes to the December Google link spam update.

  • Keep creating high-quality content. First and foremost, Google prioritises high-quality content that answers questions or provides information people need. If you’re creating content like this, then you have very little to worry about.
  • Disclose sponsored or bought links. Adding rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored” attribute values to your HTML links will help Google to discern when you’ve bought a link. If you do this, you won’t need to worry about taking a hit for link spam.
  • Don’t engage in any of the practices outlined above. For obvious reasons, you should avoid engaging in the practices listed in Google’s link spam guidelines, including adding link requirements to Terms of Service, spamming optimised text in paragraphs, or making forum comments with optimised text and links in them.

If you follow the above guidelines, you shouldn’t notice too much of an impact from Google’s link spam update!

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