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Google recently announced the introduction of their new Link Spam Update. The search engine is cracking down on the use of commercial links. So what do publishers need to know about the new update?

What is link spam?

Link building is common practice for SEOs, and plays an important role in improving search ranking, especially if those links are from high authority sources. As the first algorithm used by Google - and also the best known – PageRank attributes value to a website based on the number and quality of links to the site from around the web.

However, as with all their algorithms, Google are continually looking to reduce spammy links and maintain quality of search results for the user. Whilst all SEOs are looking to get their website to the top of the search results, there will always be those who are willing to do so through any means possible.

So whilst Google has no issue with affiliate links or sponsored posts, their new update is aimed at encouraging best practices in these areas.

What behaviour is Google’s Link Spam Update trying to discourage?

In particular, Google wants to discourage link schemes. Link schemes are the excessive use of links in order to manipulate search results. Instead of genuine links that add value to the user, these links are mass produced with the sole purpose of improving page ranking.

This might include:

  • Buying links to your site from other websites
  • Selling links from your site to other websites
  • Overuse of link exchanges with partner websites
  • Extensive guest post campaigns with a heavy focus on keywords

What do we know about the Link Spam Update?

As always, Google has little intention of sharing any specifics on their updated algorithms. They instead point to best practises with regards to link sharing.

A key point to note, though, is that the new Link Spam Update – instead of penalising sites or serving notices – will simply nullify any spammy links. The result will be an impact on search rankings, which in itself will feel like a penalty for implicated sites, but will be less obvious than a penalty notice. Sites using a lot of spammy links may well have seen their rankings drop at the end of August as a result of the link spam update.

Google references using “both manual and algorithmic actions” to prevent spammy links from impacting on search. This implies that even if the algorithms didn’t identify any link spam on a site after the roll out of the update, there is still a chance their human reviewers will pick these up manually over time.

So what is the best practice for link building?

Google’s best practice is always related to providing valuable content for the user and avoid using deceptive or manipulative methods to improve ranking. Whilst there is nothing wrong with commercialised links, these should be annotated correctly and used appropriately, to avoid being picked up by the new update.

Affiliate links

Affiliate links on blogs, websites or social media are a common way to monetise published content such as product reviews or shopping recommendations. These work particularly well for product searches. Wherever you do use these links, Google asks that they be appropriately annotated – using rel=”sponsored” to indicate the nature of the link.

For those concerned about needing to update any old nofollow links to rel=”sponsored”, Google’s John Mueller indicates on Twitter
that there is not an immediate need to make the switch. Instead, he suggests using this for all future links is an adequate response.

Sponsored and guest posts

Publishing sponsored or guest posts on your site is another well-known method of monetising your website. Again, whilst the use of these is legitimate, the emphasis must be on creating high-quality content. Google have already been working on nullifying these types of links if they are perceived to relate to link schemes, and the Link Spam Update is targeting these further. To avoid having your links nullified, Google recommends applying the appropriate rel attribute to qualify them.

The impact

The roll out of the Link Spam update finished on 24th August, taking two weeks longer than originally anticipated. For the majority of publishers who work hard to follow guidelines, this update will be welcome news, since there is frustration among these groups when they see competitors succeed using spammy methods.

The impact so far has been hard to measure though, in part because the update was launched alongside several others. It may be some time before the long term results of this update start to become clear.