A new core Google algorithm update is currently rolling out. The Google Link Spam Update targets dodgy backlink tactics and will cause a dip in the search traffic of some sites. Here’s what you need to know about the update and what to do if you’re affected.



What is link spam?

Links are a primary way for search engines to understand which content may be helpful to their search users. When you don’t follow Google’s Quality Guidelines and participate in link schemes without qualifying the links, that results in link spam.

Here are some examples:

  • Buying backlinks to your site — or accepting payments in exchange for giving backlinks (payment doesn’t have to be money either, it could be products or services too)
  • Linking to someone in exchange for them linking to you
  • Inserting unnatural links into your content

How do you prevent link spam?

Notice I said ‘without qualifying the links’? The key to preventing link spam is to appropriately qualify any links you add to your content. And to ensure that any backlinks to your site are also appropriately qualified. You can qualify links by adding a little piece of code called a rel attribute to the hyperlink tag.

A normal hyperlink tag looks like this: ‘My favourite type of exercise is <a href="https://what-is-yoga.com">yoga</a>.’ When you add an attribute, it looks like this: ‘My favourite type of exercise is <a href="https://what-is-yoga.com" "rel=sponsored">yoga</a>.’ And you can add multiple attributes if you need to, e.g.: ‘My favourite type of exercise is <a href="https://what-is-yoga.com" rel="ugc,nofollow">yoga</a>.’

Here are the attributes you can add:

  • Sponsored. If you’re adding a link in exchange for payment, or are paying for backlinks, the link should be tagged as rel="sponsored". This applies to ads and links in sponsored posts, as well as standard content where a paid link is being added. Affiliate links should be tagged with the rel="sponsored" attribute. And Google can issue a manual action (penalty) if you don’t.
  • User-generated content. If you have a forum or allow comments on your content, it’s a good idea to apply rel="ugc" to the links. However, you can remove the attribute from links posted by trustworthy contributors. If you’re using WordPress, that attribute will be applied by default.
  • Other content you want to avoid rewarding. If you’re including links to any other kinds of content that you don’t want to boost the rankings of (for instance, if you’re linking to content as an example of something you don’t recommend), you can tag it with rel="nofollow".

What is the Google Link Spam Update?

The Link Spam Update will help Google better identify and nullify link spam. If you publish spam links, you won’t notice a difference (unless you’re issued with a manual action that’s unrelated to the update). But if you’ve relied on link spam to improve your search rankings, you will notice your search rankings deteriorate.

What can you do if your search rankings deteriorate as a result of Google’s Link Spam Update?

If you’ve been relying on link spam to boost your search rankings, it’s time to start following linking best practices and find other ways of promoting your site. (Note, you’ll still be able to attract traffic via spam links, though spam links don’t typically drive much direct traffic.)

Here’s what you can do:

  • Invest in quality backlinks that are appropriately tagged and will drive direct traffic to your site (this will boost traffic without having much of an impact on your search performance)
  • Publish high-quality content on your site that naturally ranks well for the keywords you want to target and attracts backlinks naturally as part of an overall branding strategy (this will boost your search performance)
  • Use other organic methods of promoting your site and resources, such as posting on social media and including links in email newsletters (this can have an indirect impact on your search performance, but it’s mostly a method of increasing traffic independent of organic search)
  • Invest in other paid promotion tactics, such as paid search and social media ads, paying for placement in email newsletters, or paying influencers to naturally promote your content and brand (this won’t impact your organic search performance, but it can result in good paid search performance as well as attract traffic that’s independent of search)

Google’s Link Spam Update TLDR

  • If you pay for links, or accept payment for links, that aren’t tagged with a sponsored attribute, you’re producing link spam
  • If you rely on link spam to improve your search performance, it will deteriorate as a result of the Link Spam Update
  • To recover from a search performance hit, you need to improve the quality of your published resources, so you can naturally improve your search performance
  • You can compensate for lost traffic as a result of a search performance hit by investing in quality paid or organic promotion tactics like social media, PPC ads, email marketing and influencer marketing
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Dr Kelly Wade

Hi! I’m a full-funnel marketing specialist and my mission is to build a better tomorrow by helping organisations that solve crucial problems, efficiently generate sustainable growth with strategic marketing assets that attract, nurture, convert and retain the target market.

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