What Google’s December 2022 Link Spam Update Means for Your SEO and Your Business

How link building and website strategy changed in 2022? Let's find out!
Published on 
May 27, 2024
Updated on 
May 27, 2024

At the end of 2022, Google unleashed yet another update aimed at combating link spam. 

Google wrote: 

“SpamBrain is our AI-based prevention system. Besides using it to detect spam directly, it can now detect both sites buying links, and sites used for the purpose of passing outgoing links.”

If you’re a link builder or anyone utilizing SEO to grow a website and online business, that sounds pretty intimidating. 

Let’s dive into how, exactly, this new link spam update works and what it means for anyone building backlinks. 

What does Google’s new link spam update do?

Google has come out and said that their new update makes it easier for the search engine to identify websites that are selling backlinks and neutralise the SEO of links coming from those sites. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the major changes that have taken place:

  • It has become easier for Google to figure out which sites are selling links
  • Google is going to ignore any previous SEO value those links might have been providing
  • People won’t be punished for having such links, they just won’t confer any SEO value

What this means, in a nutshell, is that if you have bought links in the past from sites that clearly sell a lot of backlinks and have a high percentage of low quality content, there is a big chance Google has zeroed out any SEO value you might have originally gotten from those links. 

It’s important to highlight that this change has taken place at the algorithmic level, which is to say, you are not going to be getting a manual penalty in the wake of this update. Nor will you be able to verify for certain that it has impacted you. 

Another important qualifying statement here is that you don’t need to worry that you will be penalized for any spammy inbound links you didn’t ask for.

Sites acquire spammy links naturally, and Google is very good at spotting and simply ignoring those links. In other words, they don’t impact your SEO. 

This has come straight from John Mueller.

Ok, so now you’re caught up on what has happened, what should you do about it. 

Your reaction

Ultimately, however you fare in the aftermath of this update, what you should be focusing on moving forward is creating helpful content

This is content that is written for people by people, rather than the heavily SEO-optimized content that, let’s face it, dominates a lot of the Google search results. 

Who it’s targeting

A lot of SEOs believe that this update is meant to target AI writers. 

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t still build backlinks. Links are still highly important, you just have to realize that we are in a post-unnatural links era. Links obtained primarily through purchasing cheap low quality links can no longer do anything for you. 

If you want your backlinks to positively impact your search rankings, you need to avoid spammy links and spammy link building. 

The kinds of backlinks you should be building

Google’s updates always sew a certain amount of chaos, but the upside is that high quality links are now super valuable. 

Here are the types of links that you should be putting your time and effort into: 

  • Guest posts from legitimate websites and online publications that don’t request payment
  • Backlinks from sites that don’t make a habit of selling links, meaning they don’t have a clear and easy-to-follow link selling footprint 
  • Link exchange and quid-pro-quo links from quality sites that don’t ask for money
  • HARO backlinks (or alternative sites that can get you backlinks from journalists)
  • Links from websites with a lot of editorial oversight that publish high quality content. 

Spammy links to avoid

What the update means is that the party is probably over for link farms and other sites that really only exist for the purpose of peddling backlinks. 

So many of these sites have arisen in the last few years, and it has become a major problem. If you have heard people complaining about Google search and its partial domination by low quality SEO spam, these kinds of sites are what they are referring to. 

If you have been relying on link building services selling cheap links from low-quality sites, it’s high time to reconsider a more user centric link building approach and link building service tailored to your needs.

With this latest link spam update, purchasing backlinks from link builders who either don’t know or don’t care what they’re actually doing is burning money. 

Dofollow focuses on building natural, relevant high authority links that are backed by a well-thought-out editorial process that considers more than just domain metrics. 

We look at the quality the referring domain, including the quality of its content, its traffic, its relevance and look for signs of link farms. 

This has allowed us to build links on some of the web’s biggest and most trustworthy publications. 

These are the kinds of links that send the powerful trust signals Google wants to see before it bumps your ranking and organic traffic. 

How does Google spot link spam?

Google is never going to reveal how its link spam algorithm works. That would be giving the art thief a map of the gallery’s security system. 

But given the brazenness with which a lot of these spammy websites conduct business, it can’t be too hard for the hordes of brilliant engineers working on Google’s incredibly sophisticated machine learning technology to design something that easily spots large scale link selling. 

Here are a few of the things that Google is probably paying attention to: 

  1. Sites built on expired domains. Very often, link farms are built on expired domains with residual DA that gives them a thin veneer of authority. Look under the hood, however, and it’s all spam content. 
  2. Sites publishing content in a wide range of categories despite not being authority sites.
  3. Sites with a history of linking to purely commercial pages with over-optimized anchor text
  4. Poor quality content that clearly isn’t subjected to a strict editorial pattern
  5. An unnatural outbound-to-inbound link ratio
  6. Guest post pages (i.e., “write for us,” “become a contributor,” etc.) that don’t appear to have much editorial oversight or high-quality criteria.
  7. Websites that sell links to YMYL sites (gambling, personal finance, legal) but whose content is not relevant to the alleged industry or niche of the hosting domain. 
  8. Looking at link neighbourhoods (collections of websites connected by backlinks) of websites that they know have purchased links and looking for patterns. 

The unknowns

Of course, some of this could likely be construed as subjective by anyone affected by the link spam update. Google will most likely have a weighted system that places sites into different categories based on “offensiveness” in terms of how much they violate link spam guidelines.

This system begs a few questions. 

First, what is the threshold when it comes to selling links.

If a sight sells a small number of backlinks–say, for example, it lets guest bloggers write guest posts but charges a placement fee, while still maintaining good editorial standards–at what point will Google decide to crack down?

Second, how is Google able to unequivocally prove that a website is selling backlinks using AI generated content?

And third, does Google create a blacklist of websites for which they have neutralized the SEO value of any outbound links, and what criteria do they have to meet before they are placed on it?

Life after link spam update

The December 2022 link spam update represents a major philosophical and technological shift in Google’s treatment of unnatural links. 

It means that you, as a person interested in acquiring backlinks, want to avoid spammy links pointing to your site at all costs. 

Sites buying links from domains that Google considers low or no value will either see no return on their investment or, worst case scenario, could be slapped with a manual action penalty. 

What’s more, businesses need to be extra careful about the link of link builders they hire. There are still so many freelance link builders and agencies out there content to sell their clients useless backlinks and Google’s ability to judge and discard that uselessness has just gotten a lot more advanced. 

If you are looking to outsource your link building, dofollow offers transparent, performance-based, contract-free link building underpinned by a strong editorial process and an intimate understanding of the new search engine landscape. 

Get in touch with us today and find out more about how our user-centric approach to link building can dramatically improve your search engine ranking and organic traffic. 

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

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