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Google’s Link Spam Update (SpamBrain): Everything You Need To Know

Google’s Link Spam Update (SpamBrain) header image
Google’s Link Spam Update (SpamBrain) header image

Google has released its 10th official algorithm update of the year with the December 2022 Link Spam update. We’ll be updating this post constantly as we learn more about the update.

As 2022 hits the same total of algorithm updates as the previous year, Google is certainly going full steam ahead of late. This is their second spam update of the year following the previous spam update in October, and a second Helpful Content Update – further demonstrating their crackdown on low-quality content in search results.

Want to read more about Google’s last update? Check out our summary of their Helpful Content Update here.

With this latest update, Google intends to improve its detection of link spam, as Google warns that spammy links will be neutralized and credit passed between unnatural links will be lost.

The change will roll out globally over the course of around 2 weeks, and typically, post-update stress causes an apprehensive period for SEOs and website admins (right before Christmas too – thanks Google!). 

To keep informed, avoid confusion, and alleviate any concerns, here’s everything you need to know about Google’s not-so-festive update…

What is Google specifically targeting with the link spam update?

Link spam is defined in the article as “links obtained primarily for artificial manipulation of Search rankings”. This refers to “sites buying links, and sites used for the purpose of passing outgoing links”.

Why has this link spam update been rolled out now?

With the rising usage of AI content generation throughout 2022, it’s no surprise that Google has taken action to improve the quality of search results. Along with low-quality content, comes more low-quality links; so combating spam will require a two-pronged approach.

How will the new algorithm detect link spam?

Google has announced in this update that they are fighting link spam with SpamBrain, their AI-based spam-prevention system. 

This is not a brand-new technology, as the system was originally launched back in 2018.

Alongside neutralizing unnatural links via SpamBrain, more contentious instances of link spam will most likely be flagged by the algorithm for manual review by Google’s spam removal team.

Learn more about how Google detects spam here.

Who is at risk from SpamBrain?

As an AI system that is being rolled out for new purposes, we can assume SpamBrain will continuously evolve in its ability to detect and tackle spam activity. 

Ultimately, Google’s objective with SpamBrain is to keep users safe on the web. For genuine digital content publishers, this means only that you must learn and implement best practices to avoid being mistaken for a potential threat. 

While Google has stated a correlation between spam activity and ‘artificial manipulation of search rankings’, there is certainly some nuance in the phrase ‘artificial manipulation’.

As an SEO, or website publisher, this means your activities must not appear unnatural to the algorithm, especially when link building, or else you run the risk of being mistaken for a spammer.  

How to ensure your links are natural

The recent announcement mentioned “sites buying links, and sites used for the purpose of passing outgoing links”.

Google will get better at detecting sites that are part of link spam networks, and the production of low-quality content containing unnatural links.

To ensure best practice, any inbound links you build towards your domain should follow these best practices:

  • Outreach to genuine bloggers in your industry
  • Check that your links are being acquired naturally within relevant content
  • Avoid links from PBNs or spam sites
  • Avoid footprints, such as keyword anchor text and guest post labels
  • Use a reputable link building service that offers support & advice

To preserve your rankings and continue improving them with future link building activity, learn more about what practices Google may view as unnatural in our 7 Link Building Footprints you should avoid.

What the SEO experts are saying about the link spam update…

Dr. Marie Haynes raised the point that it’s going to be hard to distinguish between the effects of the Link Spam update and the recent Helpful Content update, with them both occurring in close proximity – happy auditing!


Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, confirmed that this is the first real implementation of SpamBrain technology for combating Link Spam. It may have been used only in a minor capacity in the past.


Google Search Advocate, John Mueller, also confirmed that any backlash from this update will not be a manual action. So, for any sites negatively hit by the update, this will not occur as a penalty, but rather the previous gains from your link building activity will be effectively nullified if it is detected as spam.


Glenn Gabe, SEO Consultant, has begun detailing some of the effects of the update. In this thread, he identifies certain niches losing visibility based on their unnatural link profiles. This includes high usage of exact match anchor text, blogroll links, footer links and low-quality articles.


What to do next

As this recent update applies to off-page activity, there are little amendments to make to your website itself in response. Monitoring your backlinks, however, and conducting an audit of your current backlink profile would be prudent to either rule out or begin anticipating any potential losses.

Remember, any negative repercussions from this update will not be manual penalty actions, so the best method of improvement for those who are hit is to focus on building natural, contextual and authoritative backlinks to your domain. Learn more about how to build backlinks here.

Aside from following best practices in your link building activity, bear in mind that this update will roll out over a 2 week period, so stay calm and be patient!

Further reading on the link spam update:

Daniel Trick
Daniel Trick

Head of Content

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