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“We’re launching a new link spam fighting change”: Google’s new algo update, and its effect on sponsored, guest, and affiliate content

“Focusing on producing high quality content and improving user experience always wins out compared to manipulating links.”

Google’s link spam algorithm update, a 2-week process initiated on July 26, is almost done rolling out now. 

“In our continued efforts to improve the quality of the search results, we’re launching a new link spam fighting change,” said Google’s Duy Nguyen, “the “link spam update”.” 

This algo change specifically targets “spammy links”, and is a global update that seems to affect links that are manipulative and unnatural. Google’s goal is to “nullify” the undue ranking advantage that some sites enjoy by building low-quality backlinks.

The search giant cautions that changes in rankings may be imminent for some site owners.

​This algorithm update is even more effective at identifying and nullifying link spam more broadly, across multiple languages.

Sites taking part in link spam will see changes in Search as those links are re-assessed by our algorithms.

Duy Nguyen, Search Quality Analyst at Google

Google’s announcement suggests a particular emphasis on targeting links from sponsored, guest, and affiliate content.

Affiliate links

Affiliate links are a common way for publishers to monetize their traffic. In general, Google says, “using affiliate links to monetize a website is fine.” But there’s a caveat:

We ask sites participating in affiliate programs to qualify these links with rel=”sponsored”, regardless of whether these links were created manually or dynamically.”

For publishers concerned whether the link spam algorithm update might penalize sites for placing untagged affiliate links, Google assures there’s no harm in having a lot of affiliate links on a page if the main content adds value to the web. 

John Mueller—Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst—said in response to a question that the number of affiliate links on one page is irrelevant as long as the main content is useful to searchers.

There is no limit. From our side it’s not that we’re saying that affiliate links are bad or problematic.

It’s more a matter of, well, you actually need to have some useful content on your page as well. So that’s kind of the angle that we take there.

The amount of affiliate links that you have on a site is totally irrelevant. The ratio of links to article length is also totally irrelevant.

John Mueller, Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google

“Essentially, what we need to find is a reason to show your site in search for users who are looking for something,” he further clarified. “And that reason is usually not the affiliate link but the actual content that you provide on those pages. 

“So from that point of view, trying to optimize the affiliate links or trying to hide the affiliate links … is almost wasted effort because that’s not what we care about.”

Sponsored and guest posts

Regarding sponsored and guest posts from other sites, Google has observed campaigns of low-quality sponsored and guest posts primarily intended to gain links.

“While we have gotten significantly better at detecting and nullifying such link schemes, we still strongly recommend that site owners apply the appropriate rel values to these links,” says Duy.

“When we detect sites engaging in either publishing or acquiring links with excessive sponsored and guest posting without proper link tags, algorithmic and manual actions may be applied, similar to affiliate links.”

Best practices

A best practice, Google says, is to avoid methods of acquiring links that violate guidelines against link schemes. In particular, publishers linking out to other sites should make sure to qualify those links appropriately.

As always, site owners should make sure that they are following the best practices on links, both incoming and outgoing.

Focusing on producing high quality content and improving user experience always wins out compared to manipulating links.

Promote awareness of your site using appropriately tagged links, and monetize it with properly tagged affiliate links.

Duy Nguyen, Search Quality Analyst at Google