Google are stepping up their fight against unwelcome web spam and are planning to update their spam algorithm for the fourth time this year. After three spam updates were released in quick succession in summer 2021, the rollout of the November 2021 Spam Update has been underway since November 3rd and is expected to take around a week. This blogpost outlines what types of spam Google has their sights on and talks about the latest AI development in the fight against spam, as well as best practices Google recommend for links or sponsored posts.
Google rolls out fourth Spam Update in 2021
As well as improving search results by better understanding website content and user intentions, Google Updates have always focused on combatting web spam.
This update is about filtering out harmful or dubious websites. It also aims to recognize and filter out sites with no added value and those that use Black Hat SEO techniques. To this end, Google has spent the last few years developing AI techniques that are now being incorporated into the algorithm via the Google Update, preventing harmful websites or pages with no added value from being listed in the Google index.
So far in 2021, Google has already released four Spam Updates. After two related Updates in June, a link Spam Update was rolled out between the end of July and the end of August. The November 2021 Spam Update has been part of the Google algorithm since November 3, 2021.
As part of our regular work to improve results, we've released a spam update to our systems. This November 2021 spam update should be fully rolled out within a week. We encourage sites to follow our best practices for Search: https://t.co/jK3ArQmTqT
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) November 3, 2021
Google: New Google anti-spam AI included in Updates
According to Google’s Webspam Report 2020, crawlers and AI routines identify around 40 billion spammy pages every single day. Google says the AI they have been using since 2020 is especially configured to combat spam – but the number of Spam Updates has also increased since then!
Since its launch, Google’s anti-spam AI has reduced the number of websites with automatically generated and copied content in the Google index by over 80%. The number of websites with security flaws is still high, which is why hacked spam content is still a challenge – although Google claim to have improved their ability to detect spam by more than 50% and have removed most of the hacked spam content from search results.
Thanks to these automated systems, Google figures that more than 99% of visits via Google Search are spam-free. This short video shows you how Google goes about spam-fighting:
Impact of the November 2021 Spam Update
What specific areas of “spam” is Google’s latest November Update targeting? Google has not said precisely what types of spam this Update is designed to tackle. However, there are quite a few theories bouncing around the web:
in the early days of search spam was largely about on-page content, then later manipulating links & particularly link anchor text.
if issues crop up like content farms, annoying interstitial ads, etc. they usually mention specifically. if no spam qualifier it often means links.
— uoɹɐɐ (@aaronwall) November 4, 2021
Danny Sullivan’s comments on the differences between a Spam Update and a Core Update are very interesting.
Spam updates deal with content that doesn't follow our guidelines.
Core updates are simply an adjustment to how we assess content overall.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) November 4, 2021
Google’s Updates always impact plenty of sites and this Spam Update is no exception:
It will highly affect small to medium publishers. My traffic went down significantly and I'm worried about what to change coz I've analysed my site on MOZ (spam score only 1) and Siteliner (duplicate content 7%). What are the other ways to know what to improve?
— Murshid Akram (@murshid_akram) November 7, 2021
Danny Sullivan also has a few tips for webmasters whose sites have been affected by this Update:
If it dropped right after we shared about a particular update, look at the guidance we gave about that update. Sometimes, it will be any improvements help for the next round. But we also have lots of small updates and regular ranking changes all the time.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) November 4, 2021
Google Spam Updates 2021
To date, there have “only” been two Core Updates in 2021 – one in June and another in July. But there have already been four Spam Updates this year. So it would appear that Google is upping their game when it comes to fighting spam. And advances in anti-spam AI have certainly helped. Google have released the following anti-spam updates so far in 2021:
June 23, 2021: The first Spam Update in 2021 was announced on June 23, 2021. They completed the rollout on the same day. To accompany the Update, Danny Sullivan also published a short video via his Google Search Liaison Twitter account about how Google intends to keep the web spam-free.
As part of our regular work to improve results, we've released a spam update to our systems. You can learn more about our efforts to fight spam in this post:https://t.co/piCLhbZPkH
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) June 23, 2021
June 28, 2021: Shortly after the first Spam Update, Google published the second part of the Update just 5 days later. Having announced that this would be a two-part Update, this was not unexpected. Both parts of the Update focused on combating spam. The entire rollout was completed in just one day.
The second part of our spam update has has begun today, and it will also conclude later today, unless we share otherwise.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) June 28, 2021
July 26, 2021: Rollout of the Link Spam Update begins. In a longer blog post, Google announce that the Link Spam Update would begin at the end of July, saying “This algorithm Update, which will rollout across the next two weeks, 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.” There are also best practices for webmasters on the correct use and labelling of links and sponsored content. According to Google, the rollout was completed on August 24th.
The link spam update is now complete.
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) August 24, 2021
3 November 2021: Rollout of the November 2021 Spam Update. Announcement of the fourth Spam Update in 2021, Google shows that they’re serious about spam.
Google’s best practices for preventing spam
- Labelling affiliate links: Every kind of affiliate link, whether created manually or dynamically, should be marked as rel=”sponsored”. At the same time, Google assure us that “In general, using affiliate links to monetize a website is fine.”
- Labelling sponsored posts: When accepting sponsored posts and guest posts from other websites, Google “strongly” recommends applying the appropriate rel values to these links. Google notes that they have observed campaigns of low quality sponsored and guest posts intended primarily to gain links.
- Google threatens to take action against sites with too many paid links or improper labelling: If Google’s algorithms “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”.
- Nofollow still permitted: According to Google’s guidelines, they still permit the use of the nofollow attribute for affiliate links or sponsored posts. In their best practices, Google says, “The nofollow attribute was previously recommended for these types of links and is still an acceptable way to flag them, though sponsored is preferred”.
- Protecting websites against spam abuse: Google recommends webmasters apply and consider various measures to increase website security:
- Block automatic account creation using Google’s reCAPTCHA or comparable verification tool.
- Use moderation functions to create comments and profiles so that users are only allowed to post links after they have proven to be trustworthy.
- Check the website for spam in the Google Search Console and fix any problems.
- Detect spam accounts by checking and removing spammy user registrations.
- Use noindex to prevent untrustworthy content from being displayed in Google search.
- Summarize the content of an open web platform in a file path or directory.
- Keep website software up-to-date and use automated anti-spam systems, such as Akismet.