SEO Glossary / Link Spam

Link Spam

According to Google, link spam refers to backlinks created with the purpose of manipulating the rankings of a website in organic search results. Link spam typically originates from black hat SEO link-building activities. Like any attempt to manipulate Google’s search results, link spam violates Google’s policies and can result in a penalty (manual action).

Google’s Spam Policies for Web Search provide the following examples of link spam:

  1. Buying and Selling Links: Exchanging links for money, goods, products, or services.
  2. Generating Links through Automated Programs: Using software to create links.
  3. Excessive Link Exchanges: Excessive reciprocal linking between websites.
  4. Forum Comments with Optimized Links: Adding keyword-rich links in comments.
  5. Widely Distributed Links: Links in widgets, footers, and templates that are distributed broadly across various websites.
  6. Advertisement Links that Pass Link Equity: Ad links that transfer ranking credit.

Given that Google uses links as one of the main factors for determining the relevancy of a webpage, it’s easy to see why link spamming is still a common practice. However, with updates like Penguin and ongoing link spam updates, link spam has become much less effective.

Google has been battling spam since its inception. Here are some key updates and tools in its fight against link spam:

  1. Penguin Algorithm Update: Introduced in 2012, the Penguin update targets spammy websites engaging in manipulative link schemes. It became part of Google's core algorithm in 2016.
  2. SpamBrain: Launched in 2018, this AI-based spam-prevention system helps Google identify sites that use manipulative link-building practices.
  3. Link Spam Updates: The most recent update in December 2022 further enhances Google's ability to neutralize unnatural links.

While Google employs advanced anti-spam algorithms, the search engine is not entirely immune to some manipulative tactics. It's generally much harder to get away with link spam now than it was a few years ago. However, some "shady" niches still rely on black-hat methods and link spam in their SEO strategies. Engaging in such practices can lead to penalties and harm your site's visibility in SERPs in the long term.

The stronger your backlink profile, the more authoritative your website becomes in Google's eyes, improving your chances of ranking higher in SERPs. However, resorting to link spam is not the solution. Here are some strategies to avoid link spam and build quality backlinks:

  1. Promote Content: Use influencers, online communities, and social media platforms to promote your content and attract natural links.
  2. Create Linkable Assets: Develop content specifically designed to attract links, such as how-to guides, studies, infographics, and surveys.
  3. Replicate Competitors’ Links: Identify pages that link to your competitors and seek similar links.
  4. Guest Posting: Write quality articles for blogs in your niche and include links to your website.

Avoid buying links and using PBNs. These practices can waste money on low-quality links that have little impact on search rankings and may result in a penalty from Google.


In theory, link spam could be used as a negative SEO tactic to sabotage another website. However, Google has systems in place to recognize and ignore such links, making it generally ineffective. It's better to monitor your website’s backlink profile and disavow suspicious and unnatural links.

The Link Spam Update, rolled out in December 2022, is an algorithm update developed to combat link spam. Google’s SpamBrain AI-based spam-prevention system detects and neutralizes spam and identifies websites buying or selling links.

By understanding and avoiding link spam, you can maintain a healthy link profile, comply with Google’s guidelines, and ensure long-term success in your SEO efforts.