Google announced yesterday there will be a link spam update rolling out over the next two weeks.  In reading through the article announcing this update I started feeling hopeful this update will be focused on placing responsibility on the sites that are actively linking vs. taking a guess and penalizing those sites that are the recipients of these links. 5 years ago, I wrote an article on the Moz Blog with a theory on predicting Google’s intent and the impact unnatural outbound link penalties could have on the future of SEO.

In summary, the concept was simple… If you penalize the sites that are placing outbound links, you increase the market cost of placing links while simultaneously creating uncertainty in the marketplace regarding whether a link being purchased can/will actually pass any value.  Long game result is less sites buying links, less legit sites selling links, and probably more shadiness from sites dedicated to selling links.

It is irresponsible for Google to place penalties and blame on sites they think are purchasing links, as there is room for error that can have serious impacts/consequences on the lives of people who are completely oblivious to what is happening and why. Penalizing the link recipients also places the burden of proof on the (now struggling) business owners and requires substantial resources to eliminate doubt in the accuser, who bases their judgement on circumstantial evidence. The recipients of links ultimately have NO CONTROL over those that link to them or how they are linking. It stands to reason that if Google feels a site may be a participant in a link scheme, then the responsibility should rest on the site that does not appear to be appropriately managing their outbound link profile and is the source of “evidence” being used to make the determination. 

With a link source focused approach, outbound links are devalued, and if a site cares (though why would they?), then they can do the work to regain Google’s trust that their opinions/links have value that should be considered.  In reading through the recent article from Google, it did appear to be focused on highlighting your responsibilities as a webmaster linking to others, and reinforces the announcement from late 2019 regarding recommended use of rel=”sponsored” with incentivized content. This leads me to believe the penalty will be focused on the linking websites vs. the linked websites. Most notable is the statement from the article (below) which indicates that link spam will be nullified and that rankings will be impacted, which I read as the links will lose value and any inflated rankings that existed will deflate.

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. – Duy Nguyen via

With a focus on “penalizing” sites that have unnatural outbound links, it should bring a greater “Buyer Beware” to the link purchase market. Historically, these sorts of updates have just triggered more buzz in the link audit/purchase world on more things to review when determining if a site is a good neighborhood for link acquisition.  A fundamental flaw in all of this is the obvious fact that many link purchasers rely on DA, AR, UR, DR, ascore, citation flow, trust flow, topical trust flow, etc. etc. to determine if a link has value, and most all of these metrics can be gamed with just a few clever strategies.

In an ideal world, Google would start making penalties public information as part of their “About this result”. If a site had an outbound link penalty (or inbound, etc). This would offer many benefits…

  1. A user would know that Google has taken issue with this site, and that there may be some concern with the quality of the result or its content.
  2. This would put Google in a position to show strong discretion when deciding to actively penalize a site, as their judgements would be public.
  3. This would threaten the livelihood of sites that are linking to others, as there is not currently a way to to determine if a site has any outbound link penalties, which would eliminate any value in obtaining a link.
  4. This would force webmasters who are purchasing/scheming for links to consider whether their link strategies are worth the risk of having a site publicly flagged, which would further push sites from using link strategies that Google considers link schemes.


Good luck over the next few weeks, may your rankings live on 🙂

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