Katie Dale Aug 31, 2021 12:00:00 AM 14 min read

Losing Traffic? How the Google Link Spam Update Might Have Affected You & How to Recover

If you’ve noticed a decline in traffic since July, you are far from alone. The latest Google Update took a stab at something that has bothered SEO experts for years. However, this update hasn’t been great for everyone. Although there were many algorithm changes since the beginning of 2021, this change was a bit different—we actually had details of the algorithm, which is rare for Google. So, what was the Google Link Spam Update, how did it affect you, and what steps can you take to get your traffic back? 

In a blog post, Google went over what a qualifying backlink is and best practices on affiliate links. Surprisingly, we got full details on the next algorithm update at the bottom of the blog: 

“In our continued efforts to improve the quality of the search results, we’re launching a new link spam-fighting change today — which we call the ‘link spam update.’ This algorithm update, which will roll out 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.” 

So what does this all mean? Well, when another site links back to yours, it creates what is called a backlink. Some of these backlinks might be what Google calls “qualifying”. These “qualifying” links come from reputable sites. 

Then there are the “non-qualifying” backlinks. These can be from spammy sites that Google has marked as untrustworthy or links that you may have bought from a PR site. These links are measured by something called Domain Authority (DA). DA takes the scores from websites that link to your site and combines that with your average site ranking to create your personal DA score. In other words, this is your likelihood to rank well in Google search results.

backlinks effect on rankings

Normally, an SEO expert will go through your backlinks and do something called a disavow to these spammy links. This is when you submit a list via Google Search Console and tell it to not include those links to your site. This was an important part of ranking because this “trustworthiness” from Google, mentioned earlier, has a lot to do with the amount of qualifying backlinks you have. So if you only have spammy links, you may struggle to rank. However, these spammy links can still count positively to your overall ranking because it increases the overall amount of links going to your site. 

How the Update May Be Losing You Traffic to Your Website

Not everyone has the time or the resources to go through their backlinks on a monthly basis, and that is where a lot of these spammy links can start to build up. Before the update, these links didn’t necessarily hurt your ranking. (Or maybe I should say at least Google representatives always assured us it wasn’t a factor—provided the majority of your links were from legitimate sources.) 

Blackhat marketers often created a lot of these spammy backlinks as the quantity was more important than the quality. As Google continued to update its algorithm, quality started to become important. However, as long as you had more quality than spam links, you could continue to gain rankings from both. 

This is where this new update comes in, changing all of that.

backlinks through time

The Google Link Spam update made these spammy links and also low DA links null and void. For sites that relied on a large number of low-quality links, this was devastating. They lost DA, rankings, and traffic to their websites.

If you saw a dramatic decrease in traffic in July, you may be feeling the effects of this update. It could be due to blackhat marketing in the past or just inattention to monthly backlinks. A dramatic fall in traffic can feel harrowing, but there is always a way back.

Recovering From the Google Update

Google algorithm updates always have winners and losers. However, just because you lost traffic in this update doesn’t mean you can’t be a winner with the next update. In most normal cases, SEO experts spend hours researching and oftentimes guessing what changes were made in Google search. Luckily, Google has already told us why your traffic has gone down and thus how to improve your site for ranking. 

You don’t have to do anything with your low-quality backlinks as they no longer affect ranking, but you will need to do the following:

  • Identify High Ranking Sites for the Keywords You Want to Rank For

Most likely you have a list of keywords that you would like to rank for. Take a look at the websites that are ranking highest for those keywords. Keep a list of these websites and separate them into two categories: competitors and potential backlinks. Sites that are not competing with you by having similar products or services can make a great backlink opportunity. Consider what would be valuable for this site and reach out. This could be a well-designed infographic, an in-depth guide, data or research, or simply expertise on a topic. 

  • Discover the Backlink Gap Between You and Your Competitors

Create a list of your competitors using a service such as SEMRush or Spyfu. You can discover the backlinks that your competitors have that you do not. With this list, there are several ways you can move forward. You can reach out to sites with the value you can bring to their site, citing their use of your competitor onsite and demonstrating what makes you stand out. Another way might be to look for broken links from your competitors and reach out to the site with your backlink to fill in this gap.

  • Answer Questions On Blogs and Forums

There are many blogs and forums that are looking for answers from experienced professionals. However, you need to know how to approach each one. On a site like Quora, you are able to answer a question and leave a backlink. However, on forums such as Reddit, you are less likely to be as well received. The site does not react well to self-promotion, and you will need to discreetly answer a question or have a link that works better than the link provided in the original post. For example, if a post links to a paid media source, most users will not be able to read the content and would gladly go to a free blog post that covers the same information.

  • Signup for High DA Databases

Using the keyword method in step 1, you may come across several databases. Many of these databases are free to add your business information and link back to your site. 

How to Prepare For the Next Update with Uncommon Marketing Works

Google algorithm updates will continue to come up. In 2021, there were 7 updates made in just one week. Keeping track of all the fixes you may need to make or preparing for the next one can be difficult. That’s where Uncommon Marketing Works comes in. We are constantly looking out for the next update and optimizing your website to make sure your ranking isn’t affected. 

If you are looking for more advice on how to increase your rankings, contact our SEO/SEM experts today.