What is Google Spam Brain?

Tyler Scionti

  | Published on  

September 29, 2023

Google Spam Brain was first announced in 2018 but it wasn't until late 2022 that people really began paying closer attention to what Google is cooking up under the hood.

Two weeks before the end of 2022, Google announced a major algorithm update by leveraging Spam Brain to detect unnatural link placement.

There’s quite a bit of jargon there, here’s what it means: Google is trying harder to punish people gaming the system by buying links or otherwise using black hat tactics to acquire links,

Talk about getting into the holiday season!

In this article we’ll examine what Spam Brain is, what Google qualifies as spam, and how to avoid Spam Brain penalties.

What is Spam Brain?

Spam Brain is an algorithm created by Google that serves as its spam detection system. It’s goal is to identify websites that seem ‘spammy’ and punish them by ranking them lower in search results (or de-index pages entirely).

Spam Brain is not new in 2022, Google first launched it in 2018 and continued to tinker with it. Spam Brain improved to the point of catching 6x more spam in 2021 than 2020 - targeting hacking, gibberish, and low-effort content.

In 2022 Google made an update to set its sights on “unnatural links”, a common black hat technique to build the authority of a website.

What counts as spam to Google?

Google is traditionally mum on how things work. It takes the fun out of it, and it helps prevent further exploitation.

Reading between the lines on Spam Brain, with the context of Google’s history of attacking link spam, our guess is that activities like:

  • Low-effort or auto-generated content
  • Hacked websites (hackers updating content of pages around illicit topics)
  • Buying links
  • Swapping links
  • Engaging in PBNs (networks of sites that link to each other)
  • Toxic links

You know, all the tactics people recommend to “do SEO quickly” that amount to “publish 1000 pages, spam for links, and watch yourself go to the top of Google in 3 days”.

Google has always attempted to knock this type of behavior down (just look at Google Panda and Google Penguin), but Spam Brain seems like an uptick in earnestness. As 2022 ends with people murmuring about the death of Google in the wake of TikTok and ChatGPT you had better believe Google hears these whispers and is trying to act fast.

How to avoid penalties from Spam Brain

Naturally, a penalty from Spam Brain sounds like a pretty bad time. So how do you avoid it?

Here’s Google’s official stance:

“Links still help us discover and rank results in meaningful ways, and we made a lot of progress in 2021 to protect this core signal. We launched a link spam update to broadly identify unnatural links and prevent them from affecting search quality”

Google has always been vague on how things work, and how to work around them.

What we do know for sure is that as of 2022 Google has been making a series of updates all focused on improving the quality of search results. It's no surprise, the internet is quickly being more sophisticated and if Google wants to be the top dog on how people get answers to their questions they had better keep up with the times and ensure they are still the best at what they do.

In order to avoid a penalty from Spam Brain, the best thing you can do as a marketer and SEO, is align your goals as closely as possible to Google’s. That means creating unique, valuable content that serves the reader and stands out from your competitors.

Create original, valuable content

The very best thing you can do for your readers (and your SEO success) is to create unique, valuable content for your customers.

So many SEOs focus on keywords. In my opinion, they over-index on keywords to the point of forgetting there are real people with goals and challenges behind every search.

Create unique content that demonstrates expertise, authority, and trust and you will go very far. In SEO terms we call this EAT, which stands for 'expertise, authority, and trust'. It doesn't always mean longer - just as authoritative and comprehensive as possible in order to serve your reader and help them make better buying deciions.

Build high-quality links naturally

In the minds of some SEOs, link building is a table stakes part of SEO.

I disagree, you can rank without links but it will take more time and effort. Links send a strong signal to Google that your website is high quality and therefore the more links to your website the more authoritative your website will be seen,

Check out our guide to link building for more info, for the purpose of this article the best thing you can do is build high-quality links naturally.

That means:

  • Creating unique and authoritative content that people will want to link to
  • Building relationships in your niche
  • Publishing original data, or interviews

Links are a great way to accelerate a well-constructed SEO strategy. Note the key term there: accelerate. Links are not a substitute for good content and an SEO strategy, and this latest update appears to be targeting websites that treat them as such.

How to approach SEO as Spam Brain evolves

As SEOs our first goal should be to work with our teams across marketing and the business to set the business up for success and create a valuable resource for our customers on Google. That's it.

If you can set that as your primary goal, you will go far and these types of updates will be more a source of amusement than fear. As Google continues to evolve, we recommend looking for the ways you can partner with it and align your strategy to its goals rather than try to stay one step ahead of outsmart Google. Those who rely on low-effort content and black hat techniques will have a rough holiday season. For the rest of us? Hopefully you'll get a ranking improvement in your stocking this year.

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