Is Google turning up the heat on Link Spam?

Is Google turning up the heat on Link Spam?

25th March 2013

Unfortunately I was unable to attend #linklove this year but the Distilled conference’s are some of my preferred simply down to the quality of the sessions. So like any self respecting SEO I was hooked on twitter and there was a particular session by Ian Lurie from Portant Inc on Enterprise Link Spam Analysis you can find full details on the session from our very own Gianluca Fiorelli by clicking the previous link.

Portant then released a white paper on “Google Declining Spam Tolerance.”

I have done quite a lot of work with site owners approaching me to fix their site from penalties, so spam / penalties etc. is high on the menu of my reading list, this post is about reviewing the information in the white paper.

Firstly lets just make something clear, there are two types of warnings and then the Penguin Algorithm itself. The two types of warnings are divided into those which have a physical warning signal (Yellow triangle) (1) and those which are informing a site owner (2). From my work I can clearly say that (1) in the majority of cases has site wide affects and a website losses the majority of rankings across a huge number of pages and keywords, (2) seems to be page specific and can still be damaging if your head term belongs to the page affected, however for a lot of site owners you can at least concentrate your work on a specific page you see drops traffic.

Warning 1:


Warning 2:


If you have a huge website and you receive the second warning then its a lot more work to find out the affected page such as the recent controversy with the BBC receiving the second warning. The other big news recently was the Interflora Link Scandal and how Google dropped the pagerank of a number of UK Newspaper websites.

Of course Google sent a reminder about Paid Links. One conclusion that can be taken about the Interflora scandal is that this was a manual review and not something Google had simply integrated into their algorithm.

The Portant, Inc White Paper


Firstly I need to say that the development carried out by Portant is obviously a good step towards identifying bad links and keeping website owners and SEO’s aware about where you should put your efforts towards link building. Its also safe to say that their has obviously been some sound engineering gone on behind the scenes to produce this study.


The papers focus is about the research carried out by Portant for what is the “threshold for a penguin penalty”. They took 50 websites on the INC. 5000 list to see how much they relied on spam links for their search engine rankings. the study itself used over half a million links pointing at both sites that had been penalized and sites that hadn’t.

Their initial finding were that 36/50 sites had clean profiles with only 10 percent of the links coming from questionable sources. However part of the research and finding showed that Google was “prioritizing link spam on sites”.

One of the conclusions was on the basis that Google was initially focusing on sites that had a high percentage of link spam, but over the last six month this priority has been opening up affecting sites with smaller percentages of “questionable links”.

Link Spam Prioirty

The report concludes by talking about what links to avoid such as:

  • Spinning Articles
  • Trading Links
  • Paying for links
  • Key phrases in Press releases
  • Article Directories

They also give a link to the new free tool they have developed call “is it spam?

Side Note this tool is currently closed

So what are my thoughts?

I’ll be honest I do not have the engineering to recreate the study but I have dealt with a lot of “unnatural links warnings”, what I have seen in favor of the white paper is a site owner received a targeted link warning back in July-2012 which simply had no negative effect in their site, they received the same message more recently which took action on a page and it came out of the top 200 from position 5.

It also seems an obvious methodology for Google to take action in this manner to turn up the heat over time.

However I did use the tool from Portent before it was closed and what I could say is that I was not completely impressed with the tools results. I pushed in sites which I knew to be Good and bad and the results did not give a clear indication of being correct. Newer sites with credibility would be viewed as spam the same as an article directory and sites such as the Telegraph (caught in the recent advertorial scandal) did not show as threats.

There are other things which my personal research has shown, certain sites seems to be provocateurs for link warnings but also new sites rank highly using methods such as:

  • Ezines
  • Free Directories
  • Articles Directories

Of course I’ll be monitoring the longevity of these, but I aware I wasn’t the only person who questioned the reliability of the “is it spam” tool.

Irish Wonder tweets

What’s your view?


Written By
Neil Walker started working as an SEO in 2002 and rose to become Group CTO for Swedish Marketing Agency “Online Group” in 2010 he moved to consulting with agencies, in-house teams and PR companies. In 2014 he formalised this work and founded Made Notable Ltd a boutique digital consultancy based...
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