Google’s December 2022 Updates: Helpful Content and Link Spam

Learn about the December 2002 updates that Google has rolled out — the second version of Helpful Content update and a Link Spam update. Know what these updates mean for your website.

Google handed website owners with a wonderful holiday present (insert sarcasm here): a back-to-back update in December 2022. Brands and site owners will know If they are on the “naughty” list if their traffic is hit hard by these updates, or if they are on the “nice” list allowing them to escape these updates with nary a scratch or dip in traffic. Learn about Google’s December 2022 updates:

Google December 2022 updates

Helpful Content Update

On December 5, 2022 Google rolled out the next version of the Helpful Content update that it first introduced in August 2022. The Helpful Content update was intended to tackle content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people.

The Helpful Content System generates a site-wide signal that automatically identifies content that has “little value, low-added value or is otherwise not particularly helpful to those doing searches.” As Google described it,

Google Search’s helpful content system generates a signal used by our automated ranking systems to better ensure people see original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.

Google explained that this classifier, which separates the wheat from the chaff so to speak, is an automated, machine-learning model and is not a manual action or spam. The goal is to ensure that search engine results show helpful, reliable people-first content, or content that is intended to help people and not just rank in Google.

The December 2022 rollout was intended to extend the Helpful Content update globally for all languages and add new signals to its classifier. Per usual, Google first announced the update in a tweet:

The rollout would take two weeks to complete. However,. the Twitter account of Google Search Liaison confirmed that the roll out of the Helpful Content Update is “going to take longer.”

Link Spam Update

Before the Helpful Content update has finished rolling out, Google introduced the Link Spam Update on December 14.

Google has been trying to combat spam links for a long time now. But with this update, Google is leveraging a dedicated AI to detect unnatural linking called SpamBrain, which is likely going to be more efficient than previous attempts.

The purpose of this update is to improve the effectiveness of the spam detection system and nullify the effects of link spam. Link spam are links intended to manipulate rankings and includes the buying or selling of links for ranking purposes, excessive links exchanges, using automated programs to create links, among others. As Google explained,

As we have always emphasized, links obtained primarily for artificial manipulation of Search rankings are link spam. Our algorithms and manual actions aim to nullify these unnatural links at scale, and we will continue to improve our coverage.

With this update, the rankings of pages or websites that have received undue advantage through the purchase of backlinks will be pushed down as part of Google’s efforts to provide a better experience for their users.

As Alan Silvestri, founder of the content promotion firm Growth Gorilla posted on Twitter, ”Google’s latest link spam update is a major wake-up call for those who rely on spammy tactics to build rankings.”

Another SEO practitioner took the advice even further: “Building Low-quality Backlink is like SEO practitioners doing SUICIDE.”

December 2022 Updates Still Ongoing…

While Google initially said that the rollouts of the two updates will be completed in two weeks (e.g., Helpful Content update should have finished by December 21, while the Link Spam update should have finished around December 28), it appears that the holiday season has slowed down the rollouts. As of this writing, both updates are still continuing.

Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan posted on January 4, 2023 in Mastodon

that “both updates are continuing to rollout” as “rollouts can slow or pause when we get into the holiday periods.”

Google Search Advocate John Mueller joked that “Perhaps Googlebot is tied up crawling al those holiday cookies?”

As a result, webmasters and site owners continue to experience volatility in the search rankings and their traffic in early January.

With both updates running, however, some SEO experts are unsure which one of these updates is causing volatility and possibly affecting their sites. Barry Schwartz posed the question as to what is causing the Google search ranking volatility – “is it the helpful content, link spam update or something else?”

Digital marketer Brooks Manley tweeted

“Google rolling out multiple algorithm updates on top of each other makes it super tough to determine each one’s effects. I’m not a big algorithm update snooper, but I’m v interested in what kind of impact the link spam update is having.”

Site owners that saw massive drops in traffic complain that they do not know which update affected their website.

Like all Google updates, some wins and some losses.

One poster in WebmasterWorld whose site is in the gaming niche is “really shocked” seeing their visibility in Google increased as pages previously in the ~30-40 position in Google are now in the top 10. The user attributes the positive change as a result of “creating quality content” albeit having not many backlinks as they have not been paying for links.

webmasterworld member on impact of Google December updates

As one Twitter user surmises, “authority and high quality links are being rewarded. Especially with the surge in AI, Google has to rely more on established authority and reward real people/websites that have a name to defend in their niche.”

What These Google Updates Mean for Your Site

At the core of these updates is basically Google telling website owners to create content for the people, without using frowned-upon tactics like link spam to get to the top of the search engine.

Using “shortcuts” that are against Google guidelines may lead to a momentary improvement of a site’s traffic – until Google catches on leading to a deep plunge into the precipice. It is not too hard to show up on top for a few days with tricks, but always remember that it is a temporary high.

To end up on top of the search engine rankings – and stay there – the rule is simple: think of your visitors, and do things for them. Write the content that your users are looking for. Always think of your users first, and with consistency in the quality of your content, your rankings in the search engine results will improve.

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