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Ever since I left for college, my dog has had major trust issues with me. Google has similarly had trust issues with millions of companies who defied its guidelines in effort to boost rankings and domain authority for their businesses or organizations. While my pup Foster forgave me each time I returned home on break, Matt Cutts and his webspam team are not so merciful. There are no tail wags and licks from Matty, only stern video Q&A’s and ranking penalties due to bad backlinks.
Over the past six to nine years, millions of businesses have engaged in unethical link building schemes. These sites paid other websites to link back to pages on their site in an effort to accelerate being perceived as an authority on the web and boost rankings. Those sites were put in the doghouse in April 2012 when Google made a major update to their search ranking algorithm. Named Penguin by the SEO community, the update was designed to better identify and reduce webspam.
While good link building strategies post Penguin are now better understood, many companies—ranging from local home services contractors to huge corporations like J.C. Penney—find themselves at a loss for how to clean up the mess of spammy backlinks and finally have Google toss them a bone for quality SEO tactics.
How Does Google Define a Bad Link?
Google’s webspam department may be vague in some aspects, but since the major Penguin algorithm change in 2012, they have taken a solid stand against bad links—especially those that seem paid for. In its guidelines on such link schemes, Google states:
Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site, or outgoing links from your site. Manipulating these links may affect the quality of our search results, and as such is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
This poor-quality linking strategy can negatively impact a site’s search rankings. Examples of such link schemes include:
- Buying or selling links – this includes not just monetary exchanges, but discounted or gratuitous services and products in exchange for links.
- Excessive link exchanging – the amount of links to and from your site should be consistent with your domain authority.
- Linking to unrelated domains or web pages – unrelated content with links provide the user little value and are an attempt to manipulate crawls and search engine bots.
- Creating external domains for links – if these are created for the sole purpose of cross-linking, Google sees this as spam. Secondary domains by companies should serve another purpose and add to the value of the user experience rather than a link to similar or low-quality content.
- Automated link building – as we’ve seen with Google’s recent updates, it is more and more difficult to create automated content or websites that provide high user experience and value to online visitors. Links are just the same—inorganic automated link-building campaigns will see penalties.
Good backlinks and relevant inbound links do help your rankings and Page Rank, so don’t shy away from linking. Search engines (and SEO companies like us) just want to make sure you’re doing it ethically and naturally.
So, why are paid links a violation of Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines? Because Google uses links to determine authority and reputation of a web domain. Being able to buy authority goes against Google’s goal of presenting its searchers with the most relevant and authoritative results (given the search query).
How Do I Check My Backlinks?
There are many tools found online—both free and paid—that allow you to check the inbound links to your site. Any one of them will work, but it helps to know what you’re looking for or you can waste A LOT of time. (enter your website URL below and we’ll do a free backlink summary analysis to get you headed in the right general direction)
Google also allows you to view pages that link to your site within Google Webmaster Tools. Do remember when looking at these Referral Sites, Google only includes indexed pages linking back to your domain.
Help! I have too many bad backlinks!
If you fell prey to poor link buying schemes before it was outwardly penalized by Google, you probably have seen your rankings continue to drop and may have received a warning from Google’s Webspam team in your Google Webmaster Tools messages.
For example, this month I’m working on a small home services contractor that was seduced by unethical SEO tactics and paid linking-building. His company and website are on the right track now, but he still has over 1,000 links pointing to his site ranging from Asian travel sites, UK refinancing companies, and vegan blogs. Clearly, most of these links provide little value, and Google, as well as my SEO team, would like to see the majority of them removed.
Here are some steps you can take to remove bad links:
- Conduct a complete analysis of all inbound links to your site.
- Contact the webmaster domain that links to your site. Provide as much information as you can (URL where the link is found, anchor text of the link, URL where the link leads) and ask them to remove the link.
- Follow up with the webmaster! Be polite, yet aggressive, in requesting to remove the links.
- If the webmaster won’t comply or respond, document and show your outreach efforts and use Google’s Disavow Tool.
This can be a tedious process, but it is important for the long-term growth and stability of your website. Since bad links are such an important penalty-inducing factor from Google, creating new and high quality content or designing an optimized webpage won’t do too much for your ranking and page authority. Just the same, when selling a house, a new wooden door and crystal chandelier can’t hide the fact that thousands of termites are continuing to call the place home.
How Can an Ethical Online Marketing Company Help?
Our SEO campaign managers can analyze the quantity and quality of domains linking to your website and recommend steps to improve your online authority.
Usually, it takes a comprehensive SEO audit (paid) to diagnose and create a recovery plan for a website penalty. If you’d like to learn more about ethical online marketing services, register for one of our upcoming SEO Seminars and Workshops!
About The Author: Hannah is the SEO Team Lead at Blue Corona. If she's not busy daydreaming about the training session for her team, you can find her improving client conversion rates and planning her next trip.
View more blogs by Hannah Nelson