This new year, Yoast has decided to provide you with a head start for your website. The general idea: clean up your entire site and start 2016 fresh! In this post, we will go beyond on-site optimization and explain a bit more about bad backlinks for your website.
Bad backlinks, or low-quality backlinks, is a topic that is often mentioned in the intake form of our reviews. Websites that have made the mistake of hiring some shady SEO company to buy bad backlinks for their website and have lost almost all their rankings often turn to us for a proper analysis of the drop. Although buying bad links might give you short term wins, it will backfire in the end; when Google finds out. Unnatural links indicate that your website might not have the quality or content to be interesting enough to get proper backlinks on its own. At the end of this article, we’ll mention a way to get great backlinks without buying any.
How to find bad backlinks
The main difference between good and bad backlinks is the quality of the website they are on. Sometimes bad backlinks are easy to find, sometimes you do have to check the website itself to see if and why the backlink can have a negative impact on your website.
There are a couple of categories in this.
Links from a website that is just set up for SEO links
If a website has a ton of articles that lack all coherence, chances are the website is set up solely for the purpose of linking other websites. If the website is a WordPress site, most of the times a default WordPress themes like TwentyEleven is used. These websites are usually not linked from other websites, or are part of an odd link network designed just to link these lousy websites.
Links from the comments of other websites
MajesticSEO link profile
At Yoast, we use the link profiles provided by Majesticseo.com a lot. The combination of a Trust flow and a Citation flow gives you a nice overview of how good your backlink profile actually is.
Trust flow refers to the authority given to the website that links to you (by MajesticSEO, based on a number of chosen factors), and Citation flow refers to the number of links the website has. Low quality backlinks come from websites that are low on both trust and citation.
We get dozens of these on a daily basis, here at yoast.com. Bots populating your website’s comment forms telling you ‘great article, love the info, hope you can elaborate more about the topic soon’. Personalized comments even, including author name. Spambots get more intelligent by the week, unfortunately. We’ve reviewed a site that was run by an older man replying to all of these comments, thanking them for the kind words. Don’t get fooled. Comment spam links are bad for your backlink profile.
Links with over optimized anchor texts
In general, one can assume the most backlinks to a websites are linked using the website name as the anchor text (link text). The URL itself is also often used. If your website has a huge number of websites linking to your website using exact keywords, as the shady companies we mentioned tend to do, that looks very suspicious. If our main backlinks would have WordPress SEO Premium or website review as an anchor, that will ring some alarm bells at Google. The most used anchor for links to our site should be ‘yoast’ in a natural link profile. And it is, of course.
Links within lousy, duplicate texts
Usually, websites that are just set up for the links have content that just doesn’t make sense, or is scraped from related websites. Some black hat companies create sites per subject, to make it look like the links are on related, quality websites. In most cases Google Panda will hit these sites eventually, resulting in yet another low quality backlink for your site. Duplicate content is a sign of low quality in most cases, and that is (among others,) what the Google Panda updates are about.
Links from Russia, while your local audience is in the US
As the websites linking to you preferably are obviously related to your business, you will understand that a link from a Russian or Dutch website (for that matter) for your local consultancy company site in Kansas City doesn’t look natural at all.
Of course there are more and more specific indications that a backlink is of low quality. Alan Bleiweiss listed some more in his article How To Clean Up Bad Backlinks and Establish Trust With Link Vendors (2013, still valid IMO).
Getting rid of bad backlinks
Now that we have a general idea of the links that you don’t want for your website, let’s get rid of them. In general, we have a number of ways of disabling these links so they won’t hurt your Google rankings:
- This is the easy one: find the contact details of the website owner and ask him to remove the link. Don’t demand the other website to take the link down, but ask this politely. That usually works better :) However, you will most likely also be faced with webmasters who ask you to pay for link removal or who don’t reply at all. In such cases, you should disavow the unwanted links that can’t be removed.
- Check which low quality pages on your website are linked by bad backlinks and get rid of the pages (404/410) instead of the links. That is probably not what you want, as most pages will have value for your website. Besides that, too many 404s send a wrong message to Google as well. In addition to getting rid of the page, you should also disavow these bad backlinks.
- Get rid of the domain and start all over. Drastic, but if your site isn’t worth investing to clean up these bad backlinks, that might be an effective way. I wouldn’t do that unless Google has clearly penalized you for Penguin, Panda and more, though.
- If you have just too many backlinks you want to get rid of, or webmasters aren’t responding to your call to remove the link, you can also disavow these links. That’s basically telling Google you’d prefer these links not to be taken in account when assessing your site.
Now there is one thing I have to warn you about: you will probably lose traffic. Your website will have less links pointing to it after this, so less people will visit your website via these links. In the case of disavowing, the links will still be there, but the sudden drop in backlinks (bad or not) will trigger something at Google, telling it your website is less interesting. That’s the signal Google gets when these links disappear. It will work out in the end, but traffic will probably go down at first. There is no telling how much and how long, to be honest.
Of course, this is a lengthy process. It will take a lot of steps and therefore time. However, there is a way to speed this process up.