How to Tell If a Backlink Is Good or Bad

A Brief Summary of SEO Link Building

Link-building used to be the go-to method for many SEO marketers looking to improve a website’s search ranking. Pre-2012, the worst thing that could happen with an inbound link to your website was that it would be ignored.

That was until Google’s 2012 Penguin algorithm came along. The algorithm was rolled out as a means to stop the black-hat techniques many were using, including the buying of irrelevant backlinks in bulk, hiding links and other aggressive SEO strategies which target search engines. Since its initial launch in April 2012 the algorithm has experienced a number of updates to improve the way it targets links.

What Do Google Want From Your Website?

Whilst the inner workings of Google is a close guarded secret we can make some calculated guesses about the way the system works from monitoring changes in search engine results pages (SERPs), following algorithm updates and reading statements released by the company.

Google’s primary aim is to provide its users with the best user-friendly tool it can, and time and time again have advocated the idea that any attempts by SEO companies to ‘trick’ or manipulate search engines will result in a penalized website. Counteractively, the search giant offers the advice that focus of any SEO should have the user in mind first and design a site and content that is user-friendly. Do so correctly, the search giant says, and the improved rankings will follow suit.

Which Links Does Google Follow?

Unfortunately search engines do not provide a direct tool for letting you know if a link is good or bad. They have however shared information over time which when pulled together, can be used to discern which category a link will fall into.

Google and other search engines do not follow every link as a ranking signal and you can categorize links into three predominant categories:

  • Links that help your business’s SEO (beneficial)
  • Links that hurt your business’s SEO (manipulative) and,
  • Links that make no difference to your SEO (ineffective).
links good bad

How Do Links Fit in with Other SEO Signals?

Search engines weight link data against other SEO signals to understand whether a website is attempting to over-optimise for a particular phrase or keyword. The exact system is unknown to the average SEO agency but we can assume that sites which do well are just above the average of the normal range for signals. Sites which are lower or overtly exceed the signals, we can assume, will have their SEO affected.

In essence, the best route to follow is not to over-use any particular SEO method; whether link-buying, keyword stuffing or any other method.

How to Track Your Website’s Links?

If you are serious about tracking your links then it is suggested that you set up a Webmaster Tools account. You will need a Google account to this up, which if you don’t already have then you definitely should. Once you have logged in, or set this up you will need to add your site and verify it.

To gather the list of inbound links to your website go to Search Traffic then Links to Your Site. Under ‘who links most’ click ‘more’ and then ‘download latest links.’ You can see Google’s guidelines here for more information.

search consoleHow to Decide if a Backlink is BAD?

Now that you have your list of links you can begin going through and identifying the ones that could potentially be affecting your ranking. Of course, as with all SEO advice, algorithms are subject to change and there is no guarantee that removing this links will work. It is also important, however frustrating, to remember that SEO is a long game and any changes can take weeks or months to make a difference.

To identify bad links it is best to manually go through the link list and identify those that match the following criteria:

  • The link is from a site completely irrelevant to your website.
  • The link is in a spam comment on blogs or forums.
  • The link is in a non-niche directory.
  • The link is in a low quality articles.
  • The link appears site-wide (those which appear on all the webpages of a website).

Once you have identified links that meet some of all of these criteria you can begin the process of attempting to remove them.

This can be done in two ways, either by contacting the webmaster for the website through contact details or if you cannot find the contact details use Whois. Alternatively you can use Google’s Disavow Tool to disassociate your site from spam or poor quality links. This tool can be found here, and asks you to add the links you wish Google to ignore and include a text file stating whether you’ve contacted the site owner, or couldn’t contact them.

You should also be aware that the Disavow Tool is not the answer to removing all links and should not be used as a primary link remover. Adding links to the Disavow Tool does not ensure Google will ignore the link. Instead Google will consider the request, but will ultimately make its own judgement on ignoring it.

Which Backlinks are GOOD?

You now know which links to look out for that could be damaging your sites rankings and how you can go about trying to remove or have them unfollowed. However it can also be useful to know which links are quality and helping your website. There is no perfect formula for a’good’ backlink however digital marketers have found the following criteria beneficial for links:

  • The link is from a relevant source.
  • The source is trusted.
  • The link sends traffic.
  • The link is within the content.
  • The link is on a page which has a high PageRank.
  • The link is from a unique website different to your other links.
  • The link is not reciprocal, i.e. you do not link back to the site.
  • The link is not easily acquired.
  • There aren’t many backlinks on the page.

What to Do If Your Site Won’t Recover from a Penguin Hit?

If your website was previously using bad SEO practice and has been badly affected by the Penguin algorithm as a result it is possible that your site may never recover. The process of disavowing links and unfollowing links can takes many months to have an effect, in which time your website can be losing customers and sales.

It can be beneficial for businesses to work with an SEO agency who has the experience and knowledge to improve your ranking, or in very serious circumstances you may benefit from creating a new website. Of course this decision should not be taken lightly and you should discuss the options with experienced web developers who will be suggest the best route to follow.

What to Consider When Creating a Link Building Strategy

If your website has not been affected by the Penguin algorithm or your website is recently launched then getting to grips with linkbuilding can be beneficial to boosting your website’s online presence. Link building vary depending on the time or resources available to the business. Here are some common methods used to build quality links for websites:

Relevant Links from Customers or Partners

A great way of building your links is to ask customers or partners you trust to link your website from their own site. This can be particularly effective for B2B businesses who supply services or products to a website. Web designers will often link their webpage in the footer of websites they have designed.

You could also look to sponsor a local charity, event or sports team and ask the organisation to link your site in publications they create.

Create Great Content

Producing content that is of relevance and help to audiences can result in links from websites to your article, video, infographic or other form of content. A good content marketing strategy will use a variety of different contents to draw in as many back links possible. You can find a great, comprehensive list of content types linked here.

Shout About Your Site

Earning the attention of bloggers or the media can earn you many backlinks. If a content post (see above) goes viral it is likely to be shared and linked multiple times. You may also write press releases or simply create a great product or website that others want to talk about.

A Final Note

We hope this post has helped you understand how to identify good and bad backlinks and how you can promote your website in the right way, and attempt to remove it from bad SEO practice. If you are looking for more advice about link-building, general SEO or website design in Dubai or the UK then Adeo Group can help. Our web design, development and digital marketing services have helped CMS and Ecommerce websites create great websites that convert and rank highly. Contact us today to speak to a member of our team and find out how we can help your website today.

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