Links. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Truth

Links. For many years now they have been the backbone of any good organic marketing campaign. And while they have come under a lot of fire over the past year or two, it’s safe to say links are here to stay, and are still a crucial part of Google’s ranking algorithm. However, just because links still matter, it doesn’t mean they are ALL good. In fact, bad links are now worse than they have ever been. Low quality, spammy links can really make a website owner fall out with Google very quickly. It’s now more than the older style links and link building techniques just not working anymore. Whilst at first glance it looked as if Google were just going to ignore these lower quality links, news then hit of the manual penalty rollout. With the impact this can have on your website, it’s vital that you keep your backlink profile as “clean” as possible. In my experience, you need to be auditing, disavowing and repeating until the end of time to ensure you stay on the good side of the search engine.

What have we seen causing the trouble?

Each client’s backlink profile is different and we certainly see some interesting links landing on our removals desk. The Globe- Marketing SignalsThere are some obvious offenders; the main being lower quality directories*, article sites, forum profiles, and optimised followed blog comments, whilst we also mustn’t forget techniques such as hacked sites and website theme links. For many, the annoying thing is that these links used to work – in fact, they used to work really well! Then the rules changed massively and a lot of companies – both big and small – suffered as a consequence. When auditing sites we seem to see the same kind of sites, and sometimes individual sites over and over again. A prime example would be The Globe in all its glory. It’s these types of lower quality directories that really need to go. It looks like the cover of a cheesy 90’s space movie. In fact it’s one of the worst offending multi-category directories on the web. Do you have a link? *I wanted point out that relevant, well placed directory listings can do the world of good when it comes to local SEO. Just remember to check for quality and relevance. When we audit backlink profiles here at Marketing Signals, these kinds of links are the first things we look for. We use LinkRisk to organise the links into categories, as its algorithm is able to identify the type of site the link is hosted on. Clients are usually happy for us to remove links coming from directories and forums in particular, and most now appreciate that these are no longer effective in ranking their sites.

Optimised anchor text is not your friend. Don’t be tempted to cheat the system

Google doesn’t like blatant SEO, yet many of us seem to think it’s OK to still dabble. However, using over optimised, keyword stuffed anchors is a risky, short term fix to what is likely to become an even bigger problem. We see denied re-inclusion request, after denied re-inclusion request providing example links with optimised anchors. Usually these are links the clients are desperate to keep hold of, and are the reason we didn’t disavow them weeks ago.

“Made for SEO? It’s got to go!”

This isn’t actually my saying (it belongs to Gareth), but if it was, I’d have it printed on my head for everybody to see. Google are getting smart; really smart. They also seem to be getting tough across the board; whether you’re a local plumber or a multinational corporation. Once you get a manual penalty, it is incredibly difficult to get that penalty removed. Once Google have found you out, expect a long, slow and expensive journey to recovery. Therefore, the small amount of time and effort you need to spend cleaning up your profile before you get hit with this penalty will far outweigh the pain and effort needed once Google does catch up with you. It may sound drastic, but all those old, lower quality links need to go. Chances are they aren’t actually helping you, and if they are, then you’re sitting on a ticking time bomb. Now for the good news: I clean up clients profiles all day long, and once we remove some of these spammier links we often see a decent uplift in visibility. So if you are in a manual penalty situation, don’t fear because it’s not the end of the world!

Where to start with the re-building process

When we have completed a clean-up job or a re-inclusion project for a client, I am often asked “what do we do next?”. Many clients are often very wary about building more links after being in a penalty in the fear that it could just happen all over again. Although this is understandable, and whilst it’s certainly good to be cautious, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure your backlink profile remains as healthy as possible. Google wants to see natural links in our backlink profiles these days and with that comes a lot of work, for what may seem like very little gain. However, it’s important that attitudes are altered away from the numbers driven game to focus more on greater quality and relevancy. Phrases such as “links should be earned” and “content is king” are ones which have been thrown around for ages now in SEO. In many respects these statements are true; we can no longer rely on mass link building techniques. Instead, we need to adopt another coined phrase when planning any organic strategy; “Human to Human”. This is where I believe guest blogging can help. Again, guest blogging has received some negative press recently, but if done correctly (such as by using some of the techniques in Charlotte’s blog post from last week) then a link from a guest post can be completely natural, and help both the blogger and the brand or company that is being given the exposure.

Where are we heading?

Well it’s certainly not the “funeral of links” just yet. In fact, we are a long way from that point. Instead, the aim going forward has to be relevancy and quality. It’s no longer enough to have 3000 optimised links coming from different directories, and you cannot get away with spinning an article to 100 different article sites. Be realistic, work with bloggers to create great content, and don’t shoehorn an optimised anchor-text link into a random post. In my opinion, raw URL’s are the way forward, rather than using anchor text. Have faith in your onsite optimisation, let the authority flow from the link, and let your landing page do the hard work. You also need to be proactive and realistic. Start taking a look at your backlink profile now, and familiarise yourself with the disavow tool. Cleaning up now, might just save you a whole world of pain in the near future  If you’re interested in more information about cleaning up your website’s backlink profile,get in touch with us today or visit our Link Removal Services page.

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