There are many articles about how to perform backlinks audits posted across the Internet, however, webmasters that encountered the Google Penguin penalty still have lots of questions, like “which links should I remove”, “which links should I disavow”, “what tools should I use”, etc. In this article we’ll review the signals that obviously mark links as bad or even harmful, which can only improve your positions if you get rid of them.
So, how do we find those bad links? We assume at this point that you already have a list of your own backlinks, acquired through a certain service like Google webmaster tools, or ahrefs.com.
First of all we should look at the domains that are linking to you.
The presence of link networks in your list can be checked by IP-address – and the chances are that all domains of a network are located at one hosting, which means they have the same IP-addresses or are located in same subnet. This can also be done in Ahrefs – open your backlinks report and click on “referring IPs” or “referring subnets” in the sidebar – you’ll see list of IP adresses that have links to your site with the number of domains on them. You can then click on the number of domains in the respective column to see list of those domains.
For example, for Allo.ua we found several link networks in it’s backlink profile.
If we try to look at those sites, we can see that they are undoubtedly spam and can only do harm. E.g.:
There can also be networks that are not so obviously classified as spam, but you should remove links from those sites, too. Search engines can easily recognize link networks and they don’t take them into account, so you’re lucky. In the worst case scenario they can lower the trust rating of your site and lower its rating.
Spammy domains can be distinguished by comparing number of incoming links with the number of links that are pointing from it to other sites. Sites that are created to sell links are more likely to have few incoming links and tons of outgoing links. So, define the number of links coming to suspicious sites, using any service that’s available to you, as well as the number of outgoing links. The latter can be done through the Bing search engine, using “linkfromdomain:” operator.
For example, domain housetr.ru is a spammy one, because it has 83,000 outgoing links and only 4 incoming links, though it is not easy to find all of those links on the site with the naked eye. Another example is soloro.ru – 82 incoming and 441 outgoing links.
You should use several services to make sure you find all of the links, as Bing may have outdated or incomplete data.
Ratio 1:1 is good enough, 1:2 (1 incoming link for every 2 outgoing) may be deemed suspicious, etc. You may set your own criteria for screening, but a 1:1 ratio is enough to pick out all trash, that harms your reputation and your rating.
You should remove backlinks form domains that don’t have at least ten visitors daily. An absence of traffic means low domain authority and hence – uselessness of its links. Often, low traffic can also be a sign that the domain uses black hat SEO or has been abandoned. It is good to filter out those links.
Traffic can be measured with open traffic counters present on site or by date of the last post and number of comments on it.
The last thing that you may measure for a domain is its trustworthiness. It can be measured by MajesticSEO’s parameter TrustFlow.
Of course, any of the listed parameters may mean little if not significantly emphasized. Though, if combined, they will help you to discern the worst of your links, so you can start cleaning your link profile, thus gradually increasing the quality of your link profile.
Types of publications
Template articles with money keyword in anchor text
During the existence of article markets and article promotion, many domains were severely spammed by paid links, some were purposely created to sell links, and so gaining links has become much easier now. However, search engines have evolved and now can easily discern such domains using a number of signs. If a link to your site matches these signs, you’re taking a risk. It is likely to be located in an article in a separated section, where no one is ever linked to, and many if not all articles contain a link to a different site of various types with a money keyword in the anchor text.
Here is an example of an SEO-article: vague text stuffed with money keywords, that are also external links. This is something you don’t want to see in your link profile.
Those, who have encountered Penguin, already know that Google shows links such as those as examples of bad links. If you still use these kinds of links in your SEO-strategy, you should stop right now! They are clearly robot-oriented, and search engines know that, and not only are they worthless in regards to your positions, but may even lower it.
Links from footer and sidebar
Footer and sidebar are not right places to place a link for people and by people. Especially when those links are different on every page. Some of them may still work for now, but they are more likely to lower your trust rating and trigger anti-spam algorithms, even more so when combined with other signs of spam techniques being used. So, if you’ve started cleaning out your link profile, you should remove these kinds of links as well.
Search engines do not like sitewide links from domains of different niches, especially those with money keyword anchors and dofollow instructions. If you think you’ve been struck by Penguin and you haven’t found any bad links, but you do have sitewide links, you may want to nofollow them and remove money keywords. Sitewide links should be used to gain clients, not for SEO purposes. If you don’t think that some particular site will provide you with clients – you shouldn’t place a sitewide link on it.
Another important group of signs is your anchor list. If you have all your links on perfect, relevant sites and have tons of trust and visitors, you may still fall under penalty if your anchor list looks or is deemed to be spammy.
Ideally, your anchor list should look natural. This was confirmed by several pieces of research (we’ll publish one later). Long story short – keep it as diverse as possible and don’t overuse money keywords. In fact, two or three links per keyword is enough to make a page relevant to that keyword in means of link relevance. Any links over that number will only improve its authority, so you may use non-keyword anchors as well.
If your site has been hit by penalties, don’t hesitate to remove any links with money keywords in the anchor.
Little or no brand anchors
According to research data on natural anchor lists, the most natural links have brand names in anchor text. For example, Yandex.market’s most used anchors are (translated here for your convenience): “yandex.market”, “market”, “market.yandex.ru”, etc.
As mentioned before, spam-signals add up, and if they reach certain level you’ll be penalized. Dofollow links that transfer PageRank may serve as a negative factor in dubious situations, especially when the robot can’t decide if this link is paid or is it put there naturally. That’s why rel=nofollow is the priority now – so you can hide suspicious links and ads from robots.
So what’s left? What links are good?
After reading this article, some of our readers may think that there are no good links or that they are too hard to obtain. In fact it is not that bad, you just have to be interesting and useful, and that will make people talk about you (that should be one of your marketing principles). One good link is much better than a thousand crappy paid links from spammed domains that are created solely to sell links and have no added value to present to anyone.
Also, there are many sites with high rankings, which do not use links at all. This fact shows, that links are gradually losing their value and usability and trustworthiness becomes much more important.
So don’t be afraid of removing backlinks – they are not as important anymore.
This publication is translated from russian. Original article can be found here.