A Guide to Understand Links Pt. 2: How to Evaluate Your Links & Know if You Need to Take Action
July 10 2014
In the first post as part of this series, we discussed exactly what a backlink is and why it’s important to your website. We know that backlinks are important to organic visibility and that Google has quality guidelines regarding links, but how do we know where we go from here?
The first step is understanding what links you’re already working with. Who is linking to your site already and what sort of quality are they?
How to Evaluate Your Link Profile
There are many free tools to give you estimates of the links you have including Google Webmaster Tools, MOZ’s Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs.com and Openlinkprofiler.org. When evaluating your backlinks, there are a few things that you should keep in mind based on the estimates these tools give.
Anchor text refers to the clickable text in a hyperlink. Does the majority of your anchor text from external domains look like it exactly matches the keyword phrases you’re trying to rank for? Then it could be a problem. Natural anchor text usually includes your company name or URL, because that’s how most people will link to a site. Keyword rich or exact-match anchor text from external domains is usually a red flag for crawlers.
Like your financial portfolio, it’s good to make sure your backlink profile is diverse. Having a diverse set of links is a great signal, but you also want to make sure they are relevant. For instance, maybe an industry association your company is in links to you and so does your local Little League Baseball association that you sponsored. Those are diverse links but they also meet a certain amount of relevance covering your industry and your community. If you are an industrial manufacturer and have a lot of links from free casino sites or sites claiming to have cheap Gucci purses, that’s not very relevant… unless you manufacture the cheap Gucci purses, which sounds illegal.
The best way to know if you should take any action regarding your links is by evaluating the domains that are linking to your website.
Does the majority of your backlinks have keyword-rich anchor text and not look natural? Are a lot of irrelevant sites linking to yours? Do you think your traffic is being affected because of an algorithm update? It may be time to consider action.
Manual Penalties & Disavowing Links
As part of Google’s enforcement of their quality guidelines, many sites have received manual penalties through Google Webmaster Tools, meaning someone at Google evaluates a site’s links and issues a penalty. As part of the ultimatum from Google, you either clean up your links or face the consequence of “de-indexation.” To be de-indexed means your website is manually removed from Google.
Cleaning up links is not an easy task.
Google offers a Disavow Tool allowing you to ask Google to not take low-quality or spammy links into consideration when the assess your site. However, Google recommends that before resorting to their Disavow Tool, webmasters get in touch with websites directly to have their links removed. If those links aren’t removed, disavowing them can be done by submitting links to Google in a specific format.
Even if no manual penalty was received, poor quality links can still hurt your visibility in Google, meaning a loss of traffic and business. In these cases, it’s still a good idea to reach out to webmasters to get spammy links removed. The best way to make that call is by evaluating your link profile.
Keep in mind that the Disavow Tool is a powerful tool:
It’s important to remember that just by going through the steps of disavowing links does not guarantee that a site will be re-indexed if it’s been removed or that lost traffic will ever go back to where it was.
And if you’re thinking, well why not just create a new domain and start over? If you have a penalty on your previous site, it could follow you to your new domain even if you don’t set up redirects.
If you take away one thing, let it be that you should stick to natural link building. If you’re considering hiring an SEO company, make sure they advise you to do the same thing… the right thing. Be conscious of indicators that may mean unnatural link building from companies.
Real link building is tough and good links require effort. The effort is well worth it when it helps your site’s visibility. In the next post, we’ll be ditching the negative and talking about how to build awesome links.