Since the last Penguin 4.0 (Real-time) update, a lot has changed in terms of quality backlinks. Bad backlinks have remained the same, however, even if they were created some time ago with no intention of harming a website, or if there was an arranged negative SEO attack or perhaps a spammy link building campaign, in order to rank high & fast. We've covered this topic before, but felt the need to update it for 2018.
Toxic links have a greater effect on a website today than they ever have before. They can eat your entire website alive and stick it at the bottom, in the back pages of SERPs. How, you might ask? Well, Google penalties caused by unnatural links from :
- Networks of links
- Links at the bottom of the page
- Blogrolls and other link blocks
- Links on the whole site
- Blog comments
- Forum profile links and signatures
- Links to web directories
- Links to article directories
- Anchor text distribution
To be ready for the long haul and have a clean website, you should know that there are two easy steps to a evaluation correct backlinks. First, identify bad toxic backlinks, and then remove bad backlinks. Below we present some of the most common types of bad links. We have thought about them through a guide to help you identify easily unnatural links (link networks and low quality links) that may have caused your rankings to drop. Next, we offer tips and recommendations for cleaning up your website from these links.
The world of SEO has changed a lot over the past few years, which means that quality guidelines have become stricter. Links have started to become somewhat of a problem, due to the amount of spam on the web. After reading this article, you will be able to identify low quality links that are hurting your rankings.
How to remove bad backlinks
The steps to a clean website are simple. First, you need to identify the most harmful referring domains that point to your website, by following the black hat" links explained below, then remove and disavow unnatural links.
Here are 4 steps to remove bad backlinks from your website:
- Identify your bad links (you will find the exact method in this article).
- Look for the contact information of the website where the link is located.
- Contact the webmaster and ask them to remove the link. If you do not get a response within two weeks, go to the next step
- Disavow the links and send the file to Google.
Disavowing all bad links doesn't have to be a chore. In cognitiveSEO, you should use unnatural link detection which is a useful companion. It will save you tons of time, energy and money. Below you can see a screenshot of the tool.
You have to click on the unnatural links bar and a new window will instantly open with all the spammy links:
You must select the links that are bad and disavow them. You can do this individually or perform mass actions. All these disavowed links will be collected in a file format accepted by Google, which you can download and send directly to Google from the tool.
The disavowal process applies to all categories of links described below.
1. Networks of links
More than 90 % of link networks are easy to spot, both by the human eye and by Google's algorithm.
Most link networks have the following common characteristics:
- Built from blogs and forumsbecause they are easy to automate and reproduce.
- Thelinks try to appear as natural as possible by being placed in the content of a blog post or a forum thread.
- The owner of a link network rarely makes the effort to generate links to every single blog post generated. This means that each article has a probability of having 0 or a small number of backlinks pointing to it.
- Each site in the link network links to at least 2 sites of common money.
To find links from link networks to your website, you need to filter backlinks by blog posts and forum thread links, which are positioned in content and have low metrics (link influence, domain influence) and low numbers of inbound links to the actual backlink. The most difficult part is to filter large lists of links by the
in the content and the type of link (blog post, forum page, etc.). You can do this by hand or use a tool that has the ability to make these classifications.
Health plan to quickly identify bad backlinks from link networks
By using cognitiveSEO, and by applying some filters, you can easily find exactly those links.
Rank them in descending order of link influence to see the lower quality pages first. Browse the links a bit and use the link preview feature to quickly view these pages. In our case, we found 316 low quality links from different pages on various link networks. (17% of their entire backlink profile)
To remove bad links, such as link networks, you must first know something.
All of the following types of links can be both natural and artificial. The difference is how they were acquired in terms of link velocity and distribution of links across a site's backlink profile.
To identify if your backlink profile is unnatural, you should always compare your site to your competitors and see if there are any major differences between the backlink profiles of these sites. I usually compare my site with the top 5 leaders in the industry and then with 5 other sites that are trying to break into the niche. There are always things that stand out when you do such a thorough analysis.
You should compare distributions of metrics, such as link and/or domain influence, link and/or domain trust flow, link and/or domain citation flow. These are just the basic comparisons you can make. The more advanced comparisons are the ones you make when you start comparing links categorized by web page type, link type, links in content or not, link position, etc.
2. Footer links
Footer links were perfectly legitimate 6 years ago, but they started to do a lot of damage because of websites abusing this technique.
This is one of the reasons why Google has placed site-wide links in the list of link patterns. These links can skew your analysis and have no value from an SEO perspective. Imagine you have one link from one domain compared to 100 links from the same domain. First of all, the value of that one link from one domain is higher than each individual link from the same domain.
A question on the same subject was asked on the Google Webmaster Help forum:
Are site-wide backlinks considered good or bad by Google? Or do they just count as a link from the entire domain?
Matt Cutts replied very clearly:
|From an algorithmic point of view, at a certain point, it becomes asymptotically decreasing returns. And that doesn't help you anymore.|
|Former head of the webspam team at Google|
If they see one link from one domain, they count it as one, and if they see multiple links from the same domain, they can still count them as one.
From the manual point of view, you will receive a penalty, because Google does not trust these links and performs manual actions quite often.
If you have a high number of footer links, you will definitely raise a red flag with Google. Usually, footer links are acquired from sites that :
- sell links;
- are involved in link exchange systems;
- have installed widgets or plugins (usually to manipulate SERPs);
- links "powered by" (e.g. WordPress) ;
- your company's partners;
- customers who refer to you.
If you only find a few links compared to your entire backlink profile, there is no real problem here. If instead, you get a long list of links, you might have a problem.
There are situations where Google has failed to report footer links. One example is for Godaddy, where they have nearly 90% of their links coming from footer links. We checked their site with the cognitiveSEO tool after they were exposed by Yoast explaining GoDaddy's spammy link building techniques. Every website created using a WordPress editor by GoDaddy has footer text with a link such as "Powered by Do Daddy". The fact is that they continue to follow this practice, but now you have the possibility to delete this text by yourself.
Health plan to quickly identify footer links
cognitiveSEO.com allows you to select all the links that appear as blocks of links in the footer of linking pages. For this site, we have extracted 625 low-quality footer links (10% of their overall backlink profile).
There are options where you can easily spot links that come from footer sections or link groups. In the cognitiveSEO tool, you have a deep link analysis where you can spot inconsistency. Take, for example, the screenshot below:
On the site used for this example (www.addictinggames.com) we saw that they had
a lot of links from blog posts or forum threads, which is not necessarily bad (depending on the intention). But the alarming situation starts when you look at the number of links from link groups: 8,024, which is a lot.
All of these links must be examined individually and disavowed quickly, otherwise I hear the penalty alarm.
After a quick search in Site ExplorerWe have seen that the site suffered a massive drop in its ranking because it was penalized. Since then, it has not been able to regain its visibility in search engines.
3. Blogrolls and other link blocks
Blogrolls have been abused so much that they tend to be analyzed very carefully by Google's algorithm these days.
This category includes both blogroll links and groups of links that do not fit the blogroll model. Here is an example of a website that was abusing search engines and is not a blogroll. The domain uses widgets that are installed on various websites where webmasters can place their link. Too many links matching these patterns can be considered unnatural by Google's algorithm and you can be penalized. Some of these links may fall into the category of "Sitewide" links.
Make sure that the advanced link widget networks are not included in the site-wide links category, as they may be reported more quickly. As with all the other types of links in this guide, it depends on how they have been integrated into your link profile.
Health plan to quickly identify blog lists and link groups
A few filters down, you'll get another list of bad, low-quality backlinks that could hurt your ranking. In our case, we got 424 other low quality links
We have analyzed this specific feedback link in Site Explorer to see some metrics. We found that the page and domain had a low influence, with many links (47,365) coming from only 45 referring domains. This is a clear sign of unnatural links.
The problem is that the site had many other unnatural issues and their backlink profile was full of spammy links. 88% of all their links are unnatural.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, all unnatural links should be disavowed and you should immediately submit the disavow file to Google to cut off the connection with these spammy links that can terribly bury your website.
4. Site-wide links
Site-wide links definitely hurt your ranking.
Site-wide links are another example of toxic bad backlinks. They are no longer relevant in the Google landscape. Site-Wides are devalued and can hurt your ranking very easily. If your domain doesn't have the authority and gets a few links from poor quality sites, your site will be penalized by Google.
The idea behind site-wide links is quite simple. It's more important to have a larger number of root domains linked to your domain than to have many links from a smaller number of root domains linked to your domain.
There are site-wide links that don't hurt your rankings, and it all depends on the site they are placed on. If that site is considered an authority and that site-wide link is not correlated with other factors such as high link velocity, then that site-wide link could help you.
Health plan to quickly identify site-wide links
Fortunately, it is quite easy to discover this kind of links with cognitiveSEO because it is a Sitewide Chart, dedicated to this issue.
You will get a graph with the distribution of links across the site. If it's a high number, click on the pie and check those links individually. In our case, we got 21% of the entire backlink profile from sitewide links.
The website has a lot of sitewide links that are almost worthless. You can see below an example of backlink for this website:
This link has multiple problems. Besides the fact that it is a site, it is also hidden, written in white type. I had to highlight it to see the full text.
Note: A site-wide link is considered to be a link that is automatically replicated on many pages of the same site. Do not confuse a site-wide with 10 different links from 10 different articles on Techcrunch for example. These links are not considered site-wide. Our software has a built-in algorithm that matches different patterns and concludes whether a link is a TRUE SITE-WIDE or not.
5. Blog comments
Blog comment spam has evolved on the backs of search engines.
Comment spam is a form of spamdexing (keyword stuffing) and it has been around since the beginning of the Internet. There are several tools that help spammers to post comments automatically with the ultimate goal of getting a higher ranking in search engines. This is why most comments are marked as nofollow by blogging platforms so that Google does not index them. Despite this, comment spam is a huge phenomenon and everyone who owns a blog knows how much comment spam they get.
A health plan to quickly identify links in blog comments
You can easily find nofollow and dofollow links that come from blog comments.
For a quick review of the full list of links that come from blog comments, you can go directly to the link positioning table and click on the blog comments bar. We found a website that focuses on building links through this technique:
We looked at their links and discovered that the website took advantage of this black-hat technique and left spammy blog comments on websites that weren't even linked to their website. Not to mention that they used anchor text that looks spammy, given the circumstances. The website is a free library of e-books and resources, and the website it links to is dedicated to website development. Not quite related, I might add.
6. Forum profile links and signatures
Forums are abused in the same way as blogs.
The fact that people are discussing your site in forums is the most natural thing that can happen to a site. It means that your site has generated some buzz in its niche. But if you are building links using fake forum profiles, signatures and automatically posting content and links on forums, it will show up in your backlink profile and could hurt your rankings when Google flags it. These types of patterns can be easily identified by Google. Here is an example of an unnatural link from a forum.
Health plan to quickly identify forum links
Again, cognitiveSEO makes it easy to identify links from forum threads. If you want to check signatures and profiles, you need to search for Position of link "Short text paragraph, group of links. You will get a list of links as you can see in the following screenshot
In our example you can find an overview page with some information about the link. The link has no influence and neither does the domain.
If you want a quick analysis, you can go directly to the link positioning table and examine the links from the blog post or forum thread. The website we analyzed had a lot of links from this source
inks from this source. 15 % of the total backlink profile comes from blog posts or forum threads.
7. Web Directory Links
Forget about web directory submission services that promise hundreds of directory listings.
Having too many links from web directories is not always a good sign. It may attract the attention of Google's algorithm. You don't need to be listed in hundreds of directories, only in a few quality directories that are well known in your niche. If you have a high percentage of links from directory submissions (manually or automatically), that were created some time ago or just added (whatever), you will raise the link velocity flag and be penalized.
An example of a web directory link can be seen in the following screenshot. It is basically a list containing a brief description of the brands, with a title and a link.
Health plan to be identified quickly Web directory links
If you get a long list and it represents a large percentage of your inbound link profile (similar to the following screenshot), then this could signal a problem that you need to look into further. cognitiveSEO monitors backlinks and evaluates the unnaturalness of the entire website by offering percentages for unnatural links, suspicious links and correct links, letting you know if you are in danger.
If your website has a lot of unnatural links and red areas (like the one above), you need to use the disavow tool and cut off the connection to your website from all spammy links.
Out of curiosity, we looked at the unnatural links and found many links from spammy directories, filled with hundreds of outbound links, like the one below. There you can see that the page has many other problems, like low influence link, thin content, high number of outbound links, etc. You should remove this link immediately.
8. Links to article directories
Avoid cheap content!
This is the best advice you can get. Having too many links from article directories is a sign that something unnatural is going on. Article directories and the sites they link to the most have already been hit by Panda in recent years. Below is a way to find your article directory links so you can take a closer look.
Article directories, if not created according to qualitative guidelines, can be potentially dangerous.
Health plan to quickly identify links in article directories
You can see below a screen print of the article directory links identified by our tool. We obtained 49% of unnatural links out of the total unnatural links (23,594). Their total unnatural link profile is 87%.
The website has received many hits from Google's algorithm updates. This has been easy to spot in their search visibility. Over the past five years, the site has suffered numerous penalties from Google.
In cases like these, it is very important to disavow all the spammy links in bulk and clean up the website. In 2018, a website should not have such toxic links. Try to keep an eye on your bad backlinks so that you never end up in this situation.
9. Distribution of anchor text
Over-optimized anchor text doesn't look natural at all!
The anchor text is either :
- Trademark keywords (keywords in the domain name or in the name of the trademark itself);
- money keywords ;
- Navigation keywords (click here, website, source, etc.).
In cognitiveSEO you can easily file and review your anchor texts. You will get an analysis as you can see below. A natural distribution of anchor text would look like this.
A artificial distribution of year textcre looks like this:
If your anchor text is over-optimized, you risk getting hit by Google because most of the time, commercial anchor text carries unnatural links. Consider a natural anchor text strategy, collaborate with other brands and influencers. Create valuable content and offer qualitative services to get recommendations and good links.
I hope all the SEO tips and step-by-step guide will help you identify potentially toxic links that have generated problems with Google penalties. Use the cognitiveSEO tool to study your link data and get a complete link audit. The tool shows all the data in one place, and monitors backlinks side by side with your competition.
Don't create links that can harm your website, even if they used to work. Now they don't.
Use these tactics to identify bad links and remove them before Google takes action and penalizes your site. The sad thing is that black hat is bad for everyone and that it harms the internet. Be good, create quality and Google will love you.