This month Google updated their all-important Webmaster Guidelines and in particular they gave more information on weak link schemes to avoid. Have you bought links in the past? Is your backlink profile outdated? Are you unsure what really makes a good quality link? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, I would suggest reviewing the latest guidelines.
The web is ruled by links and it’s important you constantly tidy up your backlink profile. Google are giving out more and more signals that people should be responsible for their own links. With this in mind it’s important you understand the following factors and how they can negatively impact a sites ranking in search results.
Websites that cross-link can look extremely unnatural to a search engine. If the sites are similar by topic and interlink it will look like you are trying to clog up the search results. In an ideal world you should only need one website. If you have micro sites or partner sites it’s extremely important that all links have a “nofollow” tag.
Sitewide / Footer Links
Many businesses gain links from clients or partners; these are often sitewide, included in the footer. The link is fine if there is a business purpose behind the placement. If you are trying to manipulate PageRank I would remove the link straight away. Again, you can “nofollow” the link to show you have no ulterior motive.
Low Quality Directories
Recent updates have scared people away from directories. I would not dismiss this source completely. Good quality niche directories are still a viable link source. The problem occurs when you are submitted to multiple directories all on the same IP address with no relevancy to your product or service.
Low Quality Bookmarks
Bookmarking fresh content and new products can be a useful way to push your site to a new audience. To make sure your bookmarks are good quality I would research the audience and make sure you have no excessive submissions.
Excessive Link Exchanging
Linking with a range of business partners is a perfectly legitimate business practice. Problems will occur if you take the “Link to me and I’ll link to you” approach to an unnatural level. To be on the safe side I would “nofollow” the links to show you have no bad intentions.
Using Widgets to build links from a range of sites can be a dangerous tactic. Again, I would “no follow” the link to show your actual intentions.
A legitimate forum comment with a helpful link can add value to a forum thread but an example like the one shown below will not have a long term positive impact on your website.
The golden rule in any sustainable SEO project will be to not buy links. There are many providers which allow you to pay for links on a range of networks but this is getting easier for search engines to spot.
Automated link building software can get you a large amount of article links and directory links but the quality is going to be poor and the patterns will look unnatural. Avoid this tactic at all costs.
Text advertisements are fine if you are trying to deliver referral traffic from a domain related to your industry. If the text ad is hidden on the page and has no “nofollow” tag you will look like you are trying to manipulate page rank.
Identifying the Links
If you are unsure if you meet Google’s latest guidelines I would suggest doing a full review of your referring domains. You can start this process by looking in Google Webmaster Tools and downloading the latest links (see below).
Other tools like Link Detox, Opensite Explorer and Majestic SEO will also help you spot any unnatural link patterns.
Solving the Problem
Google’s guidelines now tell you how to prevent PageRank from passing in several ways.
1. You can remove the link entirely
2. You can remove the number of links from a particular source
3. You can add a rel=“nofollow” attribute to the <a> tag
4. You can redirect the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file.
Not only have Google updated their guidelines but they have also released their new Disavow Tool to help you discount any links that you want to discard from any association with your domain. This tool is not a short cut and you will still need to show proof of trying to remove links in a reconsideration request.
Are You Responsible for Your Backlinks?
If your backlink profile is outdated you run the risk of losing your rankings. Google expect you to be responsible for your own backlinks and updating their guidelines and releasing the Disavow Tool is their way of highlighting this.
Should we all De-Optimise?
Offsite link building has changed dramatically in recent updates and I think all responsible SEO managers should be reviewing their backlinks on a regular basis. You may have the most sound backlink profile on the net but it can always be improved. Review top referring domains for:
• Keyword density
• Domain relevancy
• Anchor text
• IP Location
Take More Responsibility
To take more responsibility for your backlink profile set up Google alerts on your brand name. This will allow you to review any new links that are brand related. Regular backlink reviews will make sure you spot any sources that need to be removed, redirected or “no followed”.
Penguin updates, guideline edits and Google’s new Disavow Tool is more than a hint that you should be responsible for all your backlinks and how they impact your rankings. With this in mind we should all be working to weed out inappropriate sources. This could be called ‘De-Optimisation’ or it could just be fine tuning your off page strategy. Either way it’s extremely important that you carry out regular checks.
In this current climate fewer links is certainly no bad thing. Pushing good quality content will mean you shouldn’t have to worry about manipulating PageRank. Relevancy is the new PR, so it’s important you start building a network with site owners that are related to yours. If your site is about bikes, reach out to people in the leisure industry.
Before you start promoting good quality content make sure you de-clutter your backlinks. It’s about quality not quantity so less can certainly be more.
Sources 1, 2