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De-Optimisation – Why Sometimes Less is More

Oliver Ewbank

by Oliver Ewbank on 26th October 2012

LinksThis 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 Is your backlink profile outdated?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.

Cross-Linking Websites
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.

Forum Comments
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.

forum comment

Buying Links
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 Programs
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
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).

Google Webmaster Tools

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.

Disavow Tool
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.

Image Source

Chain link via BigStock

Oliver Ewbank

Oliver Ewbank

Working in new media for over 8 years, Oliver Ewbank has worked for a range of brands including eBay and SportBusiness.com on SEO, PPC and Social Media Management. He has won awards for his SEO work and been featured in a number of publications, including Virgin online.

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  • mike litson 26th October 2012

    Re buying links, I disagree, you just have to be smarter about it. There are plenty of good publications that you can get on for a bit of a bribe and I’m not just talking things like the trinity mirror advertorial network. The thing with link buying these days is just not to buy crap.

    But then I work in gambling, aside from share price news and sponsorships there’s little to talk about that anyone cares about in terms of casinos…. Ok Sportsbook and Poker you can do creatively, but we do have to accept that there are just some niches where the webmasters of every decent site don’t link out for free because they know what their sites links are worth. And there really just isn’t much of interest to say….

    The interesting thing with link buying as well is do you think the big G will ever penalise people for link buying on the express.co.uk, because I know you can buy advertorials on that, worst case I see there is devaluation not penalisation simply due to advertorials being a “legitimate” form of advertising and a link could be completely intended for the user to read more as long as it’s straight URL and linking to a relevant page with more information on the subject matter.

    Reply to this comment

  • Oliver Ewbank

    Oliver Ewbank 26th October 2012

    Thanks for your comment Mike.

    I think it can certainly be tougher in an industry like Gambling. The key is to create content which is useful for your users. This can be pushed on blogs and social media.

    I think Google will penalise you if you have the wrong intentions. Would you be using express.co.uk for referral traffic or would you be using it to manipulate PageRank? If the link is intended for the user then I would “nofollow” to show your intentions.

    This will give you peace of mind for any future Penguin updates.

    Reply to this comment

  • mike litson 26th October 2012

    Haha well that’s the thing I doubt Google will be hitting things like that which are could have only good intentions, obviously in iGaming it’s a bit harder to be squeeky clean as you simply wont compete… even when you’re working the MEGA brands (you’ll have to trust me on that can’t client drop XD)

    But basically nobody wants to shout about losing money at the casino, don’t get my wrong you need to do social in fact I’m a massive believer in tieing in link velocity with social boosts, like I said if your smart you can make everything look natural enough that you wont get a slap. It just takes a lot more effort than it used to.

    Of course we could all just go to Baidu and spam till our hearts are content XD

    Reply to this comment

  • mike litson 26th October 2012

    But I have to admit I do wonder about a lot of agencies that say they would never pay for links, after all bribes have always been a part of marketing, whether it’s paying for dinner, drinks and throwing a journalist a little back hander to favourably cover something you’ve done, that’s not any different to paying for a review of something with a cheeky link in it.

    Incentivisation and relationship building is still “paying” for your links XD

    Reply to this comment

  • Lyndon NA 26th October 2012


    Still a problem area for many Site Owners.
    People still look at the link, rather than judging the link.

    Instead of sitting there asking
    “is it reciprocal?”
    is that a credit link, or will G think it’s an attempt at PR gain?”,
    simply ask yourself the following questions;

    1) Is that a a Content link?
    1) Is the link on a Site I would use?
    2) Is the link on a Page I would read?
    3) Would I be happy to see my competitors getting such links?
    4) Am I proud to see my link on that page/site?
    5) Does the link go to one of my pages that is worthy of links?

    If you fail those Qs, then you know you have a problem – and you don’t have to do any sort of background digging either!

    The problem with the “links” that people have been complaining about is because they didn’t bother creating a worthwhile site, didn’t have link worthy content, and got links from blatantly bad sites/pages.
    When you have 80% links from comments, forums and directories, and you appear to have 60% of IBLs using only 5 phrases … it does tend to look a little obvious.
    (Unfortuantely, stupidity tends to go hand in hand with a lack of imagination.)

    Simple rule – don’t panic.
    Look over where your links are, calmly.
    Onlt the ones that make you go “erm” should you examine.
    You shoudl be safe to ignore the rest.

    Reply to this comment

  • Chris Simmance

    Chris Simmance 26th October 2012

    Inevitably if Google are talking about this now they will eventually work out how to effectively track and penalise paid links better than they currently are.

    In the short term you have a good point and it cant be easy in that industry. I think we need to look long term in SEO these days by adopting a natural and legitimate looking link building strategy that will hold you in good stead when all the non-squeaky clean competitors are dropping like flies in the rankings.

    Reply to this comment

  • Mike Essex

    Mike Essex 26th October 2012

    My main issue with “advertorial” is that it’s labelled as such. Those articles tend to have “advertorial” or “sponsored” written on them or be in a specific category on a site.

    This causes 2 issues:

    1) People who read them trust them less than non sponsored articles.

    2) It’s easy for Google to spot a pattern and remove / penalize them.

    So I try to avoid them for those reasons. Also the cost of some of them (sometimes thousands of pounds on big media sites) it can be just as cost effective to spend that time pitching naturally.

    Reply to this comment

  • Alex 24th June 2013

    Hello Oliver,

    Less and focused is the most. Definitely.
    If we all go back to its origins the Internet is designed to be the biggest communication net in human history with a virtually infinite number of hubs, and these hubs are the pages themselves. The pages are the atoms, without them nothing exist in the Internet.
    As in the real world every hub (page) has inbound and outbound paths (backlinks) but all must come and go within the related subject and in the end each backlink should carry an added value to the page itself.
    For example I have an website, which in fact its subject is not related to this post. So normally I wouldn’t put it in my comment signature because it wouldn’t be for any use for your readers. But at a second glance I might still find an opportunity and display it as an example of de-optimization. So, I ‘ve used to have a couple of links in my footer for one partner but there were no good for both of us as he has received many backlinks from my sidewide footer. What have I done was to “nofollow” the two links on all the pages except the home page and thus he remained with two powerful links from my highest page (homepage).

    Reply to this comment

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