SO – your site is set up with Yoast, you’re checked in with Google Webmaster Tools, your permalinks are set and your site is visible. Excellent! You’re on your way to good SEO. But, you could also have some problems you’re not aware of. Bad backlinks can a real problem – and if they’re bad enough, they can get your site killed on Google. Not good.
What are backlinks? Backlinks are links from sites that point back to your site. If they’re legit links from reputable sites, they’re good. If they’re a bunch of garbage links on questionable sites that have nothing to do with what your site is about, you might have troubles – and those troubles can doom your website.
How do you get bad backlinks? Some search engine optimizers purchase backlink packages from exceptionally questionable services. Sure, you might get 10,000 backlinks to your site, but those links are from a bunch of weird websites in Prague or Chile. They’re usually just link “farms,” and their value is, at best, super-low. At worse, they’re enough to get you penalized, sandboxed, or de-listed. This is the problem with paying for SEO that you can’t see or that you can’t quantify. Buying backlinks might get you a major boost in your search engine rankings – but they could also blow up in your face.
What makes a bad backlink?
- Questionable Sites: If your business is in Asheville, why would you have a backlink from a site in Russia? If you’re a florist, do you want your link being posted on a vaguely pornographic anime site in Singapore? If you’ve got a lot of links from weird sites, you need to do something about it.
- Too Much, Too Fast: If you go from 10 backlinks to 15,000 in a couple of months, Google is going to notice. Building quality backlinks is a long-term process. There is no get-rich-quick scheme here. Slow and steady wins the race. Come out like a jackrabbit, and you’re probably not going to finish the race.
- Repeated Anchor Text: If your backlinks are all coming from text that says something like “Asheville’s Most Beautiful Floral Arrangements for Mother’s Day,” but those links are coming from hundreds of different websites, Google will see that as suspicious. A natural linking pattern will have greatly varied anchor text.
- Too Many of the Same Types of Links: If all your incoming links are coming from the same type of link (text links, in-content links, image links, etc.,) you’re in a danger zone. You need a variety of contexts for your links – but if all the links look the same, Google will scrutinize ALL your backlinks. You don’t want that.
Now – how do you tell if you’ve got bad backlinks? Webmaster Tools can help. Here’s how:
- Sign in to your Webmaster Tools account (you created one on Day 1, right?
- Click on your domain name.
- Click on “Search Traffic” and then “Links to Your Site.”
- In the first column, “Who Links the Most” (in the middle of the page,) click on “More>>”
- View your backlinks, and make a note of anything you don’t recognize or that looks fishy.
What do you do if you find anything fishy? First, check to see if it’s actually spammy. It could be that you’ve just been picked up by a directory. Check the links. Next, contact the owner of the site and ask them to take your link down. You can look up the contact info for any site at BetterWhois.com. There, you can type in the domain name that has the offending link and find emails and phone numbers. This can be difficult if you have a large number of spammy links, and the success rate is pretty low. We’ve found that this works about 2% of the time. These spammy backlink sites are largely automated, and sending an email to the webmaster usually goes unnoticed and unanswered. But – that’s the first thing to try.
If contacting and asking the bums nicely doesn’t work, you can always go nuclear. Google has created a “Disavow” tool, that will tell Google you don’t approve of those links, and that you disavow any relationship with them. Click here to go and check it out. They’re pretty particular about how you format the request, and they prefer that you try to manually remove stuff – but this can be a good last-ditch device to get rid of your spammy backlinks.
Now, if you go in and you don’t have backlinks – that’s a very different story. If you need links, we can help. If you want to find some yourself, go for it – reputable online directories, social media, other blogs and websites are good places to start. Again, though – it’s quality over quantity. And, context makes a difference – especially for local search. We’ll go over some strategies on a later day – and we’ll give you some links to help you get started on the road to sweet rankings!
Up Next: A Five Point WordPress Site Health Inspection.