SEO is a constantly evolving discipline, and even though link popularity has been part of the search engine algorithms for a long time now, the recent Google updates have put even more emphasis on the links to your site and their actual quality. This simply means that some types of links that used to bring you some good “link juice” and support your SEO results may now actually be damaging your performance and in the worst case scenario get you banned from google.
So here are some tips to help you assess the quality of the existing links to your site and ensure you only build Google friendly links going forward.
Google Webmaster Tools
We discussed the merits of GWT a few months ago and in terms of link building, this is an invaluable tool. The reports in GWT give you a full list of all the links to your site identified by Google as well as the most recently created links. This list should be your reference when looking at your link popularity.
Your GWT account is also used by Google to communicate with you regarding the health of your website, whether it is about indexing problems or potential penalties (including link spam penalties).
So if you haven’t already done so, create a Google Webmaster account linked to your website, all it takes is a simple verification via a Google Analytics account or the upload of a file to your site. And best of all it is free.
Link quality assessment
So now that you have access to all the links to your website, how do you check the quality of these links and ensure you build good quality links? remember that not all links are equal
While this may seem obvious, you would be surprised by how many website owners (or unscrupulous agencies) still build links from any website, no matter how relevant they are to the destination website. The relevance of the website linking to you as well as the actual link copy is taken into account by search engines when looking at link popularity, so make sure that most of your links come from websites related to your activity.
According to Google themselves “PageRank is the measure of the importance of a page based on the incoming links from other pages. In simple terms, each link to a page on your site from another site adds to your site’s PageRank”. The PR of a page goes from 0 to 10, the closer to 10 the better. So when reviewing your existing links or building new ones have a look at the target website’s PageRank, it is usually a good indicator of how relevant Google think it is.
Paid links or link schemes
If you’ve paid to get some links to your website it is probably a good idea to 1 – stop doing it and 2 – remove all paid links to your website. The recent Penguin updates have done a lot of damage to websites displaying or having many links from “unnatural” sources
How to fix issues and recover from penalties
In order to avoid penalties the first thing you need to do is ensure that all the new links to your website are coming from reputable sources, websites that you trust. So do some research before submitting your website to a directory, requesting a link from a poor quality website or commenting in a blog or forum. Don’t forget to put yourself in the shoes of web users too – is the link going to be helpful for someone using the website?
if you’ve been hit by a Google penalty, review all the links to your website using the Google Webmaster list and get as many of the bad links as possible removed by asking the webmasters of the linking sites. If you get no luck you can always use the Google disavow tool, a new feature that will enable you to tell Google which links to ignore when assessing your link popularity. Do your research well as you do not want to remove some good links by mistake. (here’s more information about the disavow tool.)
Link building is a complex and extremely time-consuming part of the SEO process, and as such, it needs to be done carefully as bad practice can lead to severe consequences. As with most things SEO though, common sense needs to prevail and doing some research when looking for new links will take you a long way.
About the author
Etienne is the Head of SEO here at Mahon Digital and he’s been involved in the digital & search marketing industry for nearly 11 years now, working for a small family-owned businesses as well as international FTSE 500 companies. He’s passionate about all things digital, but more specifically about digital & search strategy and marketing analysis.