Police your links and avoid prosecution

Police your links and avoid prosecution

Monitoring websites that link to yours should form part of your regular due diligence process if you are to avoid costly Google penalties, writes Dave Naylor of Bronco.

Published 19th July 2014

The days of being able to simply allow your link profile to take care of itself are gone, especially if you are looking for your website to stand the test of time thanks to the continued efforts of Google trying to eliminate low quality or ‘spammy’ sites from their organic ranking positions.

In their attempt to clean up their organic results, Google released a backlink-focused automated algorithm that was given the task of being able to determine whether a website has a link profile which would be considered to be low quality or gives the impression that algorithmic manipulation is fuelling its creation, taking direct action against sites that are found to be breaching what the search engine giants consider to be a natural link profile as per their quality guidelines.

Artificial intervention means that there are no grey areas when it comes to the analysis of your backlinks profile, either the link is ‘good’ or it’s ‘bad’, nothing inbetween, resulting in a minefield of potential risk each time that the Google Penguin algorithm is released into the organics.

Although you may not be actively seeking backlinks, monitoring the websites that link to yours is now vital if you want to be able to maintain a long term positional ranking within the Google search results, simply due to the fact that regardless of whether you have built the links into your site or not, Google is going to assess your website on the link profile that it has and will take action against it should it deem that those links are low quality.

Backlink maintenance may well be a time consuming process but with the increase of automated websites, free press release platforms and all sorts of other nasty surprises out there, it needs to become a regular part of your website development process and forge part of your due diligence process.

Where should you start a link profile clean up?
Knowing where to start your backlink maintenance can be daunting if you have never taken the time to have a look at the websites that are linking to your website. If that is the case, you will rarely be a user of online backlink checking tools such as Ahrefs.com or MajesticSEO.com, so knowing about how you can get an insight into the links that Google has recorded for you is an important asset.

Finding that information isn’t as hard as you would think, as Google Webmaster Tools presents you with up to 1,000 referring domains that are pointing at least one link towards your website, a sample of data that is more than enough to cover the typical size website link profile.

Although Google Webmaster Tools can give you plenty of link data, this tends to only be a snippet of what your site has pointing towards it, especially if you have a larger website and that is why you should always look to incorporate third party link data in order to give you the most complete link data possible.

Our chosen sources for data give us three sources of backlink data, making use of Google Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs.com and MajesticSEO.com historic data, often resulting in large scale datasets on which you can conduct your backlink profile analysis.

Should you automate your backlink profile clean up?
Sanity checking backlink profiles can be a time consuming practise but within the modern age of Google algorithms, it has become a standard way of website maintenance and should be undertaken on a regular basis but with the prospect of having to check thousands of backlink sources.

Often it can become human nature to look to seek shortcuts or faster ways to achieve a particular goal, this time being able to check a large volume of backlinks without the vastly time consuming efforts of yourself to ensure that links are still what you would consider to be ‘good’.

With a range of online subscription tools available to check your backlinks with ease, it can be easy to think that these would be a fantastic solution to the issue at hand, however these tools are created by third party companies and are based on their own metrics towards what makes link ‘good’ or ‘bad’, often making them create false positives along the way.

Although a manual audit of your links can be time consuming, there is simply no substitute to a manual review of the links that your website holds right now, after all Google actions against your site are either based on manual intervention towards the legitimacy of your link profile or an algorithmic creation that Google have programmed to eliminate and dampen links that they believe are low quality or paid links.

Depending on the technical ability you have available, whether it be that of your own or someone else’s skill-set, there are ways that you can reduce the time that it takes to monitor your own backlink profile without the need to search each and every linking URL.

What can you do to save time?
The prospect of having to fight your way through all of the URLs that are linking to your website can be daunting, especially when you include large datasets of links from historic link trackers such as MajesticSEO, so in order to be able to whittle down the time that it takes to do such work, there are a couple of things that you can do with the data before embarking on your manual checks.

To eliminate time being spent on your link checking, there is a certain level of automation that you could undertake without allowing computer programming to make a decision on whether links would pass a manual review, such as:

  • Crawl all URLs to ensure that links are still active . Doing this means that you can eliminate any historic link data that shows links originally existed, however no longer do due to removal.
  • Check whether links that are still live are followed links. Although we always recommend that you should do a complete audit on your own link profile, including nofollow backlinks, filtering the no-follow placements out of your initial check would allow for your time to be spent looking at the links that Google are most interested in.
  • Where possible check that URLs are indexed in Google. Often links that are held on websites that are no longer indexed is a firm indication that there is an issue with the specific website, either the domain no longer functions as we website or the site has been penalised and removed from the Google search engine results.
  • Cross reference your link data against any existing Google disavow file. Removing the domains that you have enlisted in your Google disavow file already will mean that you are no longer going to need to review those links again, saving time on manual checking of the remaining link instances.
  • Try to source email information while conducting your crawl. Saving time on link checking is not simply about how you can speed up the work that you have to do in order to see whether links are what you would consider to be ‘good’ placements but you can also speed up the resulting process of asking for links to be changed or removed by collecting information such as contact points while undertaking your crawling process.

Why link clean ups are vital for long term success
There are plenty of misconceptions surrounding Google and their handling of backlinks that they believe to be either “spammy”, “low quality” or “paid”. Where some believe that Google simply discredit these placements from the power that your website holds, others say that each and every instance takes you further towards a manual review.

With Google even more determined to create a better user experience within their search engine, they have become more active in the pursuit of the elimination of websites that they believe to be trying to manipulate their search engine ranking algorithm, meaning that backlinks are high on their agenda when it comes to seeing whether your website is potentially something that they need to take action against.

The release of Google Penguin, an algorithmic sanity checker that is rolled out within the search engine results at periodic times, is designed to automatically target websites that contain a link profile that can be seen to be low quality or intended to manipulate, and we can assure you that once hit by this update, the pain suffered can span as long as 12 months before you recover, even after you have cleaned up your link profile.

Although Google have an automated ‘hunter’ of websites with low quality or manipulative backlink profiles, they still continue to monitor and take action against websites that their own systems flag may need looking into, often meaning that humans then take a deeper look into the link profile that your website holds at that time.

With obtaining Google rankings in a highly competitive market already an uphill struggle for many, allowing your website to be scrutinised to this extent and giving Google something that they could potentially take action against your site for simply means that you are living with the risk of penalisation each and every day.

Clean up your backlink profile, remove or disavow any backlinks that you believe could potentially be thought as harmful or “paid”, and ensure that you minimise the risk that one day Google could bring your website crashing out of their search engine rankings without any warning.