If your website has been online for more than a few months, you should have other websites linking to your content. This is a good thing! This is what we want!
Until we don’t.
Good links will make a huge difference in your SEO efforts. It’s almost impossible to rank well without quality incoming links.
If we need good links – what is a bad link?
Google says: “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
Where did the bad links come from?
You, or your SEO person, probably signed up for link schemes a long time ago. “I link to you so you will link to me.” You didn’t worry about the quality of the website you were linking to.
Page rank improvement took a LOT of backlinks, the more the merrier.
More recently a source of bad links could be your competition’s SEO firm. Bad hat seo will deliberately link bad sites to their competitors triggering Google penalties. Sabotage is just as likely amongst small companies as it is for the big guys.
How do you find out who is linking to you?
The links you need to care about are the links that Google recognizes. Since it’s in Google’s best interest to create a healthy internet, they make it easy to find out who links to your website.
Sign into your Google Search Console*.
Go to Search Traffic > Links to Your Site > More
Under “Who Links Most” click “More”
You can then see a list of your latest inbound links
If you’ve been doing a good job with your link building, the first tier of links should be legitimate inbound links from respectable websites. Keep scrolling and you’ll start seeing sites that you don’t recognize.
Is this a good link or is this a bad link?
Just because you don’t recognize the site, that doesn’t make it a spammy site. You need to download the list, go through each of the questionable listings and evaluate them.
Search Engine Journal’s Alex Johnson suggests that you look for the following red flags:
directories with no particular focus or criteria
blog comments with spammy link text (ie, not your name)
sites completely unrelated to your site
low quality or spun article links
I like using the MozBar extension for Chrome which will give you a spam score to use as one factor in determining bad guyism.
How to get rid of the bad links
Seriously, you have to ask nicely and start by saying please.
Find the contact information for the website and ask for a manual removal. If you can’t find the contact information check http://whois.icann.org/. Wait a couple of days and check back. Is the link still there? Ask again.
Make sure you keep meticulous records of who you contacted, how (phone, email, contact form). You’ll need to prove that you tried to be a good guy when you ask Google to disavow the links.
Realistically most of the websites willing to remove their link to your website are not the really bad guys. For those really bad links you have to go directly to Google. Follow their guidelines and most of the links should be dealt with.
As with everything else on your website’s SEO project list, this is a start, wait, start again project. As long as Google cares about bad links, you need to be actively working on keeping the bad guys from hurting your website’s reputation.
*If you are one of my clients contact me for your Search Console information or help cleaning up your incoming links.