Spammy backlinks will always be the bane of any website owner – often you have no clue the links have even been created, but there they are: unfavourable votes of confidence from shady websites.
Disavowing or not disavowing certain links to your website will always be a dilemma. We want the SEO juice, but if most of the sites linking to your website contain adult or gambling material, you could be doing something very wrong. Your backlinks can easily be seen as irrelevant, spammy and possibly even illegal.
But then, as Google said when they introduced their disavow tool in 2013, “If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google search results.” You have to be careful who you break ties with and how.
Disavowing links is like pointing the finger at your younger sibling when that Chinese vase in the living room gets broken. You are passing the blame, claiming innocence to the search engine (your mother), and saying that you don’t want to be connected with that bad site with the low metrics (the vase incident). You are letting them know that it was not you who placed the link to your site there, and that you want to be in the safe zone in case they get a penalty.
Getting a Google penalty means being sent to the naughty seat. But unfortunately this punishment lasts more than just a few minutes. Your ranking will be lost and potential customers may not be able to find you in the search results.
Who’s linking to me anyway?
To track down all those links you need some serious know-how; some of our clients have not hundreds or thousands, but hundreds of thousands of backlinks out there in the blogosphere. So we use an array of methods and tools which we connect with Search Console (Google Webmaster tools) to tap into data from dozens of link backends, analysing every inbound link with 97 link metrics and filters to accurately build a 360° backlink profile of your website. This complex process we repeat every single time that we produce a new backlink profile report.
It’s heavy-duty work, but the results are incredibly valuable to a business that is reliant on its internet presence but runs the risk of being connected to a dodgy site.
Finding the link on the site
Let’s say you have identified that your website has a backlink on a certain website. Now you go to the site to see the link.
This is often done easily enough using the find command and looking for the domain, but when the link doesn’t appear with an initial search, we turn to more sophisticated means, combining software with manual searches to not only locate the link, but also inform us as to whether that link is follow or nofollow.
How do I know if a site linking to mine is bad?
This is where things get tricky, as there is no universal law to govern this area of backlink management. There are many tools available to help make our work easier, but you often still have to rely on your own judgment.
When beginning to curate your backlink profile, the first thing to do is get rid of the obviously bad websites linking to you:
- Sites with malware
- Sites with adult content
- Gambling sites
- Websites with suspiciously-placed anchor text
For further information on recognising bad-quality sites, you can check out our previous article about the release of Penguin 4.0.
What we look for in a healthy website
Developed by Moz and scored on a 100-point logarithmic scale, Domain Authority (or just DA) combines many link metrics into one score to rank a domain or subdomain. It is best used to track a website’s strength and presence over time, and to compare one website to another. The higher the DA the better established the site should be, although a score of 15 and above should be acceptable for link placement purposes.
The related Page Authority gives you the strength of an individual page within a domain and can also be helpful when determining the benefit or detriment of a link on a certain site.
Citation flow is a number predicting how influential a URL might be based on how many sites link to it. The biggest websites on the internet have enormously high citation flow scores. With 100 the maximum score, the most reputable sites will surpass even the 90 mark, as we can see in the image of Twitter’s homepage below:
Trust flow is a number predicting how trustworthy a page is, based on the fact that trustworthy sites tend to link to trustworthy neighbours. This score shows the quality of the sites a website links to. A trusted site will have a higher score, whereas those that link out to questionable ones will have a much lower score.
The Majestic toolbar clearly lists these two important metrics for any website.
General look and feel
There are times when metrics and tools simply don’t give you the true picture of a website. It’s then time to take a step back and analyse the website according to your own common sense.
How does the site look – does it have wonky text and blurry images? Is it relevant to your own website’s offerings or completely unrelated? Is the website a place you feel comfortable having a link to your site? Would you want a vote of confidence from this site or is it something you’d rather not be associated with?
Backlink management often has to do with removing the most ostensibly dangerous sites from your backlink profile, so here we also ask ourselves, is this website harmful, harmless or neutral?
You can tell a lot from a site that’s plagued with ads all over the place; there is no way that a good website will allow their site to be covered with them. But is not just the quantity that matters. If you see something that might be considered false advertising, it is just one more reason to disavow that site in your backlink profile – think dating sites, meet Russian girls, magic pills, dietary supplements, cures for chronic diseases, etc.
Last but not least, we always disavow the sites that contain malware. And for that, Google makes the job easier for you with a bright-red screen to warn you about it.
Unfortunately, though, you don’t always get the warning, and that is why we recommend using antivirus software to help detect the malware threat for when those big flashing lights don’t appear. We have noticed that Avast has shown us warnings when other antivirus software hasn’t.
Backlink management is a complex but necessary beast, with what’s described above only representing the very basics of what we do in order to ensure the best Google results. Get it right, and you’ll be doing your bit to maintain a healthy website with good rankings; ignore it, and you may end up in hot water.