If SEOs don’t already live in fear of the next Google update, they’re certainly wary about it. Your site may have survived wave after wave of Penguin and Panda updates, but the next one could certainly impact your site and drop it in the SERPs. One thing that can easily tank your rankings is a spammy link profile.
Whether you purchased some bad links from a cheap SEO service in the past or joined a bad link network, links from these and other spammy sources do more harm than good these days. Requesting their removal or disavowing them is the next logical step, but you’re sure to have accumulated some good back links along the way as well. With thousands of links pointing to your site, how do you know which ones to remove and which ones you can allow to remain?
Interestingly, there’s still a lot of confusion about which links should be removed. If you approach the removal and disavowal process too recklessly, you might end up pruning more good links than bad and do your site even more harm. So to help you form a proper strategy for removing bad links, here is a guideline to identify and remove them.
Create a List of All the Links That Point to Your Site
To sift through your links, you need to create a list, preferably in the form of a spreadsheet. According to Evoluted.net:
You can do this using several websites, I’d personally recommend using, moz.com’s Open Site Explorer to find and download a spreadsheet containing all of the links to your website. Once downloaded you want to arrange the spreadsheet so you have, the URLs of the websites the links are coming from, the linking websites page authority and finally if the link is a ‘no follow’ or ‘follow’ link.
Identify the Bad Links
Once you’ve formatted the spreadsheet properly, you can start identifying the links you don’t want. Bad links tend to come from link networks, footer links, blogrolls and other blocks of links, site-wide links, blog comments, forum profile signature links, web directories, article directories, and unnatural anchor text distribution. As you can see, bad links can come from a lot of different sources, but you can easily identify them using the following criteria from Logical Media Group:
* Are the rankings of the website low? We use Moz’s toolbar to evaluate a website’s trust and authority. Sites with a MozRank of less than three could indicate a low quality site.
* Is the site a low quality directory? Can anyone easily obtain a link on the site? Generic directories with thousands of listings have no real value anymore, and have the potential to be harmful to your own rankings.
* Is the site relevant? Does it have to do with the industry in which your website is in? If it doesn’t make sense for your client or website to have a link somewhere, it could be detrimental.
* Does the anchor text make sense? Having spammy or unrelated anchor text sends a red flag to the search engines of a bad link.
Be Careful When Using Automated Tools to Identify Bad Links
There are a number of tools that can help you identify bad links on your site to help sift through them faster. The problem though is that they have a high tendency to identify some natural links that have been driving great traffic as being risky. Julie Joyce of Search Engine Land who happens to use both LinkRisk and Link Detox has this to say about them:
My site’s link profile is high risk according to LinkRisk and low risk according to Link Detox. Different data source and proprietary scoring algorithms are obviously among the reasons for the discrepancies, but this still leaves me confused. How is your average webmaster supposed to make an accurate decision about which links might need to be removed or disavowed?
Here we have an example of two different tools giving conflicting information. Obviously, both tools have their own reasons for identifying a certain link as being spammy, but if you want to be absolutely sure, check out these links yourself. It would be a shame to have a site-wide link removed from a blogroll that was listing legitimate sites from the same niche just because you didn’t take a closer look at it.
How Do You Remove a Link?
Now that you’ve identified the back links that you don’t want, you’ll want to remove them. The first logical step is to contact the webmasters of these websites and politely ask for the links to be removed. Those that do reply might take a while before they do so as the inbox might not be monitored as closely as it should. Don’t be surprised if you can’t find contact information for many of them or that few of them will actually reply. Google wants you to at least try before anything else. You might encounter some webmasters who will ask for a fee to have a link removed. Don’t get duped into paying it though. Just save their email reply for additional steps you might need to take.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get them all removed, so the next step will be to disavow the remaining links using Google’s disavow tool. The disavow tool basically submits these links to Google so that they no longer be considered when ranking your site in the SERPs. Why not use this tool rather than have to contact the webmasters first? Search Engine Journal says:
There is a possibility, as Google says, that the tool doesn’t come with a 100 percent guarantee to get links removed.
So you shouldn’t rely on it as a shortcut for repairing your site’s back link profile as it doesn’t always work. Weird, but that’s Google for you.
In case your site received a manual penalty from Google, you’ll have to submit a reconsideration request. Keep in mind that you’ll still have to do the aforementioned steps before submitting this as you will also need to explain what you have already done to resolve your violations. This is where you’ll want to include any emails from webmasters trying to scam money from you to remove links from their site.
Keep in mind that it can take a bit of time before your site bounces back. Monitor your stats regularly and once your site starts ranking normally again, make sure you review your back link profile so it doesn’t happen again.