What are Poor, Toxic, or Suspicious links?The first thing you need to do is to find out what links are responsible for your penalty or WMT notification. A majority of these links will be obvious as they are either spammy, belong to poor IP neighborhoods, have duplicate content, malware, etc. The basic fundamentals are usually the best ways to determine a good or bad linking profile, and returning to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is a great place to start.
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field
Advanced quality guidelinesIn other words, refrain from doing the following:
- Automatically generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or links
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
- Abusing rich snippets markup
- Sending automated queries to Google
- Domain location
- IP Address shares a neighborhood with known suspicious websites
- Low/No Pagerank
- Poor HTML structure
Additional criteriaIf your website or a client’s site uses or abuses any of these, or is linked to from websites that do this, then that is enough of a flag to request a link removal. When you go through your WMT or other proprietary link services, most of the links you’ll want to remove will be obvious as their domain name alone will abuse the above guidelines.
Link Removal ChartBruce Clay has a Link Removal Link Chart which offers a workflow for manually determining whether it is worth the time to contact a website administrator to remove a link before the Disavow tool is used. This is a great chart for links that are not easily recognizable as toxic or poor. Essentially, this chart offers a quick way to determine the quality of a link, and which of three actions should be done:
- Request change of anchor text
- Request removal of link or nofollow
Link Pruning / Removal ProcessAfter you have determined what links have disparaged your site’s SEO campaign, it is time to do something about it.
Contacting AdministratorsThe first thing to do is make sincere attempts to contact the website administrator to have the links removed. Most quality sites have contact information readily available, but if you have a poor linking scheme, the sites that you’ll be dealing with more than likely do not have an email address listed. A simple WHOIS lookup should be sufficient to find at least one email to contact. The email you send should be professional and respectful, but assertive. If you can, list all the URLs on their site that point to your site to make it easy for them to locate and remove. I recommend that the first attempt to contact them via email should not include any threats such as reporting their site to Google, mentioning Google’s Disavow Tool, or legal action. Only on the second or third email should you mention reporting their site or the Disavow tool. If there is no reply or refusal to remove or change links, that is when it is time to use the Disavow tool.
Google Disavow ToolUsing the Disavow tool requires ownership status on a Webmaster Tools account and you can find more information on how to make a helpful and efficient disavow text file at their help page. This tool allows the user to create a text file with specific URLs or entire domains to be disavowed by Google. Google recommends that the user makes all attempts to contact the administrator of the site(s) that feature the potentially poor links and to have those links removed. This tool requires the user to create a text file (.txt) that list the links that need to be disavowed. Hashtags (‘#’) may be used to make comments, such as explaining attempts to reach a site’s administrator have been futile. Example text file:
# example.com removed most links, but missed thesehttp://spam.example.com/stuff/comments.html http://spam.example.com/stuff/paid-links.html # Contacted owner of shadyseo.com on 7/1/2012 to # ask for link removal but got no response domain:shadyseo.com
Disavow and Link Removal CriticismOne commenter on a SEO Roundtable post regarding spammy links suggests to continue with what Google has always said: Forget SEO and continue to write and provide great content. Furthermore, the commenter suggests returning to this golden rule because they had discovered that the time taken to create a Disavow text file was digging into the time they could have been creating new content. While creating new quality content is always good, the problem with ignoring bad links is that if you received a warning directly from Google then action must take place. In other words, creating new content or continuously working to make your website better for the end-user is always a priority, but maintaining a quality linking profile is also now a priority. Making others want to link to you through their quality blogs is a great way to quality backlinks.
Link Removal ToolsAs you can tell, this is a lengthy process. You’ve already taken the time to find the hundreds or even thousands of poor quality sites linking to your own, and now you have to contact these sites or create a disavow tool. Below are a few tools that will assist in finding which links are toxic, finding contact information, and help in the process of keeping up with link removals.
Link Detox(http://www.linkdetox.com) Link Detox is a subsidiary of LinkResearchTools, a well-known link research company with a variety of tools to help SEOs discover both good and bad links. Having a LinkResearchTool account provides you with a set number of credits to use the Link Detox tool. If you do not have a LinkResearchTool account and prefer to use your own proprietary link research tool, Link Detox tool only prices range from $79 to $1799 per month. Below is a run down of their services as taken from their Get Started PDF.
- Crawls data live using up to 22 sources, including SEOMoz, Sistrix, and their own proprietary database. The 22 sources have to be provided by the proprietary service’s API.
- Option to let Link Detox know if your site received a “unnatural link warning” from Google
- Option to upload a list of links
- Option to upload a list of links already submitted to Google’s Disavow tool
- Classifies links as either Healthy, Suspicious, Toxic
- Data can organized with filters and downloaded
- Finds the website administrator’s email address
Link Health CriteriaLink Detox uses “very common spam link rules” to identify bad links, but admits that there can be some fault.
Rmoov(http://www.rmoov.com) Free to $99/month Rmoov focuses on contacting website administrators and maintaining the status of links removed. The user must supply a list of links to be removed.
- Add a list of URLs
- Pulls contact information for each domain
- Customize email templates
- Creates and sends emails
- Follow up and reminders
- Automatically checks links and updates reports
- Exports reports to Google Docs
Remove’em(http://www.removeem.com/) $249 (Self-serve, one site) This is supposed to be an all-in-one tool that helps discover bad links, find contact information, and maintain a report of actions taken.
- Discovers bad links using Majestic SEO, SEOMoz, Aherfs, Strike Iron as sources
- Creates a database to easily contact website administrators
- Email personas – perfect for agencies
- Searches sites for emails and/or contact pages
- Allows you to insert your own email if one is found
- Not a simple solution to contact obtuse directories where contact information requires whois lookup
- Report/Status page
ConclusionTo reiterate the workflow should go:
- Discover poor, bad, suspicious links
- Determine whether the links need to be removed, changed, nofollowed
- Change anchor text
- Change to nofollow
- Remove link
- If there is no response from contact, disavow links.
- Rinse and repeat
Steve Scott is the CEO & Director of Training at the Tampa SEO Training Academy. He has taught SEO skills to people from around the world and currently offers his hands-on search engine optimization training workshops in Tampa to individuals and businesses of all sizes. Corporate SEO training classes and consulting are also available.