All links are not created equal: How to spot and fix a bad link

There is no denying it – Google loves links. The prevalence of Inbound links and their impact on SEO has been consistent for years, weathering multiple algorithm updates. 

But what does this mean?, It means that Google really values the moment a website decides to provide a link to another. They see this as a vote of confidence and trust, as well as a marker to say “Hey, this website has provided us value, and helped within our specific niche”.

This can however be a double edged sword as a spammy site that decides to give it it’s vote of confidence is a disaster that can affect your search engine results ranking.  Google looks at all links in the same way – good or bad – they will affect you regardless.

So, what makes a bad link?

Whilst is easy enough to say how awful bad links are, you need to know what actually constitutes one. Here’s a rundown of what makes a bad link:

  • Paid links. – plain and simple, paying for a blogger to right a favourable post about your brand, product or service and including a ‘dofollow’ link within that post is bad in Google’s eyes.
  • Low quality directory sites – garnering links from non-specific link farms thinly veiled as ‘directories’ isn’t great.
  • Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites – similar to ‘keyword stuffing’, throwing multiple links in your sites footer or hidden within a template will be spotted by Google and penalised.
  • Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature – whilst answering blog posts or commenting upon topics with helpful links makes sense, simply cramming in your website’s homepage or including it in your signature and commenting on all topics possible will be picked up on by Google. Don’t do it.
  • Beware of a low Domain Authority as this maybe down to being penalised – if a site decides to link to you in what seems an honest and open way, check them out before deciding whether to disavow the link or not. If they have a low Domain Authority, it may be because they have been previously penalised for being spammy.

Whilst all of the above warning signs should be taken into account, it’s not always so obvious. A poor quality link that can hurt your SEO can also include:

  • Links from irrelevant pages – If you sell digital marketing and a baking blog links to your site, the link will carry less weight and potentially have a negative impact on your SEO. Also, it isn’t going to bring any relevant visitors to your site so would be best to avoid.
  • Spammy blog comments – You’ve seen them before – comments in terrible english offering an unrelated service or opportunity to make a huge sum in only three hours, FROM HOME! – Whilst your site may not offer this exact miracle, un-specific and repetitive blog comments posted around the web will have a negative impact on your SEO.
  • Link exchanges – these a membership groups where HTML code is shared across member sites and linked banners are placed on member sites. The idea being that all members will include each other’s links and give the whole group a collective boost. Unfortunately Google is smart enough to spot these systems a mile off and you’ll quickly get penalised for including the HTML on your site, most likely before you see any real SEO benefit.

What to look out for

So now we’re fairly clear on the many types of bad link scenario you need to avoid – here’s some tips on how to spot them:

Non-niche directories with no particular focus or criteria – stay away from these super directories.

  • Non-genuine blog comments with spammy link text – If a blog or site wants to link to you or does, check out their comments. Do they make sense? Are they relevant and link free? If not, it’s maybe time to disavow.
  • Any sites completely unrelated and irrelevant to your site – as previously mentioned, not only will Google notice that they are not related to your niche and penalise, they are also not going to bring in any relevant traffic.

So now you’re all set. You know exactly what to look out for. Once you spot a bad link you need to know how to protect your site. Here’s a four step process to getting a link removed:

  • Contact the sites
  • Request removal of the link via email or call
  • Verify the removal of the link or contact again (up to 3 times to prove due diligence).
  • Take the matter into your own hands and submit a file of bad links to the Google disavow tool. This tells google not to recognise any links submitted as reliable. If you can be proactive with this, you will save yourself from penalisation when you fail to get a response from a spammy site.

There are many ways to spot a bad link and many ways to treat one. They can vary in severity and can certainly depend on your industry niche and business sector. Some industries are naturally more open to spam than others so it’s always worth bearing this in mind before setting out on your journey to link strength perfection!

For more information on how to remove bad links visit this blog.

About the author

The director of Digital 22, Rikki Lear successfully runs the UK based inbound marketing agency. He has been in the digital marketing industry for 8 years and is certified by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Google, Bing and Hubspot.