If your website’s organic traffic recently dropped, chances are you might have been penalized by Google. This may have been caused by unnatural links pointing to your website. If you have Google webmaster tools installed on your site you might receive a message from Google warning you about the unnatural links pointing to your site. Check your messages in GWT. In some cases Google may include examples of the unnatural links within the warning message, but often this is not the case. This warning message may have been caused from an algorithm update, or your site was manually flagged by a member of Google’s web spam team. In either case, rebuilding your websites reputation will require you to examine your websites link portfolio and remove the harmful inbound links.
Where to get a websites’ backlink data?
You can get a websites’ backlink data from many places with different levels of accuracy. The first place to start is Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools, then you can look at other platforms like Open Site Explorer, MajesticSEO and/or ahrefs.com.
When examining the backlinks on your website, there are many unnatural indicators to look out for.
Examples of unnatural linking behavior to look out for when doing a link audit:
- Paid links.
- Link farms / Content directories.
- Links that point to 404 errors.
- Majority of the links are pointing to websites homepage.
- Very little branded keywords.
- Many over-optimized anchor texts.
- Many of the same C-block IP addresses (links coming from similar IP addresses, check yours here).
- Anchor texts that are not related to the page it links to.
- Many sitewide links (lots of links from small amount of domains).
Some additional patterns to look at….
- Anchor frequency
- non-branded textlinks
- Article sites/spinning
- Sponsored posts
- Sponsored blogrolls
- Sponsored footer links
- Suspicious content page
- Suspicious domain
- Content mismatch
The idea is to identify patterns that stand out and look unnatural. For example, you might want to take a look at the title tags of the pages that link to your website, often this is an excellent indicator to determine if the pages linking to your website are relevant.
You have Identified your bad links, now what?
Try reaching out the webmaster of the websites that host your links and ask them to remove the unnatural links, but trust me it is a very painful process. Some website owners will even charge link removal fees. Alternatively, you can disavow the unnatural links by submitting a text document within Google Webmaster Tools. Be advised that once you disavow an unnatural link, there is no way to get it back, therefore, proceed with caution.
Here’s a summary of the Link Cleanup process:
- Download all the fresh and historic links from OSE or MajesticSEO.
- Pull all the anchors and check them for volume. The higher the volume, the more likely they are bad links. Volume…meaning the # of the same anchor text.
- Identify the bad links from that batch:
a. People don’t typically link naturally with non-branded, high performing keywords.
a. Two methods:
- By a Script, or
- Manually in Excel looking for patterns. (Eg: sort data by anchor text).
Then, serve a takedown notice:
- Write a script to get contact info (whois info, or by crawling and finding contact links).
- Then use email software to email everyone with a terse, direct takedown notice.
- Submit a reconsideration request to Google.
- In your message to Google, you need to detail everything you’ve done to rectify the situation.
Now that you have identified and removed the unnatural links from your website you can submit a reconsideration request to Google. Look at this as an opportunity to turn in a clean slate and begin strictly building natural links, improve the quality and frequency of your writing, decrease your overall bounce rate, and provide a better overall user experience.
This post was co-authored by Shimon Sandler and Eli Orgel.