The answer is an unequivocal yes! Inbound links to your website that are spammy or keyword driven can definitely hurt your rankings and keep you down.
The inspiration for this post came from a recent training session where I worked with a company to analyse all their bad links and trained staff on how to remove them and spot new links in the future.
If you’ve had any SEO and link building work done on your website in the last 5 years it would be a really good idea to get your links checked.
Why can some links be bad?
Links are one of the big signals to Google that your website is worth placing near the top of the rankings and a lot of SEO companies and website owners went out and arranged/purchased/scammed as many links as they could get to make their websites more popular. This was false popularity. No person had actually found the website of use and genuinely linked to it. It’s trying to game the search rankings.
Google has realised this for some time so to create less spammy search listings the big Gee released a couple of updates to its search algorithm called Penguin. Version 2 of this change was released in May 2013, version 3 in Oct 2014 and a more continual version was released in Dec 2014, so if you started heading down the rankings around any of these times it may mean you were affected.
Right now you don’t want any spammy or keyword driven links pointing to your website.
What Is A Bad Link?
Its not that difficult to spot a dodgy link and here’s a few pointers.
Does the link come from a poor quality site?
Poor quality doesn’t necessarily mean a bad design but it means a website where you can’t actually see its purpose, it may just be there to list links. Sites from bad neighbourhoods are not good. You don’t want porn sites linking to your florist shop!
Is the link on a non-relevant site?
If you sell financial services you shouldn’t have links from a lingerie shop! A link is a vote so it needs to be relevant.
Did you pay for links???
If you have ever, ever, ever paid for a link then get it removed right now! If Google hasn’t spotted it yet they may do in the future so remove it and keep safe.
Are your inbound links keyword rich?
This means does links look like this.
“John purchased his new Sony HD TV from Birmingham based TV Specialists….”
Do links to your website appear in the comments of lots of blogs? This is now called comment spam, a few years ago it was called link building! Get all spammy links in blogs and forums removed.
Any article, press release or blog post that you or an SEO company has written specifically for links is also bad. Guest blogging has also recently been hit so get all these links removed or no followed as well!
Any link that has been automatically generated can also be seen as low quality so get rid of them.
What Is A Good Link
It’s a link that you don’t control.
It’s an editorial link.
It’s a link that you don’t know you’ve got.
Link building is not dead but it has changed and its probably best to call it marketing! If you tell enough people about your products and services more people will probably buy from you and more people will probably link to you.
Write genuine content that people want to share. THIS DOES NOT MEAN PR/MARKETING ARTICLES!
Quality original content is research or how to do something, how to take care of something, its not how great and cheap your product is. Become an expert on your subject and help others.
Back in 2006 I worked with a website to create a worldwide conversion chart for clothing sizes, this was almost unheard of on the web and it got linked to from national newspapers, blogs and other sites without us even knowing. It was quality original content.
Right now links are still a good way to improve your rankings but you need to be careful how you generate them and try to get them without even knowing it.
How Do I Know If I’ve Been Hit
There are two ways of working it out. The first is that you’ve received a web spam or unnatural linking email from Google. If you did, clean up your links and submit a reconsideration request.
The other way is to look at your analytics software and see if your rankings dropped around May 2013, Oct 2014 or Dec 2014, if they did you may have been hit by the Penguin algorithm but there is no absolute way to know.
The way to fix the hit it is to get all the bad links removed and start marketing your website with a strategy and generating new natural links – fingers crossed you will automatically recover.
How To Remove The Links
Its time consuming but not as hard as you think.
Go to Google’s Webmaster Tools (if you are signed up) and download the ‘Latest Links’ as a spreadsheet.
Go through ALL the links find the ones that look spammy or dodgy, there maybe a lot.
Find the contact details of the website owner (usually on a contact page) and try 3 times to get the links removed waiting 7 days in between each request. Don’t pay anyone and if you can’t get the link removed mark it to be placed in what’s called a Disavow file.
You MUST try to get all the links removed manually, Google may even ask you to prove that you have tried to contact the websites involved if you want to use a Disavow file.
Once all the bad links are gone keep generating new natural links through your normal marketing channels and then wait…….fingers crossed you will go up the rankings. If you don’t it may be that links were not playing a huge part in the drop but you will be protected into the future.
About The Future
Google have already tested a version of the search results taking links out of the equation and it didn’t work out but it does show that this is something they are looking at. In the future links probably won’t count, I have no idea what will….if I did I’d be on a beach with a glass in my hand!
Fire away with any question in the comments and good look with your link building/removing.