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How to evaluate bad links

Danny Watkinson
Digital Marketing Executive, Adwords Professional and Technical SEO Wizard at dijitul.

Old, low quality back links could be holding your website back without you knowing

How to evaluate bad linksFor a long time in the world of SEO and online marketing the link was simply the holy grail. Every marketing campaign centered around the acquisition of links to your website from external sources – and in truth, for a while at least, it really was carried out using a “by any means necessary” style of thinking. It didn’t matter where the link was from or how you got it, as long as it pointed to your website with some lovely keyword rich anchor text. Now, of course, the link still (at least for the time being) carries a fair bit of weight and link earning is still a cornerstone of many SEO campaigns, but undoubtedly things have changed and links can now act as foe as well as friend.

As years passed by and updates such as Google Penguin came into force, Google became wise of unethical link building tactics and made changes to try and ensure that “good” links are the only ones which will help a website prosper. We wrote a few months back about this in some depth, showing how to check your website for negative back links, but even once you’ve found your back link profile, how do you identify the good from the bad?

Well, below we’ve listed a few factors you can look at when evaluating the quality of a link, and what the tell tale signs of a bad link are.

  • First up is relevancy. – Just how relevant to your website topic is the website which is linking to you? Of course, websites from varying industries can link to each other for totally legitimate purposes, but if you’re selling shoes online and you’ve got links to your site pointing from Chinese aromatherapy websites and other completely irrelevant sources, then the truth is it probably isn’t a natural link. Instead it’s probably been shoehorned in somewhere simply for the sake of having a link. Google certainly won’t be impressed by this, and when they see very little overlap between the websites topic coverage, and no legible reason for the link to be there, you’re probably going to get punished. So, when checking your back link profile, look into what the websites linking to you are about, if they’re irrelevant and linking to you for no real reason, get rid.
  • Second on the list is Domain Authority (DA). This is basically (as the name suggests) a way of marking how authoritative a website as a whole is. There are plenty of domain authority variations checker tools out there to download or use (we use the Mozbar personally) and as you could probably guess, the higher the domain authority the better it is to have a link from that site. The one’s you have to worry about are the ones which have extremely low domain authority. It’s natural that some sites, for example brand new ones, are going to have pretty low domain authority, and a link from them may not do much good but it probably won’t do much bad either. It’s the ones with low domain authority for a reason which are the real trouble. Masses of poor back links or a previous Google penalty are just a couple of ways in which a site can have its domain authority decreased or completely removed. So if you’ve got websites linking to you with very little DA, then it’s certainly worth checking their link profile to see if there are any tell tale signs of which it’s so low. Of course, if you have any doubts, get it removed!
  • Another give away that a link to your site is probably not doing all that much good is to look at the number of other links on the page/website that you’re being linked to from, or more specifically, if there’s a high number of other links. This won’t always necessarily hurt your website, dependent on other factors, however it certainly isn’t going to do you any good. Google has taken a very dim view of this for years ever since it began to punish generic directory usage, and now if it see’s thousands of outbound links going to a massive array of different website’s the first assumption it’s going to make is that this is not a natural link, but purely done for “SEO purposes”. Plus, if that isn’t enough, just consider this, if someone just lets literally anyone add a link to their website, then the chances are they don’t care much about the quality of what they’re offering. You don’t want to be associated with low quality sites.
  • Finally we come onto comment links, or more specifically, comment spam. Whilst commenting on blogs should not be used as a full on link building tactic, it’s certainly not a negative thing to comment on a post and link your name back to your website…if you do it right. A value adding comment on a relevant topic, done so under your own name, will not get you in anyone’s bad books, in fact its one of the great things about the web. However things used to be done differently, and some people are still suffering from the consequences. There was a time when commenting relentlessly on every blog you could find, leaving a generic response, with your name down as anchor text, was once a widely used topic to bring links in by the dozen – and Google has taken action on that. So, when searching through your back link profile, if you’re suddenly finding tens, or even hundreds of comments that you (or someone else) once carried out, posting generic responses on irrelevant websites, then it’s probably best that you either go in and change them manually, or get them disavowed.

Now, this is just a small cross section of some of the most recognisable characteristics of a poor quality link which could be holding your website back, and there are some cases in which personal judgement and common sense has to be used. For example, poor quality relevant websites, or low DA but high traffic websites. But, in a post penguin world, it’s just as important to look back over your old links, as it is to go out and try and bring in new ones, so make sure you add regular back link checks into your routine to make sure you aren’t being held back in the long run. Also, please feel free to share your favourite bad link identifying tactics in the comments below.

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