How Do I Identify Bad Backlinks? – A Beginners Guide
Step One: Has Your Website Been Hit With a PenaltyBefore diving straight in and identifying the low quality backlinks it’s first good to establish whether or not your website may have been hit with a Google penalty. There are two types of Google link penalties, the first being a manual penalty and the second being an algorithmic (Penguin) penalty.
- The Manual Penalty
- If your website has been hit with a manual penalty you will be notified in Google Webmaster Tools with a detection of unnatural links message. It is unknown as to what causes Google to begin reviewing your website on a manual basis however there is speculation that someone submitting a spam report against your website or targeting overly competitive niches such as loans or insurance will trigger Google to monitor your website more closely.
- The Algorithmic (Penguin) Penalty
- Google won’t notify you if you have been hit with an algorithmic penalty, however you may begin to see a decrease in organic search traffic around the time of algorithm refreshes. The best way to determine loss of traffic around algorithm changes is through syncing up your website analytics with the Panguin tool. The Panguin tool benchmarks the dates of major Google algorithm changes against your organic search traffic.
Figure 1.0 – Example Panguin tool data over 7 month period
Step Two: Gathering Your Backlink DataUnderstanding the severity of your backlink profile is key to the clean up. There are many tools out there that help you discover what links point to your website and to get a full understanding it’s imperative that you use a range of these tools to ensure no stone is left unturned. Tools that I find useful are:
Figure 2.0 – Link Data in Excel
Step Three: Collating Your Backlink DataOnce you have all your backlink data from the above 4 resources split out into individual sheets the next step is to collate all of this data into one spreadsheet so we have a complete overview of all the backlinks. We want to keep consistency throughout our list of backlinks and as Google Webmaster Tools only allows you to export linking URLs we will focus purely on collating a list of linking URLs. Create a new sheet within your current Excel Spreadsheet and name it “Collated”. We now want to copy and paste over all of our linking URLs from each individual sheet into our newly formed “Collated” sheet. Of course there are going to be duplicate URLs in our collated spreadsheet as high authority links are likely to be flagged in all backlink discovery tools. In order to remove duplicate entries we need to highlight all entries in our collated list sheet.
Figure 3.0 – Selecting Our List of Linking URLsOnce we have our linking URLs column highlighted we need to remove the duplicate entries by navigating to “Data” > “Remove Duplicates”.
Figure 3.1 – Remove Duplicate EntriesMake sure the correct column is selected, in this case “Column A” and click “OK”. You should now be presented with a message notifying you of how many duplicate entries have been deleted.
Figure 3.2 – Successful Removal of Duplicate EntriesWe now have a complete list of URLs and can begin the process of identifying the ones that are both live and harmful to our website.
Step Four: Identifying the Dead LinksAlthough most backlink research tools aim to provide the latest data some can be caught short with the data they provide, webmasters may have recently taken down websites or removed pages where our links may be present. In order to get the most up to date data we need to do a real time check of each backlink to check whether our link is still live. SEO Tools for Excel is a great Excel plugin that allows you to check live links on the fly with the use of a clever formula. Follow the below video tutorial to installing the plugin. Once the plugin is installed we now need to enter the formula to check our list of URLs for any links pointing back to our website. Insert into column “B1”
=CheckBacklink(A1,"http://www.YourWebsiteURL.com*")and press return (replace http://www.YourWebsiteURL.com with your actual URL. Leave the trailing *). SEO Tools for Excel will now go and check the URL in column A1 for any active hyperlink to your website (including your website’s inner pages). Simply drag that formula down to the bottom of your spreadsheet and let the plugin determine the active links pointing to your website. Once completed you should have messages similar to the ones pictured below.
Figure 4.0 – Identifying the Active BacklinksWe can now see a list of the current active backlinks pointing to our website, we can also see instances of links that return 404 errors, internal 500 server errors or where the website’s webmaster has already removed our link. The next step in the process is to delete the rows where the plugin has failed to find a link to our website. The rows left are our list of active backlinks that we can begin to categorise and decide whether they are harmful or not.
Step Five: Identifying the Bad LinksMost online marketers can quickly identify what looks like a harmful link purely from looking at the URL, however it’s still good to delve in and manually analyse a given set of domains based on the following criteria.
- Low Domain Flow Metrics (Majestic Citation & Trust Flow, MOZ Domain Authority and Page Authority)
- Irrelevant CCTLD (Links from country level domains where your business has no target audience / operating presence) e.g. A link to a local UK florist from http://www.SomeRandomDomain.ru/
- Unrelated links from websites that bear no relevance to the content / theme of our website
- The number of outbound links from the page your backlink is situated – the more outbound links the less credible your link becomes
- Website home page harbours 0 or N/A Google Page Rank (N/A could be an indicator that the website has been banned)
- No social activity (Likes, Shares & Retweets)
- Overly optimised, keyword rich anchor text
- Little or no indexed pages in Google’s SERP’s
Figure 5.0 – Gathering More DataWe can see from figure 5.0 that the last two links (rows 8 and 9) look particularly promising as they have healthy numbers of social activity, Google Page Rank and 1000+ indexed pages. Page Rank set to -1 tells us that that specific page has a Page Rank of N/A. The functions for adding the additional queries are as follows:
|Google Plus Count||=GooglePlusCount(A2)|
|Google Indexed Pages||=GoogleIndexCount(A2)|