For a long time many publishers viewed link building as a practice that stood on its own. The purpose was to get links to drive search rankings. It served no other marketing purpose at all.
This has led to large numbers of sites being hit by link penalties or new algorithms like Penguin. Successfully recovering from link related penalties requires a comprehensive approach to link removal. Part of that is understanding what types of links you need to remove.
What follows are 10 of the most common link problems that have resulted in link related penalties or lost rankings due to a Google algorithm update.
1. Article Directories
Article directories were hit in the initial Penguin release on April 24, 2012. If you are currently adding article directory links, then stop the program right away.
In addition, if you have some links that resulted from article directories, then work on getting them removed. If you can't get them removed, then use the Google Disavow Tool to request that they be ignored by Google.
For those who want to debate the merits of this tool, we have used it, and it works like a champ.
2. Low-Quality Directories
There isn't clear evidence that low-quality directories were explicitly punished in a Penguin release as yet, but it does not really matter. The right policy here is clear. Participate in the major directories: Yahoo Directory, DMOZ, Best of the Web, and Business.com.
After that, consider a very small number of directories specific to your vertical market. If you find yourself with 10 or more directory links, something is wrong. Directories are not a volume source of links.
3. Low Relevance Guest Posts
Guest posting on sites that you are truly proud of is a great idea. But this can be overdone too. For example, if the post is not relevant to your site, or the site is not relevant to your post, don't do it.
For your guest posting efforts, shoot for the highest possible targets you can. Would you brag about being posted on a particular target site to your customers? If not, then keep looking for a better target.
4. Low Relevance/Accuracy Infographics
This is a popular strategy many people use to promote their sites. Infographics are cool looking, and they can communicate certain types of information very effectively, which is why they are popular with users and publishers.
However, many people have fallen into cranking out infographics, focusing on volume, not quality. This is another one to stop.
Still need convincing? Here is what Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts had to say:
"I would not be surprised if at some point in the future we did not start to discount these infographic-type links to a degree."
I think that low quality infographics (for example, ones with inaccurate information) or low relevance infographics are a natural target for Google, thought these things may be hard for them to detect algorithically. However, infographics may get targeted a bit more broadly as Google has concerns about whether people accepting infographics really care about endorsing the page that they end up linking to.
Important footnote: Algorithmically detecting these types of links is obviously somewhat hard, but when you submit a reconsideration request a human gets involved. Sticks out like a sore thumb to them!
5. Paid Guest Posts
To me, paid guest posts are one of the more obvious ones, but a lot of people still do this. One big flag for this is a site that has a significant number of incoming links from posts that have rich anchor text embedded in the middle of the text.
If you do guest posting work for your clients, you should never pay for any posts. In addition, the links you get your clients should always be simple attribution links at the bottom of the post.
Aim for very high end (brand building caliber) targets. This is the type of branding and link building work a Googler would love.
6. Anchor Text
This one may upset some people. As I predicted in "SEO Revelations for 2013", I believe Google will take action (or more action) against sites that have too much rich anchor text in their backlink profile. You could argue that their EMD update was a step in that direction, but there is much more they can do here.
Some rich anchor text is fine, but when your Reebok ZigNano ProFury sneakers page has 25 links pointing to it, and all the anchor text says "Reebok ZigNano ProFury Sneakers" or some derivative of that it looks a bit manipulated, know what I mean? You might as well paint a bullseye on your back. Human reviewers looking at your reconsideration request will pick this out in a heartbeat.
7. Doorway Pages
An oldie but goodie! These are thin content pages/sites that exist only to capture search traffic and then to get people to go to another site (in this case the site with the penalty).
This is a practice that can a publisher banned all on it own. You need to dump these as fast as you can!
8. International Sites
I always chuckle when I see a site with lots of links from Polish sites where the page is written entirely in Polish and right in the middle somewhere is this rich anchor text phrases in English. Ouch. You might as well go to building 43 at Google wearing a sign with your URL on one side and the words "I am a spammer" on the other.
More broadly, ask yourself: does that international link have any relevance to your brand at all? If you market a product or service solely in the U.S., why would you have any international links? It just doesn't make sense.
9. Blog Carnivals
Stated with an optimistic eye, blog carnivals are communities where people share content, some editorial review is, or isn't, provided by the person running the carnival, and other publishers can then come find articles for publishing on their site.
Unfortunately, Google doesn't like blog carnivals. Like article directories, they have had way too many problems with them being used as link schemes. Best to stay away from these, and any other "marketplace" for content.
10. Poor Quality Content of Any Kind
You can argue about how this might be measured by a search engine. Here is a place where social media signals may add some real value as a signal.
Does your site, or articles you write, get social love? Or, do they get little attention at all? You could also look at the time on page type signals. Do people spend 2 minutes or more on the page, or do they stop by and run off right away?
The authorship initiative by Google is the start of an overt effort on their part to figure out who is publishing quality content. And, as I mentioned in my SEO Revelations article, they are already measuring and acting on time on site signals.
We don't necessarily make people remove these in the process of moving towards a reconsideration request, but we do press them hard to alter their strategy. Publishing content without regard to its quality is bad for your brand, and it will hurt your search rankings one way or another.
Some Overall Rules of Thumb
There are may other types of bad links we have encountered along the way, that I chose not to highlight above. The above list are the 10 most frequent scenarios we encounter and not an exhaustive list!
Here are a few more questions you should ask yourself to determine whether a link is good or not:
- Is an argument required for you to prove it's a good link? A good link should not be the subject of an argument. No argument is required with good links, when you see a good link you know it right away. Once you start debating whether it could be considered a good link, or justifying it, it isn't.
- Would you build the link if Google and Bing did not exist? Any good link is something that has value even without search engines.
- Does the nature of the link enhance your brand in front of your target customers? Would you show it to a target customer as evidence that you are a high-quality, trustworthy business?
- Did the person giving you the link intend it as a genuine endorsement? If not, Google wants to torch it, and so should you.
Link building should just be a form of branding and marketing. Reviewing your link profile and identifying the problems is a key part of the process. But, it is only the start. Once you get your penalty removed, you need to adapt your link building efforts to avoid doing these types of things again.