According to studies, Google considers 200 factors when ranking a website. Think about that, optimising for 200 different factors would take an unreal amount of time and effort (and money). Fortunately, different ranking factors carry different weight, and by focussing on the most important ones, it is possible to end up on the first of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).
When it comes to the importance of ranking factors, content remains the undisputed king. However, we have all heard that about a million times now, and have learnt our lesson. Chances are, all of your competition is now spending significant time and money on creating “quality” content. In terms of importance, backlinks are next in line, and they carry a lot of importance and just like you cannot stuff your website with keyword rich low-quality content, poor quality backlinks will also harm the authenticity of your website, especially when it comes to search engine performance.
As Google realised marketers were simply collecting backlinks to improve rankings, without caring much about their relevance or quality, they rolled out the infamous Penguin algorithm update. The update was aimed at penalising websites that have been using manipulative backlinking strategies and have a lot of “bad backlinks”. Before we learn which links can be classified as bad backlinks, let’s recap what backlinks are, and how they affect search engine performance:
The Power Of Backlinks
Simply put, backlinks are links on other websites, that lead to a page on your website. With a “Dofollow” code attached to your the link, the search engine crawlers are able to detect the link and register it. A “nofollow” code prevents the crawlers from doing so.
Backlinks were introduced as a voting system to evaluate the quality and relevance of the content present on a website. The result, however, was the rise of “backlink directories”, websites whose sole purpose was to give backlinks to other business websites. To fortify the importance of quality and relevance in the search engine landscape, Google, with its new update, started penalising websites that were collecting backlinks that were not natural.
A natural backlink can be considered as a link that your website earned because of the quality and relevance of the content present on it. It is an indicator that the website linking to your pages found them as a trustworthy resource to include as a reference in their content. In other words, a natural backlink is one you had no role in placing. Yes, that means purchased links are not natural. There is an exception to this rule, which we will discuss later in this section.
The best way to earn natural backlinks is to create and promote high-quality content assets known as “linkable assets”. These assets are high-quality content pieces that offer a lot of value to your audiences, examples can be ebooks, statistic resources, top 10 lists, original research, and other such content pieces that offer valuable information, and stay relevant for a long time. However, building linkable assets can be a costly affair, and may also take a lot of time and promotion before it can be considered an asset.
Another, not-so-natural way of gathering natural backlinks is through strategic guest posting. However, instead of purchasing links, you earn links by genuinely contributing valuable content pieces to high authority blogs in your niche. The top three best practices of guest posting are:
- Target high-authority, genuine websites in your niche.
- Don’t over optimise the anchor text of your website.
- Concentrate your efforts on building long-term relationships with the top authorities in your niche.
That being said, with the rising popularity of micro-influencers, guest blogging and influencer relationships offer a lot of exposure to brands and businesses, and a quality backlink is a byproduct of the partnership. This is the exception, that was mentioned earlier in this section.
However, there are times when we unknowingly attract irrelevant backlinks from websites with a bad reputation. This can be a result of a research shortcoming or even negative SEO tactics from a competitor.
For this reason, it is important to understand the difference between good and bad backlinks. Webmasters are advised to keep a close watch on their backlink profile to ensure they don’t attract a Google penalty. Let’s understand how exactly that can be done:
Good backlinks vs bad backlinks
A good backlink is a natural link coming from an authority website that hosts content similar (or complementary) to your website. So, links coming from trustworthy websites in your niche, that are naturally present within the content, are good backlinks.
On the other hand, bad backlinks are links coming from:
- Irrelevant websites: If you have a brick and mortar business, and you have links coming from a Justin Bieber fan website, the search engine will realise that the link has been obtained unethically. Similarly, if you have a local business based in London, and you have links coming from an Indian website, those links will be considered as “bad backlinks”.
- Over optimised anchor texts: If most of your links are hyperlinked to an exact match keyword, it will send suspicious signals to the search engine crawlers. As mentioned earlier, the links need to come from naturally placed sources within the content.
- Websites with a large number of outgoing links: Many websites were being set up with the sole reason for driving links. The content on such websites lacks coherence and adds no value whatsoever. Associating with such websites will have a negative effect on your backlink profile.
In short, backlinks coming from untrustworthy websites, or backlinks obtained using unethical methods can be classified as bad backlinks.
How to screen websites when building backlinks
Building a comprehensive backlink profile has become increasingly complex. As Google races to improve the quality of their results, it is important for genuine businesses to improve the quality of their links to distinguish themselves from lousy websites. For this reason, when scoping websites for backlinking, consider the following things:
- Domain Authority: Links coming from high ranking websites are usually considered quality links. Checking the domain authority of any website is not difficult, and there are several free tools available online for the same. However, when checking the domain authority, also pay attention to the page authority and trust flow of the page you are planning to get a backlink from.
- The number Of Outgoing Links: As mentioned earlier, links coming from spammy websites that have a large number of outgoing links are considered suspicious by Google. Even if a good website offers you a backlink from one of their “link pages”, it is best to pass the opportunity. Instead, try getting them to give you a link within a relevant piece of content present on their website.
- Relevance: Relevance of the website’s niche, along with the relevance of the content in which your link is included, is extremely important. While commenting on blog posts with your link may be an easy way to drive links, such practices are not considered ethical by Google.
To take you backlink building strategies one step further, it is also a great idea to do a thorough competitor analysis. Looking at the websites your competition is targeting for their backlinks should give you a fair idea of what kind of websites you should be targeting. Doing so would also shed light on high return, low competition keywords that your competitors are not yet ranking for.
How to remove bad backlinks
If you have built backlinks by posting comments and content yourself, and if you have an option of taking these comments or content down, start doing so immediately.
For all other websites, build a list, obtain the email addresses of the owners of said websites, and shoot them an email requesting them to remove your link from their website. Keep in mind that to be successful, you may have to send multiple follow-ups, and even then, may face problems.
To reduce the negative effects of the links you are not able to take down, immediately start creating high-quality content and start attracting links from high-quality bloggers. Remember, nobody would link to your website naturally if your website does not have anything worth linking. Stuff your website with genuinely valuable content instead of keywords, and you will see improvements in your backlink profile health, as well as your rankings.
Google is continually working towards offering better user experience to the people using their search engine. To achieve this, they are ensuring their crawlers behave more like humans. If a human user clicks on a link on a spammy, unrelated website, and doesn’t find an answer to their query, it promotes bad user experience, and a crawler will penalise both websites for such behaviour.
For this reason, whenever you consider placing a link on ANY webpage, think “if I were a user, would I click on this link and be satisfied with the information on the other end?”, and only collaborate if you answer with a “yes’’.