Overview of current and outdated evaluation criteria with tips for reducing harmful and building beneficial backlinks for search engine optimization.
Over the past few years, Google has taken decisive action against artificial link building. Today a domain is no longer “strong” because it has built up a large number of backlinks. Instead, the quality of the link counts. But the definition of quality in terms of SEO links has also changed. With this article, we provide you with a checklist with which you can analyze your existing incoming links, as well as our experience of dismantling and tips for generating new links.
Backlink Scoring Criteria
Roughly speaking, links today should have a “raison d’être” that goes beyond link building. You can save yourself inferior web catalogues, link farms and article directories.
In the following, you will find a subdivision into beneficial and harmful links, as well as those that will not be included in the evaluation.
The following features characterize a strong backlink today:
- Topic relevance: The majority of your links must come from a thematically related domain. Everything else is unnatural (in abundance). Because why should non-topic domains report on you?
- High-quality content: It is not only crucial to what extent a domain that provides the link is relevant to the topic, but also that the content there is of high quality. This applies in particular to the range in which the connection is embedded.
- Country, language & TLD: Basically, a domain is more likely to be linked in your own country. In particular, the language should be the same. Exceptions are more complex topics for which, for example, few sources are available in their language or those pages that are structured internationally. For country-specific TLDs, too, they tend to link to your language.
- Authority: Google uses various metrics to measure whether a domain is an authority in the subject area. When you visit a page, you “feel” yourself whether this is the case: Have topics been written competently and professionally? How deep is the topic depth? Private blogs can become authorities here, as can universities. By the way: A link from a source that is set to “nofollow” is also rated as “valuable” by many SEOs. Although this does not flow directly into the rating, it can indirectly lead to Google trusting your site more.
- Traffic: Links that bring traffic have a “sense” for the visitors that goes beyond the simple link setting. A link that generates traffic is, therefore (in most cases) also valuable for SEO.
These criteria can indicate a link or a link source that is at best ignored by Google during the evaluation, but at worst can also lead to a penalty. The latter is especially the case when a large proportion of the links have the following properties.
- Lack of accessibility: The page providing the link must be reachable not only for the human visitor but also for the crawler. Even if Google is now technically advanced, websites in Flash, for example, still cause problems. Of course, it is also of no use if your link is behind a protected member area.
- Domain indexed: If a part is not indexed in the search engine, this is an indication of low quality or a penalty. To test, enter “Site: domain.de” in the Google search query, whereby “domain.de” is the website to be checked. If no or very few pages appear, that is a bad sign.
- Inferior content: Spammy texts that only slightly scratch the surface of a topic were ugly even then – but today it can be dangerous. What Google defines as spam is explained here, including some live ratings.
- Link text with money keyword: In the rarest of cases, a link text written by users contains a keyword. Link texts such as “buy cars cheaply” are unnatural and such keywords should therefore only be used very discreetly as text. It can be assumed that link texts can still strengthen rankings. But an accumulation of keyword texts is recognized as artificial and devalued by the Google Penguin update.
- Link penalty: The domain giving the link must not have received any penalties from penguin updates or manual measures on the part of Google. A backlink from a domain penalized in this way should always be treated with the greatest caution in the analysis since an accumulation of such links is a clear signal to Google that unnatural link building is being carried out here.
- Link network: In the past, Google was able to identify several link networks and as a result, has penalized numerous participants, sometimes even removing them entirely from the index. Systems that have not yet been affected can also be involved in the future – so be careful!
- Link purchase & link for the product: Links from pages that are set for goods, money, backlinks or any other service are to be avoided. The corresponding notice from Google can be found here.
- The same source for many links: There are many links from the same IP address or an identical IP network. This can be another indication of artificial link setting. But there can, of course also be other reasons for this – news items or press releases, for example, are often used on different domains of the same owner.
The following metrics are now out of date and no longer have any significance about the value of a link.
- PageRank (PR): This has not been updated for the public for years. There were also reports that Google had deliberately sent incorrect data to suspicious domains.
- Several backlinks: The pure number of backlinks or the more advanced variant in the form of domain popularity is no longer meaningful because the quantity says nothing about the quality.
Evaluation of the overall profile
Once the individual links have been rated, you should take a look at the overall profile.
Which ratio of links is harmful depends on the number of existing backlinks and is up to the viewer’s common sense. Three foreign domains in the link profile in addition to 500 domain links from their own country do not pose a risk in themselves. A share of over 25% in a respective area is usually definitely too much.
The websites of the competition can indicate normal distribution. Please note, however, that this may have invalidated links via the Google Disavow tool – you cannot determine this from outside.
How to proceed after the assessment
After you’ve created a “black list” of malicious links, the real work begins. All website operators must be contacted with a polite request to remove the link or add the “nofollow” attribute. With the first method, if there has not yet been a penalty, an alternative text section should be sent directly. That makes it easier for the other side. The less work there is, the more likely it is that the operator will make the change.
Incidentally, the links should not be deleted all at once. It is often not possible to say whether a specific link or a link pattern contributed to the current penalty at all, insofar as there is a penalty at all. If a list has a high percentage of potentially harmful links, it is advisable to proceed in stages. Of course, this only applies if the drop in traffic or profit is not economically threatening.
First, remove the harmful links, and only in one or more later steps remove the connections that could be harmful. Between these stages, you should submit a reconsideration request via the webmaster tools for domains that have been penalized manually.
In the case of domains whose backlink profile is only tidied up preventively, however, particular attention must be paid to an even dismantling, so that new, natural-looking links are added. Because a sudden loss of links is a signal for Google to take a closer look at the domain that has not (yet) been punished. A few tips for building new links are given later in this post.
Experience with response rates when removing links
Our experience has shown that unexpectedly many website operators react to the request emails if they are addressed personally, and specific instructions are given. Expressed in concrete figures, the response rate for editorial content (product tests, article swaps, guest contributions, advertorials, etc.) is around 60%, of which over 50% were very cooperative. The rate, of course, fluctuates depending on the situation:
- How long ago was the link been set?
- Which of the above page types are you?
- What is the overall theme of the pages?
These factors play a significant role in whether a response occurs. For example, with link catalogue links that were set several years ago, the success rate is significantly lower. A few webmasters asked for an expense allowance – understandable when hundreds of different requests for link removal come within a short time.
Tips on the disavow tool
If no contact with the website operator is possible, and the link is harmful, the disavow tool should be used. The following information will help you with handling:
- Use the domain label instead of a specific URL. Often the links are on other URLs, especially with WordPress (tags, categories, etc.).
- It takes until Google has devalued disavowed links – namely until the crawlers visit the URL in question again. This can sometimes be a long time with inferior pages.
- The list in the Disavow tool should not be forgotten and should be supplemented if necessary. Click through the device to the URL list. This can then be viewed and modified there.
- Banal, but experienced often enough: “Disavowed” does not mean that a link will disappear from the link profile! The links are, of course still recorded in all backlink tools – after all, they are still there. In this case, employees involved in the future must always be made aware of the disavow list to avoid repeating the procedure.
The effort of link removal
The dismantling of the links is associated with almost the same effort as the establishment. Ideally, however, you should act more proactively than reactively: The regular analysis of the link profile is part of modern link management. If potentially harmful links are removed in good time, a website is also better protected against malicious SEO attacks in which competitors deliberately set dangerous links to other websites. A phenomenon that unfortunately occurs more and more frequently.
According to our observations, websites that were penalized were able to get back a little after the link was broken. To reach the senior level, or to be even better in the Google search results, time, patience and further optimization work are required because old ranking successes were often due to the links that are harmful nowadays.
It should be noted that Google itself points out that the penguin algorithm now automatically recognizes and invalidates artificial and inferior links. However, Google’s statements are mostly only applicable to the general public – in individual cases, it may be that these mechanisms do not work or do not work as intended. In this respect, the clear recommendation from our side to maintain control through our analyzes and dismantling.
10 Link Building Tips from Matt Cutts / Google
On March 4th, 2010, Matt Cutts answered by video what effective ways there are to generate organic links – apart from good content. These are summarized:
- Controversies help: However, you shouldn’t let it become the rule. Otherwise, attention will drop again (and you will make yourself too unpopular).
- Actively participate in communities: So don’t spread blog spam, but work actively and productively in the community. Example: Answering questions about a particular knowledge/expert area to help other community members further.
- Use the newsletter as an online marketing tool to give potential readers of blogs/websites an overview of what can be found in the online offer.
- Social media: Facebook, Twitter and Co.
- Giving lectures at conferences: listeners blog and tweet about the course and link the slides published later.
- Publish lists: “50 link building tips” or “100 trendy web designs” or something similar. People find this useful because they are presented with a thematically specific selection in a nutshell.
- Run a blog and establish yourself as an expert on a specific topic.
- Post-service or product that others find useful. So extensions for browsers, apps or SEO tools for particular tasks (e.g. for longtail keyword research ).
- Publish videos: Exciting, informative, pleasant to listen to with exciting content.
- The page and URL structure should be linkable. In other words, all relevant content should be accessible via external links.
In summary: Good link building uses relevant and content-related topics that are relevant to the target group, which are current and as novel as possible, are helpful for the local market, have a certain dynamic, have a valence, offer opportunities for identification and, ideally, are curious or entertaining.
Such content is rarely created quickly. A blog, regular newsletter or social media presence, in particular, require steady expansion and maintenance.
Importance for backlink building and SEO
Backlink construction has become very complex due to the developments. Often other channels such as PR or social media are included in today’s link building if it is still actively done.
Because of the effort, many website operators have moved away from link building and towards the on-page area. In particular, the creation of content under the term “content marketing” has recently been viral. We are curious to see whether link building will attract more attention in the future.