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Dealing With Unnatural Links

One of the most frequent conversations that we have with our clients here at SEO Gone Wild is unnatural links and link penalties. A lot of times, people are becoming aware of the links that are pointing to their website for the first time. On other occasions, our clients might be dealing with a drop in traffic or a manual warning that appears in their search console. During the life of their website, most webmasters and business owners will never have to deal with a link specific penalty. “How do I get rid of bad links pointing to my website?” This is the most common question that we get from clients. In most situations, you’re not going to be able to eliminate bad links that point to your website. Sometimes, you might be able to reach out to the webmaster of the referring website and they might take it down for you. If you can’t get a webmaster to remove the link for you, you will have to use Google’s “Disavow” tool.

Most of the Time, You Won’t Need To Worry About Links

There are three types of bad backlinks: (1) bad links that you build yourself, (2) bad links that your search engine optimizer builds, and (3) bad links that your competitor builds. When Google detects a pattern of links to your website that it identifies as “manipulative,” Google will let you know in Search Console that it has detected a “pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages.”

Let’s take a look at a website that we know underwent a link penalty at one point in its history and see why those links are inherently bad. You can identify dangerous links by looking at your Search Console or using a tool like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz.

Above, we can see a backlink report for a website from SEMrush. Looking at this report, we can see that all three of these domains are potentially spammy. All of these websites have 1,000+ backlinks for the website in question. In this situation, we should further review the links coming from these three domains. 

If we examine the links coming from the Team Pages website, we can see that these are no-follow. Google will not count no-follow links against your website in most cases. However, Google often treats the “no-follow” attribute as a suggestion, so it might be smart to disavow this link.

The Just Directory website is more alarming. These links are “follow,” meaning that they pass page rank. These are just the type of links that will hurt your site, so it’s important to use the Disavow tool to remove these.

How Often Will I Need To Disavow? 

In most cases, the only time you will need to use the Google Disavow tool is if it is your fault or your SEO agency’s fault. In 2016, Gary Illyles of Google said that they have never identified an instance where one company was able to use harmful backlinks to decrease the ranking of a competitor. The following is our opinion on when you need to use the Disavow tool in Google:

  1. When you have a manual warning in your Search Console.
  2. When you know your internal SEO team or your SEO agency has engaged in manipulative link building.
  3. If you notice referring domains to your website with a large number of links like those identified in the example above.
  4. If you notice a change in your rankings or indexing issues with one of your pages.

Case #4 from the above list is a unique example where we’ve used disavowing → we once noticed that one of our client’s homepage had disappeared for a keyword in organic search. We discovered a “spammy” domain with links pointing to our client’s homepage. Disavowing this link resolved this issue within a few days. 

In most situations, Google does not think that the regular webmaster needs the Disavow tool. You cannot access the Disavow tool via the new search console. In fact, you have to search for “disavow tool” on Google to find it. 

How Do I Use the Disavow Tool?

Upload a list of links to disavow:

One of the secrets that not a lot of SEOs tell you is that you don’t have to manually audit every single link from a site or copy and paste it to your disavow file. To create a disavow file, you only need a list of spammy domains → instructions on how to create a disavow file can be found here. 

Will A Google Manual Penalty Impact ALL Of Your Pages Or Just Some Of Them? 

It depends. Many of our clients have seen a penalty impact certain keywords and pages where others have had manual penalties impact the entirety of their website.

Should I Use Disavow For An Algorithm Change? 

Once again, it depends. Algorithm changes are different than manual penalties. When Google releases an update, you won’t get a notification in Search Console. You just might notice that your website traffic has dropped. If you have a large number of links from certain referring domains, it might be worthwhile to do a link audit and disavow the worst offenders.

Can Using The Disavow Tool Incorrectly Or Too Often Hurt Your Website? 

Yes. If you don’t know how to use the Disavow tool, you should hire a consultant or freelancer to help you. In fact, Google purposefully makes it hard to access the Disavow tool. In the new version of Search Console, you cannot access the Disavow tool. Here is the article where it says incorrect use of the Disavow tool can hurt your website. 

Should I Solely Trust Any SEO Software For Disavowing Links 

No. Platforms like Moz, SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Majestic are great for monitoring your link building campaign and the overall health of your website, but depending solely on these tools alone could hurt your website. When you create a disavow file and upload it to Google, you are essentially telling Google that you are not responsible for these links and any links with the “follow” attribute will be treated as “no-follow” if you disavow them. We have discovered, for example, that if Moz identifies a domain as potentially having a high spam score, let’s say 50%, that link might not be affecting your website negatively. The spam score is merely a measure of a website’s potential to hurt your rankings. Here is how we recommend you audit your links:

  • Download a list of all the referring domains from your Search Console link report.
  • Download a list of domains from a tool such as Moz that are identified as being “spammy.”
  • Sample a few of the links in your spam report. If any of these links look suspicious, add them to your disavow file. 
  • Many of the links in your Search Console might not yet appear in the database of the SEO software that you use. Sample a few of these to see if they need to be added to your disavow file. 

Will Google Tell Me Which Links I Need to Review/Remove? 

Sometimes. In certain situations where a manual penalty has been incurred, Google will provide you with a sampling of links that you need to review, but not all of them. If you have a manual penalty, we HIGHLY recommend manually reviewing your links as you disavow them.

Can’t I Just Start Over With a New Domain? 

No. Taking down your website and simply redirecting the old domain to a new one will not help. In fact, the new website will have a harder time ranking. 

How Do SEO Agencies Build Links To My Website? 

Many SEO agencies will “outsource” their link building. They will often use a paid service to get links from high DA sites. It is uncertain, from our perspective, whether or not they actually “outreach” to these websites to get a guest blog placement or if they own these domains. Many SEO agencies will also own their own PBN that they use to craft links for clients. SEO agencies will also use guest blogs and link directories to secure their links for clients. Many SEO agencies, however, do a good job of securing links for their clients with manual outreach efforts. 

How Long Does It Take To Recover From An Algorithm Update Or Manual Penalty? 

We came across several SEO penalties over the years. Some recoveries have been instantaneous (within a few days) while others have taken longer. One of our clients saw a sudden drop in traffic a few years ago when they started with us and are now just recovering. In short, no SEO can guarantee a successful, immediate recovery from a manual penalty or a Google algorithm change. Sometimes, your traffic may change because another website in your industry is doing a better job. Here is an example of a website that has seen increases and decreases over the years, but has never been subjected to a Google manual penalty.

How Can I Protect My Website From The Dangers of Unnatural Links?

The Internet was created for human beings. For SEO in general, we recommend following one of the rules that applies to reddit: “Remember the human.” To get backlinks for your website, remember the human:

  • For directory websites, submit your website only if the domain looks like it has a good experience for its users in mind.
  • Only try to get links from websites that use an SSL certificate.
  • If you use an SEO agency, make sure that they only use white hat tactics to acquire links.
  • If you are considering using a paid linking service, make sure that they place your links on websites that are relevant to yours. A paid linking service should use manual outreach to find placement for your guest blogs. Additionally, if a high DA backlink is promised, make sure that the link is not being acquired only for the high DA link. 

Should I Use a Paid Linking Service? 

If your answer to this question is yes, you do so at your own risk. At SEO Gone Wild, we try and place guest blogs for clients by manually reaching out to reputable websites. When someone emails you out of the blue telling you that they have links for sale, this should be a huge red flag. 

What Types of Links Should I Avoid?

Moz has a great list of the types of links you should avoid. Some of the link types on this list you should avoid at all costs. Other links on this list are standard in link building, like directories. Simply review the website before you seek placement on it, and you should be good.

What Does a “Crap Link” Look Like?

We found a great example of 10 crap websites with crap links. Here are some common trends that you will notice in all these websites:

  • Content copied word-for-word from other websites.
  • Content that is in “weird English,” content that was likely written by an article spinner. Article spinners write content that will pass most grammar checkers, but will not be readable to humans.
  • A lot of links dropped into one place that either uses phone numbers, tons of keywords in word clouds, and lots of uses of “viagra” or “payday loans” as keywords.

Content Cannibalization

Do you remember a website called EzineArticles? Google cleaned house on these websites a long time ago. These are article directories. These are websites that let anyone write articles and post. If you get a link from one of these websites, they will not hurt you, but we highly recommend avoiding these websites because they are just a waste of time.

Will a Quora Backlink Hurt My Website? 

Quora is another place that spammers frequently use as link farms. However, if you write an answer on Quora, it will not hurt your website. In fact, writing a really good answer to an unanswered question on Quora will likely generate links to your website from webmasters that found your answer useful. All links placed on Quora use the no-follow attribute and will not have an immediate impact on your rankings. 

What Should I Do If My Rankings or Traffic Drop?

Investigate. Backlinks are only a small piece of Google’s algorithmic paradigm. If you notice that your rankings are dropping, it could be that a competitor’s site is superior to yours. There might not be anything wrong with your website. That being said, look at all aspects of your website to see the cause of the problem. If you have been building toxic links or suspect that your SEO agency has been building toxic links, immediately start the process of removing them.

I Suffered a From a Google Algorithm Update Or Manual Penalty. Will Fixing My Links Address the Issue? 

Not immediately. As we said earlier, penalties can take some time to recover from. You may need to depend upon another traffic source to improve your traffic for a while. Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and other traffic sources will temporarily help you deal with your traffic loss.

This Article Made Me Afraid. Should I Stop Building Links Altogether? 

No. If you stop building links altogether, your keywords and traffic will never improve. If you seek links from reputable websites or work with an SEO provider that you can truly call a partner, your SEO will continue to grow.