One of the key factors that can penalise your website’s search rankings is having paid, broken or irrelevant links. While fixing up poor quality content is relatively straightforward, doing a link clean up is often no easy feat! Apart from the fact that it can take quite a bit of time and effort, you may also be doing your site a disservice if you try to remove a lot of old links all in one go. After all, some of the suspect links may actually be driving traffic to your site, and naturally you don’t want to interfere with that if you don’t have to.
So how do you know when to do a clean up?
This can be a little tricky to decide. If you have received an obvious manual or algorithmic penalty from Google, then it’s clear you should consider a link clean up. If you only suspect your site might have been affected, you might need to do a little digging to find out if you actually have been penalised by Google’s link algorithm (known as Penguin), or if another issue is affecting your SEO.
If you do decide to do a clean up, the following guidelines should help you decide when and how to go about it.
To clean-up or not to clean-up?
- You’ve been manually penalised: Let’s say you’ve received a message from Google that says something like “some of the links pointing to your site are using techniques that are outside of Google’s webmaster guidelines”. Well as indicated above, you don’t have a lot of choice there, and you’d better get onto it straight away.
- You are not ranking as well as you used to: This could be for any number of reasons. If you have worked hard on content and on-page quality issues and things have not improved, you might just have a backlink issue. There are tools around to determine if you have been ‘Penguin-slapped’.
- Your site is going pretty well, but…: You know you have some unnatural backlinks and you are concerned about it coming back later to bite you. You could leave them well alone in this case, but if it’s keeping you awake at night, you might want to start tackling the problem to be on the safe side. If you decide on the latter, this may require a cautious approach to make sure you don’t throw out any babies with the bathwater!
Tips for major clean ups
In this case, you should start by running a backlink report, using suitable tools such as Moz’s Open Site Explorer or Arehfs backlink report tool. Once you have collected your backlink data, we recommend:
- Collating all your link data into a spreadsheet.
- Ranking links according to level of risk. High-risk examples include links to duplicate content or to dodgy-looking sites, those that have no relevance to your site or industry, and paid links.
- Taking steps to remove bad links. For instance, stop paying for links, and /or contact the relevant site webmasters requesting that your links be removed.
- Using Google’s Disavow tool if necessary, to ask Google to ignore bad links you have not been able to eliminate.
- Keeping a log of all your activities.
- Submitting a reconsidering request to Google.
Doing a gradual clean up
This involves following the basic procedures above, but removing only a few links at a time while also building up new, natural and relevant links.
Links are still a major factor when it comes to SEO – so do make sure to educate yourself on ethical link building in order to minimise the chance of having to do clean ups in the future!