Bad or low quality links can easily hurt the search engine rankings of a website. If you’re an SEO professional or an internet marketer, you definitely understand why it’s crucial to keep a close watch on the link profile of a website. Articles about link removal or link profile clean up simply abound the web. Also, there are plenty of companies that specialize in removal of bad links.
Whether you want to recover from a Google penalty or avoid it in future, getting rid of bad or spammy links is essential.
In the post-Penguin era of Google, you need to approach link building with extreme care. Just like one bad apple can spoil the entire bunch, a handful of bad links can ruin the quality of an otherwise nice backlink profile.
The link profile clean-up process includes:
- Collection of backlink data
- Identification of bad or low quality links
- Removal of bad links
- Disavowing the links you couldn’t remove
Though link profile clean-up or removal of bad links is difficult to accomplish, it’s completely doable.
What Kind of Backlinks Does Google Like?
Before we go into the details of cleaning up a website’s link profile, let’s first understand what links mean in the post-Penguin era and what type of links Google likes or favors. Most webmasters believe that too many links enhance the value of a website and increase search engine rankings. Maybe, that was the case 5-10 years ago. Google has come a long way since that time.
Today, Google looks at links as a measure of a website’s content quality. The point is simple and easy to understand – people like linking to valuable content. If you have a business website, the best way to attract high quality, authoritative links is by publishing value-added content on it regularly. The greater the number of high quality links in a website’s link profile, the more credible it looks to Google. And that’s how content-rich websites appear at the top of search results.
Google likes those links that are natural or acquired unasked. Manipulative link building is now a thing of the past, and penalty-prone today. Some of the links that get a lot of affection from Google include editorial links, implied links (mention of domain name), social citation, co-citation etc.
Link Profile Clean-Up
Let’s get back to the main topic – how to clean up the backlink profile of your website? Earlier in the article, we already broke down the process into 1) collection of backlinks data 2) identification of bad or low quality links 3) removal of bad links and 4) disavowing the links you couldn’t remove.
Collection of Backlinks Data: First of all, you need to collect all the backlinks data of your website and download it in a CSV format. Since it can be difficult to gather this data manually, copy-pasting links one after another, there are multiple tools that you can use to simplify the task.
Google Webmaster Tools is your #1 option. All you need to do is log into your GWT account, go to ‘Search Traffic’ and click on ‘Links to Your Site’ for the domain whose link profile you want to clean up. On the next page, click on ‘more’ and then on ‘Who links the most’. Finally, you should click on ‘Download more sample links’ to download all the backlink data of your website. Apart from GWT, you can also turn to Open Site Explorer (Moz) for collecting the link data. If you are looking for more information, check out Ahrefs and Majestic SEO.
Identification of Bad or Low Quality Links: Now that you have the backlink data in your hand, it’s time to conduct a quality check. You need to identify that dirt that’s tarnishing the reputation of your backlinks profile. If you have hundreds of thousands of links to check, it can again become hard to do it manually. There are multiple tools that you can use to succeed with the task.
Keep an eye out for these bad link types:
- Backlinks that are part of a spammy blog network
- Sitewide links
- Links with similar anchor text
- Directory links
- Blog comment links
- Do-follow guest post links
If your website’s backlink profile contains more than 20% of bad links, you’re vulnerable to Google’s Penguin penalty. However, you should always try to keep your link profile as clean as possible because you never know when the bad link percentage increases and you become prone to Google penalty. There are many tools that you can use to identify which links are bad and need to be removed. For example, Monitor Backlinks and Backlink Quality Checker are good choices to accomplish the task. Monitor Backlinks allows you to track those links that are out of Google’s index for various reasons. Also, you can sort all the backlinks on the basis of domain pagerank and MozRank using this tool.
Removal of Bad Links: This is the trickiest part of the link profile clean-up process. After you have found the harmful links, it’s time to get rid of them. But how do you reach out to webmasters so that they pay attention to your link removal request? First and foremost, you have to approach them with politeness. You should never make the mistake oF ordering or threatening webmasters. Second, each email that you send to webmasters for link removal should be appropriately personalized. Third, you should provide the webmasters with clear instructions regarding the location of the link you want them to remove. Unless you make the webmasters’ job as simple and easy as possible, they may not cooperate at all.
Fourth, you should never forget to follow them up to make sure the requested link was removed. Lastly, you should keep in mind that many webmasters may ask money for link removal. It’s advisable not to give in. The links that you can’t remove can always be disavowed, which is the final step of link profile clean-up.
Disavowing the Links You Couldn’t Remove: You need to have some patience after sending the link removal request to webmasters. It may take a couple of weeks for most of the webmasters to take action. However, you should always send follow-up emails to remind webmasters of your link removal request. There are some tools that can automate this task for you as well; BuzzStream is a good example.
You’ll need to disavow the links that you couldn’t get removed even after sending several emails and following up. Using the Disavow Links tool, you can ask Google not to consider the harmful links that you were unable to remove.
First, you’ll need to create a list of such links and then upload the file to Google. Here are the steps you’ll need to follow:
- Go to the Disavow Links tool page
- Select your website
- Click on Disavow Links
- Click Choose File
Google may take some time to process the file that you upload. You may have to wait a few weeks before Google considers your request and has the links disavowed. It’s also important to note that once you upload a new file (list of harmful links) to Google, it will replace all those files that you may have uploaded earlier.
Wrapping it Up
Approach each of the above-mentioned steps with patience, and use different tools to make the process of link removal easy. When collecting your website’s backlink data, it’s always advisable to use multiple tools. Most importantly, you should pay close attention when identifying the links that may be hurting the search rankings of your website. At the same time, you should also make changes to your future link building plan so that you keep your website’s backlink profile clean and penalty-free. A backlink audit at the interval of every few months is a high recommend.