Editor’s note: “Ask an SEO” is a weekly column by technical SEO expert Jenny Halasz. Come up with your hardest SEO question and fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
Today’s Ask an SEO question is from John in Philadelphia. He wants to know:
In your experience, what’s the difference between a “high-quality” link and a “low-quality” link? Any tips on how we can tell the difference? Also, is there a safe mix of low- vs. high-quality links?
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is link value.
It can be difficult to determine if a link is valuable, and it takes years of analyzing links to build good instincts.
When I’m analyzing a link, there are a number of different factors that come into play before I even begin to consider its individual value.
To simplify, let’s imagine you’re analyzing a link for your own site, although you can analyze a competitor’s site or a client’s site, too.
Questions to Ask During a Link Audit
Have I been engaging in shady link practices, or do I have reason to believe someone on my team has?
If you know that questionable things have been done in the past, you know you need to hold yourself to a higher than average standard when link auditing.
A lot of detritus builds up in any link profile over time, so some “bad” links are normal.
But if you know you submitted to a thousand directories, or paid questionable bloggers to write articles, or spammed press releases, etc., then you know you have a mess you need to clean up.
Have I received a manual action?
If I have gotten an actual manual action from Google, they likely gave me some examples of the type of link behavior they don’t like.
While I still need to remove as much spam as I can, I need to be extra critical of anything that fits the pattern of examples I was given.
Have I experienced a recent traffic loss?
Similar to the above, if I have reason to believe that my traffic loss is due to an algorithmic evaluation of my “bad” links, then I need to be more critical than I would be if I were just doing a routine audit.
Once you assess how critical you need to be of your links, it makes the next part easier.
How to Assess the Value of a Link
Possible bad links fall into a few different categories. When you’re assessing links, see if you can drop them into the following groups:
- Paid bloggers
- Run of site
- Paid advertising/press releases
- Bookmark/article spinning
- Natural links
There are other types of links, but these are the most common.
If the link in question can be classified as any of the first six link types above, it’s probably worth looking at in more detail.
Not all paid blogger links are “bad.” A lot of times you can leave these and they actually provide some value.
Look to see if the blogger always writes about the same topics.
- If they stick with a consistent topic or topic category and use the links naturally within a post, the link is probably OK.
- If the blog looks like it was set up, posted a couple of times several months or years ago, and then abandoned, it’s probably not OK.
Run of Site
Run of site links are almost always bad.
If the site is in a related industry or is truly a friend of yours, then you can probably let it lie. But if it smells like it was a link that you paid for at all, nuke it.
Paid Advertising/Press Releases
Paid advertising and press releases are usually already flagged and discounted.
Same if you find links with utm codes on them. They’re probably relics from old advertising campaigns.
You can disavow them or not, depends on how you answered that first set of questions.
Bookmark or article spinning links are bad. You need to remove the source of these.
Find the profile or profiles (probably fake) that posted these and remove them. Disavowing usually isn’t enough for this; you have to remove them.
Directories are almost always garbage.
Unless it’s a local directory like a yellow pages listing, a chamber of commerce listing, or a directory that is still human edited, disavowing is usually the best policy.
Affiliate links are tricky.
These are usually better left alone, because you risk upsetting affiliates and cutting off an important revenue stream.
If you have a very high number of followable affiliate links, hire an expert to evaluate these.
Finally, a brief word on natural links.
There are a few hidden sources of spam in otherwise natural-looking links. These are actually the most likely to get you a manual action and the ones that are likely to get a reconsideration request rejected.
If the link is a guest post, make sure it’s written and attributed to an actual person. Do a search for the person’s name if you don’t recognize it. Certain “contributors” write for lots of different sites on lots of different topics, and it’s clear they aren’t a real person.
If the link is for a blog or site that has multiple TLDs (top-level domains) associated with it, the owner of that site probably engaged in questionable tactics themselves at one time, and you will be guilty by association.
Common TLDs are:
These TLDs aren’t bad by themselves, but if a site written in English is being mirrored on multiple TLDs, watch out. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Disavow.
Check the “value” of the TLD of a suspected “OK” site in a link tool. You can use Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz, or anything really.
If the site has no links, few links, or all links from just one or two domains pointing to it, it might be spam. Proceed with caution.
Leave a ‘Paper’ Trail
Whatever you do, document your work. It will make it 100 times easier when you have to go back and resubmit or re-evaluate.
If you’d like a template to do this, and some additional link evaluation methods, grab this free template from my site.
Hopefully this helps you understand the difference between a “high-quality” link and a “low-quality” link. Remember, if it seems like the link isn’t natural, it probably isn’t.
Also remember Google has way more information than you do. You aren’t going to trick them into thinking something is natural if it isn’t.
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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
Screenshots created by author, February 2018