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How To Clean Up Bad Links and Establish Trust With Link Vendors

Clean Up Bad LinksMore and more clients are coming to me for audits because they have been harmed by low-quality linking efforts, either intentionally, unintentionally, or possibly as a result of a competitor’s attempt to harm their site.

As a result of having gone through several of these in the past months, I have developed a core set of guidelines for clients to help them understand how to deal with the problem.  While it’s not a comprehensive all-inclusive set, it goes a long way toward improving the SEO considerations of a site’s overall inbound link profile.


What is a good target for our links-to-root-domains ratio?

The rule is “the lower the better.” There is no specific standard target number. If you have a writer posting regularly to a highly reputable site on a consistent basis, that is usually the ONLY reason there should be a high number of links from one site. Even then, all other quality rules should still apply even to that content.


For those articles with some minimum Page Authority and some minimum Domain Authority, should I leave those articles “out there”?

Do not trust PA and DA numbers. These do NOT address quality, relevance, or trust signals, and are HIGHLY SUSPECT as indicators.


Please give us guidelines for identifying bad links that need to be removed. 

  • Careful review of inbound links must be performed to evaluate which links are considered harmful or of the type unacceptable to Google. While this step is not likely to be perfect, it is however likely to identify the most egregious links known to exist.
  • A link is most likely to be problematic if:
    • The site where the link comes from is there purely to provide SEO links
    • And/or if a site even looks somewhat low quality
    • And/or if the content is not well written
    • And/or if the site is not relevant to your market
    • And/or the link(s) is/are not directly within the main content of an individual page
    • And/or the site name includes “SEO” or “LINK”
    • And/or the page Title is irrelevant to your market topical focus
    • And/or the page Title includes “SEO’ or “LINK”
    • And/or the domain name looks odd (is made up of letter/number combinations for example)
    • And/or the domain country is in a country outside of your target market
    • And/or the link is on a “forum profile” page and was put there by your SEO vendor
    • And/or it’s a “directory” that has lots of links on that page to sites not relevant to your market
    • And/or it’s a “directory” that has entries where the name of the sites listed is mostly keyword stuffed nonsense
  • None of these symptoms should be ignored just because a domain or page has a high DA or PA, or PR(ToolBar PageRank). These numbers are NOT valid if any other bullet point is a “yes” match for that link.
  • For those sites that send multiple links where the site/domain itself is a broadly problematic site, this can be beneficial from a link clean-up perspective. It’s realistic to see that some of those sites are likely to be sending even more links than existing link review reports show. The end result (whether you’ve identified every link from a site or only some) is that you can contact one domain and potentially have several, several dozen, hundreds or more links removed in one contact step. But of course, that’s only if the site owner cares, let alone can be reached.
  • Once review has been completed, an attempt will need to be made to contact those sites with links flagged as highly problematic, requesting those links be removed. Method of contact can be email, site contact form, or phone—depending on which method has been identified as being available, if any.
  • In addition to looking at the site itself for a “contact” page, with email or phone listed, if none exists, you can do a “whois” lookup to see if there is an email or phone number listed for the registrant or admin contact for that domain.
  • If any contact option is available, that method should be noted in the spreadsheet for that link (or that group of links associated with that domain).
  • Contact should be attempted, and the date of the attempt should then be noted in the spreadsheet.
  • If no response is received within a reasonable time (one to two weeks), this should be noted in the spreadsheet. If response is received within that time, response (“removed,” “will remove by X date,” “refused,” or “requires fee of $X”) should be noted accordingly.
  • After all that work is performed, any responses claiming “removed” or “will remove by X date” should be verified and results noted in the link spreadsheet.
  • Only after all that work has been done should a disavow submittal be made, but only if you are highly confident that you’re not including a lot of sites that are in fact, quality link sources. (The evaluation process is crucial because of this.)
  • Only after THAT, as well as implementation of other recommended on-site changes and audit priority fixes related to duplicate content, should a new re-inclusion request be made, that details and provides documentation as to actions taken.


Does a site have to have a high Domain Authority or Page Authority in 2013 to be trusted for links?

Even a site that has a low DA and/or PA can be a good, valid link. For example, if it’s a relatively new site, just getting going, or one that is a one-person operation, that does not mean the site is not valid, trustworthy, or relevant. It only means it’s a new site, or the owner has not yet built up other signals. Quality, topical relevance, and link implementation are all more important considerations.


How can we ensure a link building company is going to provide us with quality results?

This is one of the most challenging issues site owners face in 2013. As a result, I’ve established a set of strict guidelines that I suggest clients have written into any contract they sign with a company offering link building, content marketing, or other similar services.

  1. They will comply with recommendations as set forth in my audit implementation plan.
  2. This applies to all recommendations, including link quality, type, and diversity
  3. They will provide samples of actual content on the first several pieces they provide, if they are providing content
  4. Such content is subject to your approval prior to placement
  5. They will provide detailed monthly reports
  6. Reports will include list of links or sites where content will be placed prior to placement
  7. Link and site list subject to your approval prior to placement
  8. Reports will include list of links to locations where content has been placed
  9. Reports will include description of any other action they plan on taking the following month
  10. Reports will include description of actual action implemented

The above guidelines are, of course, just that—guidelines. If you wish to build upon them, or bypass any, that is your prerogative as site owner, and your right to negotiate directly with professional services vendors.

Image Credit: Shutterstock / chokniti

Category SEO
Alan Bleiweiss Forensic SEO Consultant at Alan Bleiweiss Consulting

Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites from medium scale to world class enterprise. He ...

How To Clean Up Bad Links and Establish Trust With Link Vendors

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