Here at Hallam we come across a number of companies whose websites have been hit by a manual penalty from Google for having spammy links. Here are two mistakes to avoid if you want to get your link removal project off to a good start.
#1 Use More Than One Source To Gather Your Backlinks
It is tempting to think that if you log in to Google Webmaster Tools, all of the backlinks to your site will be handily stored there in one place. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Here’s what Google has to say about this:
“Although the link reports in Webmaster Tools are more comprehensive than doing a [link:example.com] query in Google search, they may not include 100% of all links that you know about. This is normal and should not be cause for alarm. Webmaster Tools does not always show 100% of the links that Google knows about, so just because a particular link doesn’t appear in Webmaster Tools doesn’t mean that Google doesn’t know about that link, or that your site isn’t “getting credit” for that link”
So conversely, this is also the case for spammy links pointing at your site. Even if Google doesn’t have that link listed in Webmaster Tools, they will still know about it, and it will still count in their appraisal of your site’s link profile.
How To Get A Comprehensive List Of Your Site’s Backlinks
1. To obtain a list from Google Webmaster Tools, log in to your account and click on Search Traffic. Select Links to Your Site, and then More:
From this page, select Download more sample links:
Save this document as a CSV – this is the most comprehensive list that Webmaster Tools can offer.
2. Next, download backlink lists from Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, and Majestic SEO. Essentially, you must draw from as many sources as you can in order to get as comprehensive a picture as possible of your site’s link profile.
3. Put all the links into one mega-list.
4. Of course, there will be links that will be found by two of the tools, or even all of them. All you need to do is de-duplicate the list in Excel, and put all the links in alphabetical order. This will group together every link from every domain.
Now that you have as complete a list as you’re going to get, you can start the link removal project.
#2 Don’t Make Assumptions About Links Just By Looking At the URL
Do not mistakenly assume a link is good just because the domain or URL looks relevant to your business.
For example, you may think a link is genuine if it contains keywords relating to your industry, or even your company name. Don’t fall into this trap, especially if you know that shady SEO tactics have been used to generate links to your site in the past.
One example I have seen of this involved a company receiving links from blog websites such as WordPress, Tumblr and Weebly. In every case, the URLs included the title of the blog, which directly related to their business. They understandably assumed these links to be genuine. However, it became apparent that these blogs had been set up purely with the intention of creating posts with over-optimised keyword-stuffed anchor text, linking back to the client’s website. Google clearly saw these as artificial, unnatural links.
So, what should you do?
1. You’re going to need to manually go through your list and flag the links you deem to be spam.
2. Don’t rush, be thorough. You need to check every link, although if you look at two or three from a particular domain and judge them to be bad, then that whole domain will need to be added to your spam list.
3. You’re probably asking at this point – how am I supposed to know if a link is bad!? Don’t worry, we recently covered this topic in considerable detail on our blog. Alternatively, take a look at our post on what makes the perfect link. If the link or website you’re looking at doesn’t fit any of these characteristics, then you’re going to need to get rid of it.
4. Once you have audited your links and determined which ones are unnatural, you need to create a disavow file and upload this document using Google’s disavow tool. We have compiled a full run down of how to create a disavow file and submit a reconsideration request to Google.
Don’t simply use Google Webmaster Tools to find your backlinks, and never assume a link is ”good” just from looking at the domain and URL. Always delve deeper.
Finally, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your link profile, and investigate any dodgy-looking links as they appear.
Have you learned the hard way from any mistakes made during a link removal project? Let us know below.