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What makes a “bad link” when link building for SEO?

Getting other websites to link to your website is one important factor in improving your rankings in the search engines. But when it comes to link building, it's quality over quantity that matters. So, what makes a bad link?

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Ranking well in Google is complicated.
It is an ever changing landscape as Google regularly tweaks the algorithm, the set of  rules governing how websites are ranked, with the aim of providing the highest quality websites in the search engine results.
There are many factors which govern how well website rank. The quality of the content on your pages, the speed and security of your website, the user experience, a mobile friendly site, the age an authority of your site, and social signals all contribute to the rich soup that makes up the algorithm.
But of all these factors, one important SEO signal has remained constant – the need for backlinks. These are the links coming into your website from other high quality, trusted websites. Recent research shows that high ranking websites for competitive phrases are 10 times more likely to have significantly more backlinks than lower ranking sites.

But not all links are created equal. 

Some links are good, and some links could be very bad.

In an ideal world, Google’s algorithm would review your website’s inbound links, amongst other factors, and reward you with high rankings.
Conversely, Google reviews your website’s inbound links, and if it finds you have a profile full of bad links then it might impose a Google Penalty that effectively removes your website from the search results.
If you want to know what a good link looks like, start here and review the 21 signs of a perfect inbound link.
Then your next step is to create a plan for persuading high quality websites to link to your site.
There is only one question you need to to ask yourself if you want to know what makes a link bad.

“Why would I use this website?”

Quite simply you need to use your common sense to determine how trustworthy the site feels. Does it look like someone is keeping it up to date? Does the information feel useful and genuinely valuable? Does it link out to sensible and logical places and does it get interaction through comments or social shares?
Keep in mind that many trustworthy, high quality sites may not have stunningly beautiful design but they may still be highly relevant, authoritative and great value to your link building efforts.

9 ways to know a link is bad when building links for SEO

  1. Is this website relevant to mine?  If the website is in some way related to your line of business – whether it’s a niche blog, or a huge site with an area for your field – then it is likely to be a worthwhile link. If there is no connection whatsoever, the link is likely to look like spam (and not just look like spam, it probably is!) and Google won’t rate it. Just think “will this link bring me traffic” or “DOES this link already bring me traffic” – if it does (or will) then you’re doing it for the right reasons.
  2. Is the site full of apparently irrelevant anchor  text – Are there links on the site with anchor text  going to shady topics like “Online Gambling”, “Cheap SEO Services”, “Buy Viagra Online” or links to a wide range of unrelated, irrelevant types of content? This is a good sign that this is a bad link.
  3. Is it full of uncurated content – Is there a human with editorial control ensuring the quality of the content, or can pretty much anybody submit an article to the site and stuff some links into the content?
  4. Is it a directory stuffed full of links?  Actually it isn’t the number of links that is the danger signal. It is whether the director actually ads any value to the users.
  5. Is the site trying to sell you a link?  Google clearly states that buying backlinks to improve your rankings is in breach of its guidelines. So if the site is selling links, then steer clear.
  6. Is the site dead? – Does the site get comments or social interaction that signals people find the content useful or interesting?
  7. Does the site look well maintained? Is it updated regularly, does it look good and trustworthy?
  8. Does the site work, or are there pages that are broken? If important pages are broken such as the contact page, or a page from their main navigation, then this is a sign that the site is not updated regularly.
  9. Have I seen this before?  One sure sign of a poor quality site is when it scrapes content from other sites.  Scraping is the automated process of copying articles from other sites, usually with the purpose of generating revenue from advertising on the site.

If you think it’s a great site with lots of worthwhile information on it and you could imagine coming back to use the site again, see if you can be in touch. If your gut tells you to hit the back button as fast as you can, don’t waste your time. And most importantly, if you’re not sure then don’t bother. Your instinct is probably right.

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