We’ve told you before about what you need to look for in a perfect link – but what about the other side of the story? How can you tell if a link is poor quality or a site isn’t worth targeting without using any special SEO tools? Many webmasters have been asking themselves these questions more and more since the Penguin update and Google’s Anti-Spam team working overtime to take down link networks. Ask yourself the following questions to sense-check whether that link will really help you or whether that link from a shady-SEO past is holding you back.

Is this Website Relevant to Mine?

The most important thing is to forget about link building and SEO: imagine that you’re doing some traditional offline marketing.

Let’s say you’ve written a press release – what would you do with it? Would you send it to every journalist you could find – whoever they work for and wherever they’re based? Or would you send it to journalists working for niche publications in your field and relevant specialists writing for local and maybe national papers?

I hope you’d choose option two for the simple reason that you will be targeting the right readers if you target the right journalists. And you can apply this principle to your links too. If a website is related to yours – whether it’s a niche blog or a huge site with an area for your field – then it is worth keeping or being in touch. 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 bring me traffic” – if it does (or if it will) then you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Would I Use This Website?

This might be a tough one for you, especially if you don’t use your industry leaders’ websites much, but you need to think about how trustworthy the site feels. Does it look like someone is keeping it up to date? Does the information in it feel useful and genuinely valuable? Does it link out to sensible and logical places and does it get interaction through comments or social shares?

If you are looking for opportunities then I would be as picky as possible. If it is not valuable and doesn’t get much traction then what is the point. Again it comes back to the traditional marketing approach.
If you are looking to remove bad links you may have from past work then there are some key things you can look for:

– Keyword rich anchor text – are there links on the site with the anchor text “Online Gambling”, “Cheap SEO Services”, “Buy Viagra Online” or even more innocent keyword rich text.
– Is there lots of blog posts or articles with 3 or 4 keyword rich links in?
– Do their articles get any comments or social interaction?
– Does the site look well maintained? Is it updated regularly, does it look good and trustworthy?
– 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.

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.

When it comes to link removal – be brutal. If you’re not sure, get rid.

Have I Seen This Before?

Does going onto the website give you a strong sense of déja vu – even though you know for a fact you’ve never clicked onto it before? Maybe you think you’ve read the articles before, you’ve seen the exact same links on another site or it’s yet another web page full of pay per click adverts.

It’s inevitable that you’ll come up against similar ideas and content frequently if you’re hunting the net for sites in your niche. But if you can’t find anything unique about the website, it’s a good idea to move along. They may be scraping content, it could be a spammy micro-site or splog, or a website set up purely to make money from advertising.

Even if the website is above board, but just highly unoriginal, you’ll be best off searching for a relationship on a high quality site then trying to build useless (and potentially harmful) links with it.

Sometimes it’s difficult to but just don’t forget your common sense. If you think something’s fishy about a site, chances are Google agrees with you. Focus your efforts on building relationships with industry leaders and creating content that you think are worthwhile instead of on quick and easy wins and you’ll do much better.

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