Ranking well in Google is complicated.
Once upon a time it was relatively simple. If you focused your efforts on creating good content with the right keywords on your pages, and getting other quality websites to link to you, then your business had a fair chance of ranking well for relevant phrases. And in less competitive business areas, you could rank well even if you weren’t deliberately trying to push your site up the rankings.
But the rules Google uses to rank websites, known as the algorithm, are constantly evolving. SEO isn’t just about keywords and links anymore. The speed of your website certainly impacts how well your website ranks too. The impact of voice search, mobile usage and new forms of content in the search results are all new forces that are influencing the search results.
Despite all these changes, one important SEO signal still remains – 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.
Here are the questions you need to ask yourself if you want to know what makes a link bad.
Is This Website Relevant to Mine?
A great way to start evaluating the quality of sites and deciding if you want them to link to you is to imagine that you’re doing 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?
Relevant is good, irrelevant is bad.
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 their 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.
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 be relevant, authoritative and trustworthy. As such, there will be some signals that a link from a particular website is going to be bad:
- Seemingly random keyword rich 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.
- 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?
- Dead sites – Does the site get comments or social interaction that signals people find the content useful or interesting?
- 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.
- 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.
Solving Your Bad Links Problem
Your next step may be to start the process of getting high quality links to your website. We’ve written some useful guides for you:
If you have worked with an SEO agency in the past that has built up links that are now causing you problems, get in touch to see how we can help. We can clean up you backlink profile, get rid of those bad links and help your website rank well again.