I’ve recently completed a fairly hefty link audit on behalf of a client, culminating in a major clean-up and resubmission of a disavow file. The scale of this particular project – I’m talking upward of 20k links across every type of website imaginable – has not only presented a number of technical challenges, it has also reaffirmed to me how important it is to approach link analysis objectively and not let preconceptions about good or bad links lead to any rash decisions.
In recent years Google has been coming down pretty hard on websites that employ ‘get rich quick’ type link building schemes in an effort to game Google’s algorithm, such as en-masse directory submissions, article spinning, and forum spam. Typically this type of link building activity results in a large quantity of low-quality links being obtained over a short period of time, but inevitably ends badly.
It’s hard to argue that Google’s increasingly strict stance on link building isn’t a good thing. It cuts out the spam and rewards sites that earn links through producing quality content and generally doing good stuff online. However, this shift has resulted in a lot of website owners being overly cautious, which isn’t always a good thing when it comes to auditing and disavowing links.
This isn’t being helped by overly risk-aware tools that have a habit of flagging up issues unnecessarily. Tools are incredibly useful to a point, but when it comes to actually scrutinising links, there’s no substitute for a brain and common sense. With that in mind, here are three mistakes to avoid when undertaking your next link audit.
1. Assuming all weak domains are bad domains
A low Domain Authority (or equivalent score) does not automatically mean a domain is bad or presents a risk. The domain might be new, or super-niche and therefore less likely to attract links, for example, but if it’s relevant and the link is natural, where’s the harm? If your tool of choice flags up a link as risky based on its low DA, don’t just take its word for it – look at the page the link is on and make a decision yourself on whether that link adds value and can be justified.
2. Tarnishing all link types with the same brush
Google has made it pretty clear that building links for pure SEO gain is a big no-no, and has previously pointed to specific types of content that should be avoided, including infographics. Back in 2012, now ex-head of search spam at Google, Matt Cutts, said the company was considering discounting the value of infographic links because they didn’t represent a true endorsement of a site. This warning shot came at a time when infographics had reached peak-spam levels, as highlighted by the sharp increase in infographic directories and ‘best infographics’ style blogs. So does this mean all infographic links are bad? Of course not.
The same can be said of forum links. Although most forum links are nofollow, thus offering little to no direct SEO benefit, they’re still a hotbed for spam. One might assume therefore that all links from forums are bad and condemn them all to the disavow list, including any natural links that have been shared by legitimate users who are simply adding value to a discussion. In short, don’t make assumptions based on what you think you know to be true, because you may risk killing perfectly good links.
3. Assuming all keyword anchor text links are spam
It can be very difficult to control the makeup of external links, particularly when those links occur naturally and unexpectedly. It’s also a mistake to assume that everyone linking to a website understands or cares about SEO – or that links with keyword-optimised anchor text may violate Google’s guidelines. But that doesn’t make every link that contains a keyword in its anchor text spammy. While a link of this nature on a low quality, user-submitted article directory may cause problems, a similar link on an authoritative news site may be perfectly justifiable. Again, it comes down to relevance and context.
Building links is hard, but cleaning up a bad link profile is often harder. A link audit shouldn’t just be about removing bad links, it should also be about preserving the good ones. This can only be achieved by taking the time to analyse links individually, and judging on individual merit rather than relying on what a tool says is right or wrong.
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