How I Know Which of Your Links Are Bad – Link Profile Review Tips

Link profile maintenance is an unavoidable, recurring task important to the health of your website. Even if you haven’t done anything shady in the past, it is well worth it to pop open the links pointing to your site in Google Webmaster Tools to find out what Google is looking at in regards to your site’s links. Now, if you received a penalty message, the time is nigh to detect and squash the bad links. Either way, reviewing links for preventive measures or a penalty is much the same: look for patterns or negative aspects of external linking domains. The first step is to pull link data from a source. The best tools for link data are ahrefs, Majestic, Open Site Explorer, and Google Webmaster Tools. After you download the link data, the fun begins.

Rooting out the bad links can be exhausting, but it’s part of the job. It has to get done so we can do awesome stuff with the good link building without hindrance. Using heuristics for qualitative and metrics from quantitative, I know, on average, whether a link is worth keeping in less than ten seconds; if I have to look at the code, it takes a little longer. There are going to be loads of almosts, mights, and should’a would’a could’a because every site has a different link profile. There are so many “depends” that go into it that it is crucial to take your own site’s history into mind. That being said, these methods should work for finding the domains causing your link-related woes.

Porn, When Your Links Are Showing Too Much

If your site isn’t in the porn industry, you probably don’t want porn links. I have yet to see a case where it made sense. Whenever you have porn links, use your imagination on words to search for in your link data. A good starting point is looking for “xx” or “xxx.” These are used frequently in domain names, titles, and URLs. Other terms are related to body parts and genres of adult entertainment. The hardest part, well, if you’re at work, is spot checking these links. Considering these types of sites aren’t safe for the majority of work environments, I recommend making the window as small as possible so that you can review it. If you’re on a Windows machine, I use the mouse over preview. You’ll be able to comprehend a site’s content real fast based on even a thumbnail-sized image. Sometimes, you will be surprised that a site isn’t pornographic, so the occasional spot check is still suggested when uncertain.

Pills, Not What the Link Doctor Ordered

“Viagra,” “Cialis,” and any other medicine you might take for extremely personal reasons are the normal suspects. The pill names, other than the big brands, are long words and medical sounding. Review the anchor text, URLs, domains, and anywhere you can apply filters to look for the bad words. You want these links gone, and I have not seen a situation where you’d want pill links yet. Maybe, they’ll be okay if you have pharma clients.

Gambling, the House Always Wins

Gambling can be a fun activity, but I really don’t think gambling with your link profile with these types of links is worth it. Common trigger words to look for are “poker,” “casino,” and “gambl.” Gambling links normally show up as a sidebar sitewide link or as an advertisement. In general, they don’t represent as large of a problem as porn and pills, and only pop up from time to time. That being said, gambling links still produce problems in search results and should be deleted.

ccTLDs, the Bottom Level of Linking Domains

The TLD is an easy method of picking out poor links. My favorites are .pl, .ru, and .br. They have been the worst offenders in the past. If you see a pattern of a specific TLD pointing bad links to your site, check them out. Unless your business is international and frequently deals in those other languages, the linking sites might be up to no good in your neighborhood.

Hidden Links

Have you selected all on a webpage recently? People are STILL trying to hide links with white text. Unbelievable! These have to go, and selecting everything on the page is a simple way to find the “white-out” links.

What about when the link is there but you can’t see it? Off to the code with you! Press F12 or CTRL+U to start searching for the link. Once you find the ahref, inspect the element on the page to identify where the bugger is hidden. There shouldn’t be too many of these, but when they exist, they are vile because they are time consuming to find. The positive side of this is that most of the “hidden in the code like a ninja” links are sitewide, so you get to bust a whole bunch at once.

The Blank Slate Blog

There are several telltale signs of a blank slate blog: generic, starter WordPress theme (often, still on a WordPress subdomain), no blog comments, spun content (does not make sense when read), no internal links, bulk content uploads on the same day, exact-match domains (EMDs), excessive advertising, and no social profile links. It takes a only ten or so seconds to complete a quick scan on the content to look for these clues. When boxes aren’t checked, the game is afoot; the blog is not being updated, stinks, or is part of a network – all good reasons to remove and disavow those links.

Farming, Not Grassfed, Natural, Organic Links

The number of external links on a page can be an indicator of whether the page is good or not. We’ve seen classic examples of link farms. It’s hard to put a number on “how many is too many” because the site might have poor optimization and their navigation is full of junk. Tell you what though, 1,000 is excessive. If there are more links than text words on the page, something is going on that requires a closer look.

Quantitatively Speaking

Quantitative is much simpler. Utilizing link data from whatever tool you’re using (note: use as many of them as possible and always include Google Webmaster Tools data), apply rules and automatically weed out links that shouldn’t make the cut. Because each site has a different profile, it is better to work on the rule of averages for the links you have. For example, if your average domain authority is 52, start cutting sites below 15 rather than 30. Here are my metric preferences to use:

  • * Domain Authority (Open Site Explorer): a link-based score on the predicted strength of a website in the search results.
    * Number of Linking Root Domains (ahrefs, Majestic, Open Site Explorer)
    * Trust Flow (Majestic): a link-based score on the predicted strength of a website’s trustworthiness in the search results.
    * Citation Flow (Majestic): a link-based score on the predicted strength of a website in the search results.
    * Domain Count (Excel): the count of external links coming from a domain.
    * Anchor Text Count (Excel): the count of specific linking keywords.

Other Time Saving Tips

Think at a Domain Level

Typically, if a link on a page stinks, the rest of the domain stinks, and there are hardly any reasons to look at any other pages linking to your site. You should be disavowing at a domain level for almost all of the problem links, so this can save a considerable amount of time.

Remove the Limb to Save the Body

If your website is under a Google link-related penalty, you need to prepare for the worst. Depending on your history, you might have to get rid of nearly every link to prove your worthiness to the powers that be.

Always Be Learnin’

Once you’ve wrapped up discovering as many bad links as you can find, it is time to work on link removal and the disavow file. Link removal is absolutely necessary, if you are working under a Google penalty, so that you can show your work when requesting a review. If your link profile review work is preventive, you can skip to the disavow file and upload proactively. Remember, work as much as you can at the domain level; this is especially true in the disavow file.

These are my go-to favorites when vetting links for their removal and ultimate demise. Have any of your own that you’d like to contribute? I’d love to hear about how you find the bad ilk.

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  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Travis. I think it’s quite common that website owners don’t even attempt link profile maintenance, unless they hire seo’s. Some solid tips here, cheers.
    – Stuart

  2. Good tips shared, Travis and thanks for that. I believe keeping an eye on a website’s link profile and maintaining an excel of built and approved/earned links is really very important. This way we can track each and every link we are getting. I personally prefer to use Google webmaster, OSE and SEOprofiler.
    By the way, I have one quick question, if you have time. Do you believe in “all link building is black-hat” theory?

    1. I do not believe all link building is black hat. There are viable, healthy link building tactics that enhance the web and user experience.

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