You know what I’m sick of? What really gets my goat?
So-called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) experts telling unsuspecting business owners that to succeed with SEO you just need to install a plugin, fix your bugs, write some blogs and send a few tweets.
Why? Because it’s bullshit (sort of).
Unfortunately there’s much more to SEO than this.
Now I’m not saying that you don’t need to ensure your site is crawlable and technically sound.
And yes, creating quality content regularly is a powerful way to engage customers, just as social media is a cool way to share and promote your brand.
But links still matter and not keeping track of your backlink profile could be a huge SEO mistake.
Let me tell you right now. You can post awesome infographics, videos, how-to blogs and heartfelt sob stories until you’re purple in the face. But it won’t matter a hill of beans if you have an appalling backlink profile. What’s worse, is that if you have a whole heap of terrible sites linking to you, you could even get slammed with a Google penalty.
SEO is a bit like a fork
It might help to think of SEO like a fork (I know it’s a big ask, but stay with me) – You have to have all four prongs to spike your food, right? A fork with just one prong is not really a fork. Right?
Well SEO is a bit like that. Sort of.
Not all links are created equal
You may think any link is a good link. But sadly, that’s not the case. One good link from a high-authority website is worth far more than 200 crappy ones. And bad links can even kill your website.
But isn’t all backlinking bad?
Yes, everyone is scared stiff of linking since Google started updating their algorithms. We’re fearful of signing up to directories, we’re scared to guest post. And posting a press release? Forget it.
But there are still plenty of places to get good backlinks.
And you can still guest post as long as your posts are legitimate and worth reading.
Of course, writing that amazing blog content is just half the story. Getting it out there is the hardest part of the battle. Sharing on social media is often not enough—you need to actively reach out to other websites as well.
Check out Brian Dean’s website Backlinko for some insanely clever backlinking ideas.
Why should you check your backlink profile?
If you’ve left your backlinks in the hands of an SEO company, you may not know exactly what links are pointing at your site. And that’s dangerous. I believe that even if you’re using a third party company to help with your SEO you should still keep track of your link profile.
A poor link profile can lead to a Google penalty. And if that happens, you’re in a whole heap of pain.
Or you might be the victim of a negative SEO attack like me, where some random nasty dude pays someone else to drive 8000+ bad links at your website in the hope of crushing your business. (Nice, huh?)
If I hadn’t checked my backlink profile I’d have been none the wiser.
So what is a bad link?
Dodgy (and sometimes seemingly legitimate) SEO companies use various tactics to drive links. Two major ones are:
- creating fake directories (or link farms)
- using comment spam (writing fake comments on people’s blogs).
It’s a sweeping generalisation, but if you’ve ever paid for a link it’s probably dodgy.
A bad link could roughly be classified as a link from a site with a Domain Authority of under 15. But you probably don’t even need to think about the metrics.
- Does it look like this? >
- Does the URL look peculiar?
- Is it a thin site with no real content?
- Would you ever visit this site, or share it with a friend?
How to check your backlink profile
If you’re working with a good SEO* company they’ll do your backlink checking for you. I always review a website’s backlink profile in detail as part of my Pick My Brain SEO audits.
But you can also do it yourself using various tools such as:
They all give a slightly different list of links, so checking a few different sites is the best way to get the full picture.
(GWT is free, and you can get limited free accounts with the other sites. But for serious link checking you’ll need to sign up.)
What to look for
As I said, I review a website’s backlink profile in detail as part of my audits. And what I find is often quite hideous. Like this:
Now check out this:
See the way the client is losing and winning links every day? That’s a bit odd, isn’t it? Surely if they were legit they wouldn’t be losing that many links in one hit.
And finally this:
Look at the way the blue line (number of links) suddenly spikes. One domain is suddenly giving this site a lot of links—not necessarily bad, but certainly worth investigating.
Once you’ve compiled a list of links, start reviewing them one by one.
Check out this list from a recent client. The yellow ones are dodgy, and some of the links that are left aren’t much better.
This client had been paying her SEO agency more than $1000 a month for four years And this is all they did for her! It makes me want to cry salty tears.
What about anchor text?
Anchor text is the text in your link (e.g. ‘copywriter Sydney’).
Including your chosen keyword phrases in your anchor text used to be the done thing, but not any more.
Instead, you should stick to naked URLs and your brand name.
So, once you’ve checked your link, the other thing to look for is the percentage of anchor text coming from commercial rather than branded keywords
As Andre Weyher from Marketing Director at LegalVision (and ex Google webspam fighter) told me
“A warning sign of bad quality for Google would be a large amount of links flowing in to your site that use commercial anchors. Under no natural circumstances would a travel website get 50% of their links coming in from anchors like “hotels in Sydney”.
Remember my negative SEOing friend? His goal was to knock me off the top spot for the term ‘copywriter‘, so all the links he’s driven to my site include the anchor text ‘copywriter’.
This means my anchor cloud now looks like this:
That’s bad, and could result in Google smacking my bottom.
If you find bad links you have two choices:
1) Ask the site to remove them (hard work, and often they won’t do it)
2) Disavow the links (I’ll be posting a how-to on this soon).
But of course the best thing is not to get dodgy links in the first place.
How to avoid dodgy links in the first place
It goes without saying that you should never buy links. You should never submit articles to sites that don’t have an approval process, and always approach free directories with caution.
And if you plan to use an SEO agency, you should ask them how they build links.
Andre told me:
“Just ask them to show you examples of links they’ve built in the past. If the sites they’re coming from seem to look exactly the same, use a directory template, or offer no value to users on their own, then they’re likely to be risky.
If an agency is hazy about where they get their links, it’s a red flag.”
To summarise:keeping track of your backlinks is not something you need to do every day (unless something really odd is going on).
But it is worth checking them out once in a while, or asking a reputable SEO dude to do it for you.
Over to you
Have you ever had a bad experience with bad links or negative SEO? I’d love to hear about it (and find out I’m not the only one!) Please comment below.
Oh, and if you like this post, please share it.
* P.S. If you need me to refer you to a SOLID ongoing SEO partner, let me know.
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