There comes a time in the life of every website, young or old, that they must become aware of and deal with their backlink profile. The older a site is, and the longer it has gone without this treatment, the more risk there is involved with letting it be.
Backlinks, particularly negative backlinks, are like barnacles on a ship. They build up over time, and unless they are removed, they can cause harm to the site in question. A single backlink alone is unlikely to do much, but years worth of them accumulated can have a deep detrimental effect.
You can also think about bad backlinks as a weight holding you back. Even if your site is popular and doing well, the boost you receive by lightening that load could be surprising. SO when should you perform such an audit and cleanse your links?
When Your Google Ranking Drops Unexpectedly
If you’ve noticed your Google ranking dropping overnight, the first thing you might want to do is run a search for any recent algorithm updates. If you see the date coinciding with a rollout of Penguin, you have cause to be concerned.
Unfortunately, by the time you’ve been hit by Penguin, it’s too late to prevent the damage. The best you can do is work to restore what you’ve lost. Even worse, Penguin is not part of the algorithm in the same way Panda is. You need to make your changes and then wait for the next rollout of Penguin to see those changes take effect.
Penguin looks primarily at the relevance and the anchor text of the links pointing at your site. When you pull your backlink profile, you want to check to make sure you aren’t the host of thousands of overly optimized links, all using the same keywords as anchor text. Plaintext phrases, not keywords, are better for building links.
Likewise, unless you’re an online casino, getting links from digital poker pages won’t help you. Your incoming links need to be from relevant, non-spam sites. Anything that’s too far outside your niche will, at best, be valueless. At worst, it can be actively detrimental.
When You Notice Strange Referrals
When you pull a traffic report and see the sites referring visitors to your site, you’ll see all sorts of links. Some of the top referrers will be sites like Facebook, Google, Twitter and WordPress. Others may be top networks and forums in your industry, or other blogs and sites you own.
When you start noticing weird URLs, sites that look like spam, or sites so far outside your niche that they are cause for concern, you need to start your audit process quickly.
Google gives you a little trust in terms of your backlink profile. They understand that you don’t necessarily have control over the links pointing to your site, and they know that spammers can steal content or create links to your site for malicious reasons. To that end, you have some leeway to ignore or work to eliminate bad links.
That patience and trust is limited, however. If you have such a significant volume of spam links that it looks suspicious, it’s time to get rid of them if you can. Disavow them through Google, ping webmasters and ask for their removal, and distance yourself from them.
This sort of situation can be a negative SEO attack, or it can be the signs of an impending Penguin penalty. It can also be a natural consequence of running an old, popular site. In any case, try to keep on top of these links, so you don’t have to audit thousands or millions at a time.
When Pulling Your Backlink Profile is Full of Spam
Tools like Majestic SEO and Ahrefs allow you to pull a public backlink profile to see what the public sees in terms of sites linking to you. Any one tool might not have a complete list of all of your links, but it’s difficult to locate every single one without a complete index of the Internet, which doesn’t exist.
If you pull your link profile and you discover that it’s full of links you don’t approve of, you may want to get started on an audit. This is common with old sites, or sites under a negative SEO attack. It’s also possible when a scraper steals content and posts it unedited; they copy your links too, and those links can hurt your site.
When You’re Cleaning Up Old Bad Links
Old sites, particularly those that have spent years working on SEO, often go through phases where different techniques take the fore. Right now, for example, content is the ruler of all things SEO. A few years ago, it was guest blogging. Years before that, it was links. If your site has been around long enough to pass through some of these phases, you might not realize that what used to work then can be harmful now.
If you, for example, ever purchased hundreds or thousands of links from cheap sellers for SEO benefit, it may have worked years ago when you did it. The problem is, now, in the modern era, those links still exist and can be quite harmful. If they haven’t hurt you yet, they’re effectively a ticking time bomb. A link detox can solve that issue.
When You Haven’t Looked in Months
When was the last time you audited your links? January? Of 2012? If you haven’t pulled your complete profile and looked it over recently, you really need to. You never know what the state of your site is, how many links you don’t like have accumulated and how much potential for a penalty there is lying in wait.
In general, if it’s been over six months since your last link audit, you should initiate one now. Establish a regular schedule of auditing your links every six months, for two reasons.
First, a regular link audit schedule keeps you on top of any warning signs that might lead to a penalty. It’s like a pest infestation in a building; a few bugs can be eliminated, but if you leave them a habitat they can explode out of control.
Second, a regular link audit allows you to keep down the amount of work it takes to perform a complete audit. If you know any link older than six months has been vetted and cleaned already, you can safely disregard them. You only need to concentrate on the most recent links, which saves you time and energy.
Credits: James Parsons