"Every man is like the company he wont to keep" - Euripides 438BC
What is link building?
Now you may be forgiven in thinking that good SEO in the 21st century and the words of a Greek playwright writing two and a half thousand years ago may not have had a lot in common. Indeed you would be right, except in one fundamental philosophy. This notion of being judged by the people you associate with is one that has been passed down over the generations and even exists in the digital world today.
In our field it relates to good quality link building, that is gaining links from reputable sources pointing to your site, and it is the cornerstone of building a website’s reputation and its standing with search engines. However, in classic search double edge sword manner, poor link building is also very likely to hurt your reputation and rankings.
Google’s Head of Webspam team Matt Cutts addressed this issue in a blog post last year where he attempted to warn sites off looking for quick fixes through such ‘spammy’ methods as content farms.
So it certainly pays to perform a link audit on your site once in a while to keep an eye on any potential opportunities/difficulties.
Tools of the trade
As the saying goes, there is more than one way to crack a nut and in cracking this particular nut there are many tools at your disposable.
One of the first items on the agenda when it comes to an all-inclusive link audit is a proper, in depth crawl of your site. Tools such as Screaming Frog’s SEO spider is a particular favourite of ours (free for the first 500 URIs and £99 a year above that), while there are others out there which do much the same job.
This will help you to immediately uncover any strange goings on with your site including odd and unnatural error codes.
Another tool which should be within the first port of call for any investigation into links is through Google Webmaster tools. In your account you will find a ‘Manual Actions’ page which will warn you of any penalties inflicted by Google due to unnatural links and what you need to remove them. However, this post comes from the angle that you are just performing some good SEO housekeeping rather than reacting to a horrendous drop off in rankings/traffic. Indeed, hopefully, if you make a good link audit part of your practice, you should never need to react to a manual action!
Digging deeper could require the use of tools such as Open Site Explorer and Ahrefs, with our personal preference heading for the former. However, the main crux of these tools are to find a list of URL’s linking to you, their anchor text and their PageRank/domain authority.
So what am I looking for?
So now that you have got yourself a list of links, what actually constitutes a bad one? Well there are a few warning flags, such as...
- links from sites which are nothing to do with your site’s niche
- links from comments sections which seem spammy
- links from sites with any kind of security issue e.g. malware pop up warning
- links with low page rank/domain authority
However, these are just markers really and the best indicator is still your own sense of judgement and what feels shifty.
I’ve found something - what next?
If you do find something that you know is out of place or not the kind of company you wish to be associated with, make sure you act on it. The problem will not just go away and unfortunately for you Google does not take ignorance as an excuse and you will eventually be slapped with a manual action.
The first, and most mild, action you can take is to contact the site owner and ask for your link to be removed from the site. Obviously this is dependant on the site owner taking action and not simply ignoring you, which often can be the case. A more extreme step is to use Google’s Disavow tool which will ask you to upload a list of links you no longer want pointing to your site and Google itself will remove them. However, it is noted that you should use this tool with caution and only after you are sure that this is a link you definitely don’t want associated with your site.
As mentioned earlier, a good link audit will help prevent potential disasters in the future and keep you in Google’s good books. It will also allow you to keep track with how any link building campaigns are progressing and how your site in general is evolving.
Simply put, a thorough link audit is good SEO practice and something which is vital in maintaining and improving site health.