When Google first introduced their Penguin algorithm, many website owners noticed a significant drop in their site rankings, which ultimately affected the traffic to their websites. Penguin was designed to target websites that participate in link building strategies which repeatedly use unnatural anchor text. The idea was that Penguin would begin to level out the SEO playing field, encouraging website owners to build links ethically.
The introduction of the algorithm highlighted that Google had changed the way it ranks websites, altering the SEO game for web masters. This meant that some of the SEO techniques that web masters had been using previously could end up doing their sites more harm than good if they continued to use them. Back links were one of things that Google was looking closely at, particularly those that had been created artificially and unethically using paid schemes. More and more site owners began to receive warnings from Google, alerting them of unnatural and artificial links, causing them to wonder just how they should go about getting them removed.
In this article we aim to explain how to manage your back links profile, as well as how to go about the process of removing links. We will also provide information on the much talked about Google Disavow tool, explaining when it should be used.
Managing your site’s backlink profile
For those who do not already know, your site’s backlink portfolio is basically a list of links from other websites which point to your website. You can find a list of backlinks to your website in your Google Webmaster Tools. The more backlinks a website has, the more likely they are to rank highly. However, these should be natural links in order for them to be classed as white hat and ethical.
Since Penguin was introduced, many webmasters found that the backlinking tactics they were using previously, were not classed as ethical. If they were to continue using the same tactics, it could lead their sites to be penalized or blacklisted, both of which affect rankings. Obviously, if your site is not ranking well on Google, you are going to see a drop in traffic levels. If you run an eCommerce website, this could mean a drop-in sales and therefore lower profit margins.
Just to clarify, a bad back link is a link that is placed on poor quality or fake website. It is important that back links are placed on relevant sites, as if they are not, Google may also class them as artificial back links. Google’s algorithm was also designed to look out for unnatural links. These are links that use the same anchor text over and over again. In order to keep your site’s SEO healthy, you need to make sure that all of the back links in your profile are relevant, ethical, and natural SEO links.
Poorly built backlinks and negative SEO campaigns
Many website owners have found that their sites have suffered from poorly built backlinks created by the SEO companies they chose to work with. This is why it is essential that if you do choose to outsource SEO, you check the credentials of the company and find out exactly how they carry out processes like backlinking. If they do not use white hat SEO techniques, then you should avoid working with them.
Unfortunately, some websites are also hit with negative SEO campaigns which can affect their rankings. This is when a competitor unethically creates links pointing to your website from irrelevant or fake websites, in hope that Google will think that you have created these links yourself. Although this can have a negative impact on your site’s SEO, it can be resolved through a process of link removal and disavowing, which we will go on to explain later in this article.
The warning signs from Google
If you have a lot of unnatural or artificial links in your site’s backlink portfolio, you may end up receiving a warning message from Google. This message will appear in your Google webmaster tools system and will be titled something like ‘Unnatural inbound links message.’ The message will basically state that Google has noticed that some of the links pointing towards your website have been created using black hat SEO techniques, which go against Google’s guidelines. It will suggest that these are either unnatural or artificial links and should be removed in order to prevent your site from receiving a penalty.
If you ignore Google’s warning, you may find that you receive a manual actions penalty message. This is not good for your site’s rankings. If you receive a warning message or manual actions penalty, you will need to take action to resolve the issues. Unfortunately, this can get a little tricky, as before you can remove the problematic links, you first need to identify them. In order to do this, you will need to carry out the process of auditing your back-link profile.
Auditing your backlink profile
Before you can go about removing unnatural and artificial back links to your site, you first need to identify which links in your profile are causing the problems. In order to do this, you will need to perform an audit on your site’s back link profile. This involves going through every single link to see which may be classed as unnatural and artificial. As you can imagine, this is a very time-consuming process, however, it will be worth it if it means resolving your site’s SEO problems.
Once you have identified the links, you will need to flag them for removal. If you are struggling to identify links, it is highly recommended that you read through Majestic SEO’s blog post on how to use their tool to identify toxic links.
The link removal process
Once you have flagged the links which you believe are either being classed as artificial or unnatural, then the first step in the link removal process is to attempt to remove them manually. If the links are coming from other websites you own, then you will be able to remove them yourself, however if they are coming from external sites, you will need to contact the web masters. When contacting web masters, explain the situation and ask politely that they remove the link from their site. Many people struggle with this, as they see it as bad PR on their part, but it is better to get links removed manually, before resorting to using Google’s Disavow tool. Link removals are easy to get wrong, so take a look at moz.com’s article on removing links for further guidance.
What is Google Disavow?
Google Disavow is a tool that was launched by Google back in October 2012. At the time of its launch, it caused a lot of controversy and confusion, as there were mixed messages on how the tool should be used. Some experts were stating that the tool should only be used as a last resort, whereas others were claiming the disavow tool could be used on any links which you thought Google may class as artificial or spam-like. Our personal stance is that you should first seek to have links removed manually before using the Disavow tool.
The Disavow tool is basically used to inform Google of poorly built or spam links which you do not want them to take into consideration when ranking your website. Disavowing is a two-step process. First, you have to download a list of the links pointing to your site, which can be found in your Webmaster Tools, and then you will need to create a file containing only the links you want to disavow and upload them to Google. It can take the search engine a while to process the information you have provided them with, but it will be incorporated into the index when they re-crawl your website.
When to use the Google Disavow tool
Although there are mixed messages regarding when to use the Google Disavow tool, it is advised that you only use it to disavow unnatural and spam links, if you have failed multiple times to have them removed manually. Basically, if you have tried to contact the webmasters multiple times to have your links removed and they have either not replied or denied your request, then you may have to resort to disavowing the links.
The reason people are wary of recommending that you disavow links is that the tool has caused some problems for webmasters than have been too quick to disavow backlinks in hope of improving their page rank and have ended up harming it. This is due to the fact they have disavowed the wrong type of inbound links. If you have had a warning from Google about unnatural or artificial backlinks pointing to your website and have attempted to have the links removed manually then you may need to use the disavow tool.
Seeking guidance on disavowing links
If you have little experience in SEO and are receiving warnings from Google, it is highly recommended that you seek the help of a reputable SEO Agency or Expert SEO Consultant. Do not attempt to use the disavow tool yourself, as you may end up removing high quality links, which can take a while to get back. Carrying out the disavowing process incorrectly will end up harming your website’s ranking, causing you to lose traffic.
When choosing an SEO company to work with, be sure to look into the services they provide. The first thing you will need from them is an audit of your backlink profile. It is essential that they carry out this process manually, rather than using automated tools. The second thing you will require your SEO Company to do is contact the webmasters, asking them to remove artificial and unnatural links on your behalf. The advantage of having an SEO company do this for you is that it will save you time and effort. Webmasters are also more likely to take the request seriously if they are coming from an experienced and professional SEO consultant.
If for one reason or another the SEO Company is not able to have bad backlinks removed manually, they should be able to carry out the disavowing process for you. The benefit of having an SEO company disavow links for you is that they will have a better understanding of how it works and the type of links that need to be disavowed. The SEO Company you work with should also be able to provide you with advice on how you can strengthen your backlink profile ethically. This will involve gaining organic and ethical links, using white hat SEO techniques.