10 May 2012

6 Signs Your Links Might Suck

Between emails from Google and updates named after flightless Antarctic birds, a lot of people have had to take a closer look at their links. Having to go through a link intervention isn’t fun, and the more back links you have the harder it gets. Sure, there are tools, and shortcuts, but when it comes down to it, you may have to actually go in and take a good look at a lot of sites to find the links that could be tainting your profile. So how do you know the bad ones? Well, they usually aren’t that hard to spot…

1. Friends in Low Places

Imagine the page your link is on as a bar. Is it a high-class lounge with reputable business professionals like you, drinking martinis? Or is it a seedy dive, where your feet stick to the floor and a couple of drunks are passed out in the corner?

If you see your link is hanging out in a bad place with a rough crowd, that’s not good. But the problematic neighbors aren’t always as easy to see as a link to Phentermine next to a link for Dog Collars. A lot of times, the signs are more subtle. Like even when your link shares space with links that aren’t downright smarmy, but are a bunch of completely unrelated sites, there’s a strong likelihood it isn’t one of your best. Groups of random links, with no discernible organization scream “Paid” and that’s not a message you want to send.

It’s not even just the links you are with that determine value. Where you hang out matters, too. Sure, page positioning on its own may not be a deciding factor. A link in a side bar could be a blog roll, or a list of recommended sites. So context makes a difference. But footers and sidebars are also some of the most popular places for paid links. And labels like “Advertisement” or “Sponsor” make a bad page placement even worse. So if your link is in a list on the sidebar or footer, you’re off to a bad start. If the list of links is made up of bad company, too, you’re pretty much finished.

2. Directories No One Uses

Everybody has some directory listings, just like everyone has an appendix. They don’t really do anything for you unless they get infected. The truth is, you probably have some far worse links in your profile than any directory listings, but if you’re trying to really gauge value, look objectively at the directory. Is it likely that any human being would prefer this cluster of links to a Google search? If you want to get really practical about it, see if the directory has sent you any traffic in the last 6 months. Any free listing that sends referrals is a keeper. If it hasn’t, well, think of it as profile stuffer, because it’s probably not really doing much for you.

3. Too Much Anchor Text

Hey! Your link has keyword anchor text, that’s good! Oh wait; you have 500 links with that exact anchor text going to your home page from only 12 domains. That’s unfortunate. Disproportionate anchor text links like that usually wouldn’t happen naturally. Instead, it looks like blatant over-optimization of a keyword which can actually be counterproductive to ranking well for that phrase. It’s not like having targeted anchor text isn’t going to help you, but it shouldn’t be that heavy-handed. If your backlinks are real, and not inflated by the linking equivalent of silicone, there should be a lot of variations in the anchor text and the pages you’re getting links to (and from!).

4. Paid Posts

If you have blog links, and you take the time to read through some of the other posts on this blog, what do you see? Is it a genuine attempt at providing thought-provoking posts intended to stimulate conversation? Or do you see posts written about products and services that just so happen to have mid-to-high-volume search value? Also, how frequently is this blog updated? Are there any comments that aren’t blog spam? When you look honestly at the quality of the blog content, it’s pretty easy to tell if the blog only exists to sell posts and links. Blog links like that probably aren’t worth much to you. There’s also a good chance this blog is a part of one of those…

5. Blog Networks

BuildMyRank was one of the most public instances of the fall of a blog network. But just because it made the loudest noise doesn’t mean it’s the only tree in the forest that went down. At this point, blog networks that are easily mapped have probably lost most, if not all, of their influence and are unlikely to be helping you. That’s especially true if they come with shady co-citation and paid posts, too.

6. Useless Pages

The ultimate factor that determines the value of a link is the purpose of the page. So when you spot a links page, is it a real, editorial resource, links page or a generic link exchange page? It makes a big difference. Not because Google has devised some sort of omniscient “intent algorithm,” (although they might have, I‘m not ruling it out completely). But the formatting of a page, other links and mostly the reciprocal nature of the vast majority of links on a link exchange page are going to pretty much give up the game.

If any page that your link is on seems like someone genuinely attempted to add value to the Internet in creating it, then you’ve got no worries. If the surrounding links are a random pack of degenerates, and the content is written with little attention to style, substance or basic rules of grammar, then worry a little.

Google has gone a long way to tell us all about their desire to reward quality content. So if you’re trying to find those of your links that well, suck, look at the pages your links are on and ask yourself this: Is this page honestly aiming for quality? If it is, or even might be, give it the benefit of the doubt. But if it’s not, then it’s a link you can probably stand to lose.