Nothing is more terrifying for businesses engaging in digital marketing than suddenly receiving an e-mail from Google that says you have a penalty for unnatural links. Such a penalty can cause the majority of your traffic to be lost. In fact, you can even lose all of it.
It’s definitely gotten more difficult to do off-site SEO (link building) over the years. Back in the very early 2000s, you barely needed any links at all to rank for your target keywords.
Now, though, it’s gotten much, much more complex, which has caused the cost of SEO to rise. When links are built to your website, here’s the general parameters Google wants you to follow:
- Anchor text: You know the blue text that appears on a link, like this? That’s called “anchor text.” Right now, around 5% of the links that point to your site, and perhaps even less, should have anchor text that contains the keywords your site tries to rank for. Unfortunately, there’s no specific cutoff, so you have to guesstimate. If you exceed this percentage significantly, though, you are at risk of an “unnatural links” penalty.
- Links must come from relevant websites: If your website is about HVAC repair, you should have links coming from leading business directories, the chamber of commerce, DIY sites, and other HVAC blogs. If you have hundreds of links coming from sites selling mobile phones, Google looks at that as unnatural. However, it is common sense enough to expect that some percentage of your links will come from completely irrelevant websites (Google factors in for that). If this is a consistent pattern, though, a Google penalty may not be far off.
- Your links must be acquired at a natural rate. If you have no links one day, and then 1000 the next week, Google becomes suspicious right away. You see, some webmasters who owned many websites got together in the past, and then just posted links all over each other’s websites. They manipulated themselves right to the top of Google’s rankings. To be successful with link building, you have to get links at a nice even pace.
- You must not hang out in any “bad neighborhoods.” Certain websites are viewed as bad places to be, or they’ve already been penalized themselves. “Bad neighborhoods” sell links, exist solely for the purpose of getting links, have over optimized keywords and anchor text running throughout their site, and contain nothing of value for visitors to read or enjoy. Google does not want to see any links coming to your site from these “bad neighborhoods.”
How to Check the Quality of Your Links
Unfortunately, many SEO companies still build links and manipulate your website to the top of the rankings. The problem is that even if you don’t get caught now, Google will catch you sometime in the future.
It is easy, however, to check the quality of your links. Simply go to http://www.opensiteexplorer.org, type in your website’s URL, and click “Search.” This tool is built by Moz, a very reputable company in the digital marketing industry, and it checks a number of SEO factors.
The first page that comes up is “Inbound Links.” If you have links that will get you in trouble, it’s fairly easy to catch right away. Remember, you will have some completely irrelevant to your website, and a small percentage is okay.
Just look at the links – if a majority are from websites that have nothing to do with yours, there’s a problem. Sometimes, you’ll even see you have tons of links from Chinese websites (link building gets pretty crazy sometimes). You can also check the same from the “Linking Domains” tab.
If you notice a number of links from strange websites you’d never want your company to be found on, then it’s time to have a tough conversation with your SEO company, and maybe get a second opinion from another.