Bad backlinks offer you an opportunity to drive away potential customers and current subscribers, lower your rating with Google, and since recently — even get a penalty from the engine. Sounds exciting? Now, for those who care about their business, let’s step back a little and arm you with information which can help prevent these “exciting opportunities”.
Backlinks are one of the favorite SEO elements
So nice to have somebody put a referral to your business site on their business site, a little piece of acknowledgement with even a promise of cooperation if you can do the same for them and tighten the bond between you. And the best part — getting more traffic and climbing up the Google search ladder to secure a spot among the top search results.
Alas, having certain sites put up external links to you or arranging backlinks for yourself in a certain way may not only hamper the smooth lovely process but even harm your reputation, lose some of your SEO brownie points, and worst case scenario — be banished from Google at all. Serious stuff!
When does this happen, who can put you at such a risk?
You probably have a suspicion already that spammy and scammy sites which attack your innocent blogs and who-knows-how lead to you, even though you’ve never done any business with them to deserve such special treatment, are one of the kinds of bad backlinking guys.
You may wonder, how can you be held accountable for such unfair occurrences when you can’t even always know that this is happening to your website? Well, let’s be honest, Google is just a machine and can’t discriminate between when you fall a victim of spammers and some kind of an actual connection you may have to them. Google is like a police detective: if a bad guy called out your name, you’re already suspicious in Google’s eyes. You’re being watched, in some harsh cases — even arrested (as your website may end up) and penalized. Unfortunately, the engine has neither time nor abilities to connect the dots and see the truth like a real detective would.
But contracting an accidental connection with a site of bad quality is only one side of the story. The other side of it is when a business consciously wants to manipulate the Internet laws and score better ranking with as many backlink mentions as possible, among other things. This could work in the past, but it’s becoming literally impossible now, with Google’s improved skills of discovering such attempts to trick and bribe it. Seems fair, because as Google thinks — and we as well can agree — if your site is that good, you won’t need to forcefully boost the number of times it appears on the net and gain your popularity naturally.
However, it’s not always easy to tell what SEO tactic is now off limits because for the foregoing reason, even reciprocal backlinks (when two websites link to each other) can be frowned upon by the engine. Such coalition may look like another yet joint attempt to speed up the process of climbing the SEO ladder instead of doing it the noble, natural way. Nevertheless, if reciprocal links have value to your business, it’s not a good decision to give them up. After all, it’s probably the least nasty kind of “bad backlink” from Google’s point of view.
What if you do decide to pay for backlinks?
It’s wise to equip them with the ‘nofollow’ property so that the engine would not ascribe ranking value to the link. This way, you still get traffic and don’t get penalized, which could easily be the case if Google caught you buying links and not “declaring” those assets. The consequences of failing to do so? Google may arrest not just that paid link but all of a site’s backlinks that lead to you. How does it do so? Magic. Well, a Google specialist can tell you how, but before you succeed in understanding the technicalities, you better just follow the advice before it’s too late.
So, unless you’re one of those entrepreneurs who like taking advantage of being backlinked by low-quality sites and directories, you probably know what sites are better to stick with: they are trustworthy, they look real and relevant to your business. The better their rating is with Google, the better for you because their trustworthiness indicates yours. Remember, if you have any connection to suspicious guys, the police will find you suspicious too, so stay clear of sites with low-rating and non-indexed web pages. The same refers to websites that look half-empty or have content that is copy-pasted or machine generated. They don’t look real and can’t gain Google’s trust.
Google also judges the value of a link from one site to another by checking their relevance, the correspondence of content on both sites. If you sell hammocks and you have a partner who sells dolls, and you backlink each other, just be aware that Google may find this partnership weird. This even applies to language. Being backlinked by (or having external links to, for that matter) websites in foreign languages, especially multiple times, can be risky.
Taking everything into account, we get a sketch list of potentially and obviously bad backlinks and backlinkers:
– websites with content unrelated to yours;
– paid backlinks that don’t have the ‘nofollow’ property in them;
– potentially virus-infected or dysfunctional sites;
– hidden backlinks (they exist in the code, but they can’t be seen);
– non-indexed web pages;
– low-quality, half-empty, and overall suspicious websites;
– sites with controversial content;
– sites that have a bad reputation with Google;
– link farms, bad directories, and auto-generated backlinks;
– websites with languages that differ from yours;
– sitewide links;
– backlinks between different websites owned by the same business;
– reciprocal backlinks.
Luckily, there are tools either owned by Google or designed independently that can assist you in the bad backlinking business: they allow you to see who links to you, and you can also disavow bad backlinks. Of course, the lists of backlinking sites found by those tools can be incomplete, but at least it’s a big chunk of help. All in all, if you own a big company, a couple of undiscovered bad backlinks cannot really hurt your enterprise, and if your business is small, it won’t take too much time to track some of the links manually or even with something like Google Alerts.