The Importance of Backlinks to Google
One of the most fundamental tasks of an SEO is to setup a strategy on improving the backlink profile of a website. Simply put, backlinks are an essential component of search engine optimisation, to the point that your chances of ranking in Google for anything of importance without links are extremely unlikely. Links are one of the top three ranking factors, as confirmed by Google, along with content and RankBrain. Taking into account that links are a major factor for Google, all SEO’s should be aware of the need to look into the backlink profiles of websites.
Google Penguin is a ranking algorithm which has been the interest of many industry professionals over the last few years. Penguin 4.0 was expected to go live before the turn of the New Year, before getting pushed back to April 2016, and then being taken back to the testing board, meaning no date is in sight for its eventual release. However we can still expect it at any time.
This isn’t bad news; in fact, it gives webmasters a chance to review their link profile and clean up any potentially harmful links that may damage their rankings once the update goes live. This reiterates the need for developing a sustainable strategy for high quality link building, and the audit and removal of poor quality links.
Do you regularly check the health of the links to your website? How do you conduct a link audit? What do you need to look out for in this process? This article will examine a step-by-step process to guide webmasters in their role of facilitating a link audit.
The Major Setbacks from a Bad Link Profile
The consequences of being penalised due to a bad link profile can be hard to recover from. The overall value of your website will decline, which will result in your site dropping out from Google, or so far backwards it no longer matters. Be aware of the harsh penalties Google can issue if your site has been identified as having low quality or spammy backlinks.
A poor link building strategy will result in the decrease of rankings for your keywords. A decline in rankings will inevitably lead to a loss of website traffic, which means you lose out on sales and conversions due to the lesser number of people visiting your site.
A manual penalty describes the process where Google directly takes action against a website. The length of time is dependent of the severity of the toxic links going against Google guidelines, as it can take a considerable amount of time to remove bad links. Sites can only regain their rankings if they file a reconsideration request AFTER addressing the issue that led them to be penalised in the first place.
Your To Do List Before the Penguin Update
The upcoming Penguin Update has been pushed back several times this year, but this does not hide the fact that the update can rollout at any time now!
Don’t be caught on the back foot, make the necessary steps to prepare yourself for the upcoming Penguin update.
Here is your simple and practical guide on how to conduct an SEO link audit for your website.
1. Complete a backlink audit
To begin, you need to collect the data of all backlinks pointing back to your website. You can easily do this by logging in to your Google Webmaster Tools account, which actually allows you to download the latest links. If you don’t have access to your GWT, contact your webmaster, or please contact Quantum and we can assist with the signing up process and adding the code to your site.
There are paid tools that gives you a complete list of your backlinks, as opposed to the ‘sample’ size provided by Google Webmaster Tools. Majestic SEO is a useful tool and can help webmasters analyse the backlinks pointing to their website. By entering your website’s domain name, Majestic SEO gives you an insight to the breakdown of your backlinks, the types of verticals linking back to you and anchor text, giving you an indication on the quality of links pointing back to your site.
2. Analyse backlinks
Now that you can access and view the data, what do you do? You need to assess if you have a good quality backlink profile or not, and you can use these measures below to find out:
- Links from Penalised Sites: All links that appear on a domain that isn’t indexed in Google need to be removed. See an example of a website that isn’t indexed on Google below:
Domain and Page Authority: These are a strong indicator of quality for links pointing back to a domain or landing page. The higher the authority, the more influential the links will be for your rankings depending also on how relevant it is to your keywords.
Quality of Links: Links not only help with search engine rankings, but they can bring in quality traffic to your site on their own. If you have low quality links pointing to your site they could be doing more harm than good. It’s important to know, whether the links pointing to your website are relevant in terms of your respective service or industry. Having a lot of links coming from random sources do NOT help your keywords, and thus could make your site look spammy. Websites with a variety of external sites that link back to them have a higher chance of ranking better in search results.
- Diversity of Anchor Text: Using Majestic SEO, see the variation of the anchor text pointing to your website. It’s essential to determine the balance between service keywords and brand related terms, as keyword-specific anchor texts play a big role in impacting keywords. It’s important to note, that over reliance on one anchor text will make it look unnatural. This is why it’s important to have a fair share of branded links and other types of links as well. As a general guideline, Quantum recommends you keep the exact match of your anchor text between 2-5% which is dependent on the size of the site and how many pages it contains, and the scope of the keywords your site is focussed on.
Building up a focus of branded and naked links as anchor text is considered normal practice. This example given in Quicksprout shows that out of 9,000 links which pointed to a website, about 19% pointed back to the homepage, whilst the rest was distributed to other internal pages.
3. Removing Toxic Backlinks
Once you’ve identified the links you wish to remove from being associated to your site, you have to manually reach out directly to the administrators of the websites providing those links.
This step is usually done through the contact form of the website, or sending a direct message to an email address.
If the step above does not bear any results, you have the option of disavowing the link yourself through Google Webmaster Tools.
It’s important to note that this step should be taken only if you don’t hear back from the offending webmasters. This is because by using this disavow tool, you are specifically telling Google not to take in specific backlinks when crawling your website.
Using the Disavow tool should be considered as a last resort. In addition to the point above, disavowing your whole link profile will not work and may set your site back even longer. If Google deems that you have no or little attempts at following through with manual removals, they will ignore your disavow request.
Here are some steps to know if you proceed with creating a disavow file:
- Use ‘.txt’ format
- Disavow the domain of the site, not just the offending link
- Do not add “http” or “www” in front of domain
Still Need Help With Your Audit?
Working on your backlinks should be one of your most important SEO tasks for your website. If you have not started, it is highly recommended you start working on this ASAP, as Google is renowned for not giving any warning when major updates are rolled out. As is the case with Penguin 4.0, we still don’t know when the official release date is!
Quantum can help you provide a full audit of your backlink profile. Contact us on 1300 3888 11 for more information.