Did you ever wonder why the symbol for a hyperlink is a chain and the anchor text, the visible text to click on in the link, is called the anchor text? Could it be because a website is like a ship floating in a cyber-ocean of other vessels (i.e. websites) that needs links to stabilize and enhance its presence? These nautical terms may take on a whole new meaning after Penguin 2.0, which most website owners might remember as the hurricane that upended their link-building strategies causing some ships to capsize before it was all over. The storm is not yet over and many captains on sinking ships need to take a proactive approach to right their ship. First, they must figure out what constitutes a good link and which links are toxic. Then, they must figure out if the link is relevant to advertisers or sponsors. Finally, they must make a choice to either remove the offending link or change it so as to regain Google’s favour.
How Links Have Changed
Prior to Penguin 2.0, it didn’t matter much if you threw out a few links to toxic areas in a polluted ocean because Google only graded you on your wise choices. Suddenly, it seems that Google got a case of the environmental jitters and, after Penguin 2.0, downgraded sites even handing out penalties to those with toxic links. Despite the reasoning, many website owners panicked and started removing all links from their site, which started a cascade of problems that went from one site to another. First, the website owners who removed links destabilize their own website presence without really helping to regain Google’s favour. Secondly, it also affected all the websites they had previously linked to as well. This also happened when a website owner requested their links be removed on a different site and then removed other links on their site too. There is a better approach, but first you have to figure what is a good link and what is an unnatural link. If you were to ask Google, they would suggest that an unnatural link is one that is not an editorial choice activated because of the informational value of the link, but rather one that is activated because someone is getting PageRank via the link that is either spammy or sells something. It can be part of a link exchange program or merely an agreement to post the link to pass PageRank without adding any further value to your site, usually done for monetary compensation.
Does Google Hate Advertisers and Sponsors?
Actually, no. They do realize that if a website owner is part of an advertising campaign that they may not have the sole decision-making capability over what links show up on their site. Also, it is difficult for a website owner to remove incoming links from spammy sites. Thus, Google takes a more holistic approach to determine a bad link from a good link by allowing some ‘bad links’ as long as they have a ‘no follow’ tag on them so they do not pass PageRank to advertisers and sponsors. As for incoming links, Google will take a look at whether that inbound link represents some agreement between the two entities, like a link exchange or network agreement, or whether it is not a mutual agreement.
Steps You Can Take if Your Site Was Penalized for Unnatural Links
If you are one of those unfortunate captains steering a sinking ship, there is still quite a bit you can do to right the ship without resorting to removing all your links. Removing all links is not a viable option anyway, as it is time-consuming and often won’t yield the results you want, even after you disavow the links with Google. Plus, you might end up losing significant revenue from links that didn’t have to be removed. Instead, take a proactive approach by categorizing your links and looking at yout link building relationships before you decide how to change the links to create a more favourable impression for Google. Here’s how.
1. Classify Your Links – Which links are natural and which are not? The ones pointing to sites that you would not have linked to, had you been given a choice, are those that would be high on your list of unnatural links. Once you have a good idea of the types of links that are unnatural, you will be able to backtrack to figure out how they got on your site in the first place.
2. Identify Agreements – Usually, it took some sort of agreement to get a toxic link on your site. These come about through link exchanges, link networks, sponsors, and advertisers. Sometimes, a friend might have requested a link to boost their site with no exchange going on at all. Either way, you want to know where all those agreements came on and what the terms of those agreements were to start.
3. Choose to Redirect, Modify, or Throw Away - Once you have a good idea of what you’re dealing with on your site, you will need to make a decision to either redirect all links through an intermediate URL that’s blocked (so as not to pass PageRank) or to take a one-by-one approach. You may choose to modify some links using the ‘no follow’ designation, while throwing out others.
4. Change Agreements - It’s up to you to decide whether a relationship is going to continue to be toxic in the future and must be withdrawn completely or whether the agreement can be modified. It may mean that you have to drop a link network or modify an advertising agreement. If you can keep an advertiser while maintaining a good relationship with Google, you don’t lose the revenue just to comply with the rules.
5. Build High-Value Natural Links – Getting your website ranked highly is going to take more than just removing toxic links. It’s going to take a new approach to make sure you are constantly adding high-value natural links that your audience appreciates and that the search engines love. This is an entirely different strategy that can reap dividends for years, despite what other changes Google makes to their search algorithm.
6. File for Reconsideration with Google – Once you’ve done a lot of the needed work, you will need to file a bid for reconsideration with Google. It will take a few months for Google to notice any changes to your site in the natural course of events, however, you can speed the process along by notifying Google why you had unnatural links on your site and what steps you’ve taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This can help them re-evaluate your PageRank and right your ship more quickly.
Busy website owners may be groaning at the thought of the amount of work it might require to fix a content-rich site with many embedded links. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the process of removing links, contact Quantum Web, and we can make the process simpler, more efficient, and quicker for you.
Has your site ever been hit with a link penalty? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
Google (n.d.) Unnatural links from your site. Retrieved from: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2604774?hl=en