Backlinks represent one of the core elements of good SEO not only because they help build credibility, but also because they can get your website ranked higher in search engines. It makes sense to actively seek link-building opportunities, and take advantage of each one when possible.
But not all links are created equal. Some are good, and can really help with rankings. Others aren’t, and may actually put you on Google’s black list. But what makes the difference between good and bad links? We’re explaining the differences between the two below:
Elements of a Good Link
Back in the early days of SEO, there wasn’t such a thing as a bad link. They were free for all, and anybody who wanted to create a thousand links for their content marketing could easily do it without expecting a penalty. At that time, search engines were not sophisticated enough to determine whether a link is earned or schemed — but those days are long gone. Google is now capable of determining the context of a link, and identifying those that are or may be part of a link scheme.
So, what makes a good link? Is it just about the website the link comes from? Does anchor text have anything to do with this? Below are the top three elements of a good link:
By trust, we mean websites with high authority that Google sees as credible — a few examples: BBC, The New York Times, etc. These sites have no spam due to their very high quality content, and stringent editorial processes, which ensure that every article or blog post is the best it can be. Obviously, trusted websites rank very high in search engines because they’re, well, trusted. Of course, the list of trusted websites doesn’t limit to major media outlets only. There are websites that genuinely care about user experience, and provide only quality content without any spammy links. Those are also trusted, especially if they have established a strong web presence, have a good link profile, and get a lot of social signals.
Any link that comes from a website with high authority is a very good one, as Google trusts it. Sometimes, one such link can make the difference in where you rank, but you’ve got to work hard to get one.
A natural link profile contains links from a wide range of websites. Diversity plays a big role here, because it helps determine whether or not your links are earned. You’ll want to focus specifically on domain diversity (links from a variety of domains and not the same ones again and again), and diversity of link type (links from different types of domains, such as press release syndicators or web directories).The more diversity, the better — if your links come from just one or two websites, this won’t help you rank higher in search engines. Google will think, “Hey, this site has many similar links, something must be fishy.” At a closer inspection, the algorithm may determine you’re trying to cheat — and will subsequently penalise you.
When we say relevance we refer to the anchor text that comes along with a link, and not the page where the link comes from. It’s easy to figure out why this can have such a big impact on rankings — if you’re a SEO company, and someone links to your website using “best hotel in San Diego” as anchor text, it won’t do you any favour. Every user who clicks through your link won’t find what he is looking for, so they’ll simply hit the “back” button — and increase your bounce rate in the process! What’s more, Google can easily determine the topic of a page based on anchor text — so if the link, anchor text, and page topic don’t have anything in common, the link will be considered a bad one.
Try to control your anchor texts as much as possible to avoid any penalties, and keep your link profile as natural as possible. If you get backlinks from spammy sites, use Google’s Disavow Tool to remove them.
Elements of a Bad Link
Too Many Outgoing Links on a Page
If your link comes from a page that includes a dozen of other links, then its value is likely low. From a user’s point of view, a page with too many links doesn’t provide a good experience. There are many such websites out there, and most of them are created just for linking purposes. If you get linked to by any of these sites, disavow the backlinks as soon as possible!
The Website Has a Penalty or Filter Applied
There’s no need to delve deeper into why a backlink from a website with a penalty can hurt you. Obviously, the penalty was probably due to violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, such as masking keywords, stuffing them in content, duplicating or scraping content, and the list goes on. If that’s the case, then you don’t want to be associated with such a website — ever.
The age of a domain may impact its ranking and level of trust for obvious reasons. An old domain has, by now, lots of good links, great content, plus other such trust signals. A newer domain hasn’t had the time to get enough links or establish a strong online presence, and so getting backlinks from one isn’t going to help you rank higher. If the website is new but works to build credibility, the link won’t do any harm; if it’s a website created just for linking purposes, then it may ultimately get your site penalised.
Bad URL Structure
One last thing that determines whether a link is good or bad is the URL structure. Usually, a bad link is one of the following:
Is a spammy page (i.e. machine-generated, keyword stuffed, etc)
Goes through lots of redirects
Is blocked by a robots.txt file
Contains characters that Google can’t or won’t crawl
Contains viruses or malware
If any of these apply to one or more of your backlinks, then go ahead and remove them — they may hinder your marketing efforts, and get you ranked unfairly.
How to Spot Bad Links?
Ready to clean your link profile? Use Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, LinkResearchTools, or Majestic SEO to gather your link data, then disavow them using Google’s Disavow Tool. The more natural your links are, the better you’ll rank — and the greater your domain authority level will be!
Joe Ryan is the Founder & CEO of UK online marketing agency, Digital Search Group, which specialises in smart internet marketing. He is a specialist in online marketing strategy and brand building. When he’s not considering the next best online marketing strategy with his team, he enjoys travel and spending time with his family.