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September 11, 2020

Posted by: Leonardo Moura


How to Detect and Deal with Unnatural Inbound Links

The most reliable strategy in SEO, inbound links are hyperlinks that direct the user back to your site from another website. Having a variety of high-quality backlinks improves your overall search engine rankings, thus boosting the overall number of visitors to your website, which in turn increases the number potential customers. However, when webmasters receive notifications from the Google Spam Team regarding penalties, it can damage a website’s organic visibility to various degrees.

SEMrush, an SEO solutions software company, recently conducted a study where they were looking to determine a list of factors that cause manual penalties. They concluded that above all else, spam prevention is key, as running constant thorough backlink audits can ensure that you keep a clean profile.

Key Findings

  1. A single bad link does not lead to a penalty. In most cases, it is the combination of two or more types of manipulative behavior that triggers penalties.

  2. Lifespan does not affect the quality of links, meaning that even old inbound links can trigger penalties.

  3. Google does not care about a website’s reputation when looking at unnatural links. If a link looks manipulative, it will likely be taken down.

  4. When a Google alert hits, it hits hard, often penalizing websites and properties over specific pages or site sections

  5. Exact match anchor text needs to be treated very carefully. Google is very good at spotting money anchors, which are links that use exact match anchor text for keywords a website is trying to rank for.

  6. Webmasters are mostly on their own, as Google does not typically provide a list of examples of unnatural links that may be hurting your websites rankings.

  7. It may take a while to remove the penalty and fully recover from it. The study found that it took 2 to 3 consideration requests to lift a penalty, meaning it may take up to six months for the issue to be resolved. Running a monthly backlink profile audit is one way to mitigate that risk.

Inbound Links that can Trigger a Penalty

  • Sponsored and paid Links in Articles and Blog Posts - Dofollow links allow search engine bots to follow your link and reach your website, allowing for the possibility of spams. If certain phrases are paired with Dofollow links, and a partnership is not disclosed, this could lead to a red flag and a penalty. Buying and selling links to attain link juice flow will also lead to a penalty. Ways to avoid this include using the Nofollow or sponsored attributes and avoid using excessive keyword-rich anchors in the text.

  • Guest Posting and Press Releases - Utilizing guest posts that use exact-match keywords as anchor text in order to build links is a violation of Google’s guidelines. That is because the link has no use to the user, and search engines can recognize that. Avoid posting excessive press releases with inbound links.

  • PBN and Link Networks - Private blog networks tend to contain anchor text with exact match keywords, which limits the variations of results. Because PBN domains contain few inbound links and leads to poor search performance, the only solution is to remove them. Aside from these warning signs, domains which lack privacy policy and contacts also tend to be spams.

  • User-Generated Spam - Spam links from forum posts, comment sections, profiles and signatures are all bound to be flagged and taken down by Google. Therefore, webmasters must be on the lookout for UGC spam links and disavow them to minimize spam within the site.

  • Web Directories and Link Listings - This issue requires less consistent monitoring from the webmaster, since it usually takes over half a dozen or more links to lead to a penalty. Backlinks from web directories and link listings, as well as overall performance in SERPs should be noted in the audit. This strategy should be avoided, and these links should be either removed or disavowed.

  • Pure Spam - Specific instances include keyword stuffing in anchor text, and links irrelevant to the topic of the page. Remove or disavow these links.

  • Direct Ads and Affiliate Links - Even when they come in the form of coupon banners, if the Nofollow or sponsored attribute are not utilized, Google will flag it.

  • Business Directories and Bookmarking Sites - Links listed on low quality directories should be removed or disavowed, as Google will likely interpret them as spams.

  • Links in Widgets - Always use the Nofollow attribute when third-party sites post widgets with embedded code directed to your website. This is not always the case, however, as some free widgets and links direct to a topic-related page of your website without the need of a Nofollow attribute.

  • Hidden Links - Links disguised as plain text tend to be a poor SEO strategy. They should either be visible, utilize the Nofollow attribute, or simply be removed.

  • Sitewide Links - Often located in the blogroll, footer, or sidebar, these links tend to contain phrases such as “Powered by” or “Designed by”. As with the other links that trigger penalties, set the Nofollow attribute, replace the anchor text, or remove the link.

  • Minor Cases - These include old job postings, product review links, links in podcasts with keyword stuffing, links with excessive usage of infographics, unrelated scholarship links, adult content links, reciprocal links, hotlinking, and links in automatically generated content.

How to Avoid a Penalty

To have an effective link building strategy, backlink profiles should be regularly audited and reviewed for suspicious inbound links. Anchor texts should also be revised to avoid excessive repeated anchors. Money anchors should be varied with similar or related keywords. A good rule of thumb is to always use the Nofollow attribute and remove or disavow pure scam links.

How to Recover from a Penalty

Before the issue can be fixed, it is important to distinguish whether the penalty affected only one site property, a specific page, section or if it’s sitewide. Note irregularities in a links velocity, which can lead to noticeable drops in a website’s rankings, traffic, keywords, and pages. After conducting an in-depth analysis of your backlinks, remove or disavow toxic link postings to your website, or change the link attribute to Nofollow. A reconsideration request to Google is always an option, but make sure to detail what steps were taken and what was cleaned up.

I hope you found this information to be helpful! Google is constantly updating their algorythms, so be sure to constantly monitor their updates, or continue following our blog for future updates.


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