Welcome to another episode in the SEO Essentials series of the Content Champion podcast, where we discuss the foundational aspects of SEO you need to get right before rolling out a successful SEO campaign - or employing an agency.
This time I'm joined again by our Head of SEO, Tom Peary, to look into the subject of backlink auditing - how we assess a backlink profile and the tools we use to achieve this. Let's dive in...
Listen To The Site Speed Show
- How to use Google webmaster tools
- How you can get a manual link penalty
- What over-optimization means and why it is bad for SEO
- The first thing to look for in a link profile
- What makes a link bad
- What link contextuality is
- How to submit a disavow file through Google Webmaster Console
- When and why you should disavow links
[Podcast] Backlink Audits (SEO Essentials) From Content Champion #contentmarketing #seo
- How to use Google webmaster tools
Read the transcript
Loz James: I'm Loz James and this is the Content Champion podcast. The content, marketing and SEO show where you can learn actionable techniques from real world examples.
Hi, guys. Welcome to the show. Tom, how do we assess our back link profile?
Tom Peary: Yeah, it's a good question, because for those unfamiliar with what impact links have or how to find them. It's going to be a bit daunting, so we'll try and break it down into a few ways that you can do this. First thing is, you should always have a webmaster console account. Previously known as webmaster tools. I still call it that. I think it's a better name.
Using that account, registering your domain, and then once it's been registered, at least generally at least a few weeks because it won't find all the links straight away, is going to the in bounding section. I'm looking at the links to your site, and then you can export that as a file, and then viewing them. See how they look. Your sites about one topic and you got links from a site that's completely irrelevant and your links just don't seem to fit. Do you really think that's a great thing for your site?
That's the first thing. Using Webmaster console is a brilliant tool. Google created it for a reason. Also, it's not updated as frequently and as quickly as some of the more sophisticated SEO tools that are built purely to look for signals from links to your site, but it will give you a good idea, especially if you've had a link penalty. Say you've had a manual action, the links are probably in that section of your webmaster profile. Yeah, I'd probably say nine times out of ten. Using that, that's the first one. Google Webmaster Console. Register with that. See what's coming into your site, and keep your check on it as well.
Other ways, other tools, are things like our favourite that we use daily is AH Refs. Ahrefs.com in my opinion is the best link auditing tool there is. There's also Moz, and some other great tools out there, but I find it works quicker. It finds links faster that are coming in. Also tells you when links are disappearing. You have different packages available. AH Refs is fantastic, because it can tell you, very quickly, what links are coming in, and if you've seen a huge spike in links that you're not responsible for, not aware of, don't know how they're getting there, it's going to find them, probably before Google does, before it indexes and causes any problems, so you can actually deal with the problem before it becomes a problem.
Loz James: Okay, and I'll also mention SEM Rush or semrush is another great tool you can use. I've used that personally in the past, so that's the tools to use to give you an overview and to monitor it. What are we looking for? Let's use the example of dog training, where in the first instance, we need to consider the anchor text profile and make sure it's not over optimised. What does this mean?
Tom Peary: That's a brilliant question because that's the first thing we look for in a link profile, is looking at the anchor text being the key word that's overlaid on that URL, pointing back to your site. That link, that's the anchor text, is looking at these money terms. If your link profile, the majority or certainly very high percent, is money terms, it probably looks suspicious to you, so it definitely looks suspicious to Google. You want to look at these.
They may be organic. They may be natural where somebody shared something. You've done an infographic and it links back or a social media thing that's been shared. It could be genuine and it could be fine, so I'm not saying go and get rid of these links straight away, but you need to be looking out for this, because I'd probably say out of a hundred or more penalty recoveries we've done in the last few years alone, because there was that big time around 2013 where people would come into us with penalties, and we fixed them. Virtually all of them, it's just because of anchor text. The amount of anchor text for the money terms, so just dog training, was just the top three anchor text, and then the domain www.domain.com was further down. You should be seeing this first, so you want to have a really neutralised, very natural looking anchor text ratio most of the time.
Loz James: Let's be clear, tools like AH Refs will show you pretty obviously if you've got a page about dog training and all the links coming into it to say dog training, dog training, dog training, exact match, anchor text, that percentages is going to be way to high and could then get you either a algorithmic or manual link penalty.
Tom Peary: Yeah. The other thing is as well, if the money term, like dog training, is ninety percent of all your links or whatever percentage it is, and then you try and find that search term in Google to see where you rank and you don't come up, that's probably a good indication that Google's either ignoring with the latest algorithm changes and just ignoring those links or it's had a manual action, and you'd see that in new Webmaster Console.
Loz James: Okay, so, we're not going to talk about in any great detail what makes a great link, but when we're looking through a list of all these links that we've got coming into our site, we do need to consider in the first instance, the anchor text profile, make sure it's not over optimised for specific keywords. Then, we need to look at where are these links coming from? What's the domain authority? The page authority? The overall quality of the site? Go and look at those sites and see if they're good quality or not. Would you want a link from them?
Also look at the external links going out from those sites. Where are they linking to? Are they dodgy? Neighbourhoods and all that sort of thing. Then we need to consider things like the link contextuality. Do they appear naturally within the content itself. Talk a bit about all of that.
Tom Peary: With contextuality, let's start with that, because I think that's a really good one, because you can build links but a link can have positive effect, it can have a negative effect, it can do also nothing as well, depending on the type of link. Look at where these links are. You can't control what's coming to your site, because let's be honest, anyone can link to your site and mention it in any platform. You could be on a forum that's to do with motoring cars or something, and somebody within the general chat forum has asked about dog training, and it's linked back.
That could be contextually right, because it's within a thread. You wouldn't necessarily want to remove that. However, if you start to see lots of different links that anchor text is always a signal, but with contextuality, if you're coming from lots of different sources, I'm talking high volumes, from sources that aren't really relevant, that don't have any contextual reference. But this means you have to look at each link individually. It's not something you just take a snap shot and go, lets disallow these links or let's delete these or whatever, or contact these sites. You need to be looking at each one, and if you've got thousands of links or hundreds of links, it's going to take time.
Loz James: You're listening to the Content Champion podcast, available at contentchampion.com, and on iTunes.
Okay, let's backup a little bit, because we have had examples with clients where we've been through individually the links in spreadsheets and we've seen that these links are for want of a better term, bad links. We've looked at the authority, we've looked at the sites, we've looked at the anchor text, we've looked at where they're linking to. All of those things, and we're considering, okay, we don't really want those linking back to our client's site.
They could still be passing value to help that client's site to rank. However, in the long term, we don't want to risk that site getting a penalty because those links, in great numbers, are still pointing to the site. Then you have to make a real value judgement , sometimes be a bit brave about this. Okay, we know we might get a little bit of a hit from taking those links away, but the overall value in the long term is going to be better as we build new, better links, and don't have those sort of bad domains, those non contextual bad links, over-optimized anchor links, pointing back to the site.
This is when we go on to what we do about it. This is where you're looking at not making a knee jerk reaction to cut all those links, but going through them all as you say, one at a time, and making a spread sheet up. Talk us through that process.
Tom Peary: I recommend using multiple tools, so not just using Webmaster Console, using AH Refs, Moz, other things like that, if you have access to them, and collect these into one file so you don't duplicate links. Then, going through those and once you look through them all, just mark next to each one with an "x" or something, just to say unsure about this link. I generally grade them, so I would look at, maybe on a one to three scale. One being not severe, and three being this need to be removed and actioned immediately. Going through these, and I wouldn't necessarily suggest that when it comes to disavowing, which we can go into in a bit, is doing it in stages, especially if you've got a lot of links that you're unsure about. This knee jerk reaction is really common to just go, "I'll just cut all these links. It will be fine."
You're probably going to see a dip as well, even if you're trying to recover, because these links were propping up with link juice and giving you some SEO benefit. Going through and doing it in stages and doing it over a period of weeks and months, get in the real severe ones that you really, definitely think, "This looks dodgy to me, I want nothing to do with it." The web span teams at Google do say, "If you're unsure, disavow it."
Don't go cut all your links, don't disavow them all, but if you're unsure, and you're saying, "I really definitely don't want this site to be mentioning me, I want to disavow it."
Loz James: It's worth making the point here, that good SEO takes time. It's either time or money to do properly because some of these tools that we've mentioned in the show, they all spit out lists of links that they think are bad and ready to disavow. Some of the tools out there enable you to create a disavow file automatically and then submit it automatically through your Webmaster Console account.
This, again, isn't necessarily the right thing to do. You should take a more measured approach to it on a custom basis, and go through it on a sort of bespoke level, as you say, looking at them all, and then doing it over time, Off that back of that, how do we submit that manually if we want to submit a disavow file through Google Webmaster Console?
Tom Peary: Creating your disavow file, there's some great guides out there, how to do it. Google even provides one. It's a simple text file. It's not a xl file. It's not a .csv file. It's a text file. .txt and what you need to do is just have site without the www or http. Instead of that, call it, your site name disavow. I generally put the date in, because then what I'll do is, if when we're testing the disavow, if we're seeing anything where we go, "Well, that didn't work as we expected." Or, "We don't need to remove those, we'll take them back off." And we can revert to an earlier disavow.
I always find that useful, and then you go into your Webmaster Console, and then just search for the disavow. It's the easiest way, to just do it in Google search, searching Google Disavow, because there's no direct link within your Webmaster Console that's easy to find. Then, just going in and uploading the file, and make sure you do it to all the versions of your website. We talked about canonicalized URLs, so www., https., non www., make sure they're all registered with the webmaster console and uploading that disavow to all.
Just to touch on something, what you mentioned about anchor text, which I think fits nicely in with the disavow, is not all keyword rich anchor text is bad, because how people naturally use the web when they're referring, say within in a forum or a blog platform, you can control how they link to your site. There's nothing wrong with anchor text. It's just when it's a huge amount and it looks like you trying to link span.
When you're ready to upload that disavow, upload it and then you're just going to have to wait. There's no set time that Google gives on how quickly they'll react. Normally, it's within a couple of months. The manual actions, they're a different story. If you've been unfortunate enough to have a manual action penalty, it could be for partial link match, where Google will ignore the links, still disavow anyway, it shows that you're trying to sort things out. Or, if it's a severe site-wide action, your site rankings are nowhere, or even your site's been deindexed, when you resubmit for a reconsideration request, Google will look at that and see what you've done. Then, more than likely, you can have that manual action revoked.
Loz James: Just quickly, before we finish up this show, there are certain mistakes you can make in formatting your disavow file, but some of the ones that we've had discussions on with relation to clients relate to disavowing at domain level and page level, and the errors that you can make with those. Just talk us through those.
Tom Peary: This is actually a really commonly asked question really, is how do I disavow my links? I found a link from this site. You might have some links from a domain that are really good, but then you might have some ones that you don't like where it looks like link spam, or just you know it's probably going to cause a problem or has caused a problem. You can just disavow the actual URL, so just hit the URL, copy it from your browser, or from the file that you have, and just past that in.
Domain level will just stop any links having any effect from that domain, whereas if you do it on just a URL level, it just ignores that link. There's two ways of doing it. Not all the time you want to disavow everything from a domain. It might just be the odd link or something you don't want a reference from.
Loz James: But, you have got to be careful, that's why we recommend the measured approach. Don't take a knee-jerk, panicked reaction and just disavow everything, because that could be links that are good within a domain and links that are bad potentially, and if you cut out the whole domain, you're cutting off your nose to spite your face. That is the link auditing version of the show. I hope you enjoyed that. They'll be more to come in the next edition of SEO Essentials, but for now, thanks for listening.
You've been listening to the Content Champion Podcast. Actionable SEO and content marketing techniques, based on real world examples. Until next time, thanks for being here.
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