Less than 3 years ago, the risk of being penalised for link building was not a major concern for most SEO agencies. Getting as many links as possible from a mixed bag of websites of varying quality was a bread and butter method for increasing rankings for competitive keywords.

But since the launch of Google’s Penguin algorithmic update in April 2012, following by several crippling updates thereafter, the link building game has become increasingly tougher.

Content penalty

The business effect of being penalised for low quality link building is not to be overlooked, when letting your SEO agency build links for you, as your organic profits could potentially vanish overnight.

Typically, this comes in the form of a sharp drop in rankings, resulting in a major dip in organic traffic and conversions. The extent of the penalty will vary based on how many questionable links your SEO agency went to the trouble of finding for you.

Google penalises sites that take part in manipulative link building practices, such as

  • Using keyword rich anchor text. An example would be a link from a blog article, but instead of using your brand name as the linking text, the link has the text “Sydney Tax Consultants”.
  • Buying links. An example would be paying to have a text link on another website to yours.
  • Excessive link exchanges. An example would be where site A links to site B and site B links to site A.
  • Article marketing / guest posting done on scale. This includes creating articles and distributing them on sites with fairly low editorial discretion with a link back to your website.
  • Creating links on automated, unmoderated or free for all sites. An example of this would be most directories that offer free listings with little to no editorial discretion.

On the flip side, Google rewards sites for having links that are relevant, highly editorial (created at the full discretion of the webmaster who created the link) and that have natural anchor text.

Unfortunately, due to either ignorance or short term thinking, there are still many SEO agencies out there brokering low quality or manipulative links. Why? Because they are relatively easy to attain.

The irony is that if you have these low quality links pointing to your site, you may experience a short term benefit in rankings. But once a new algorithm update is released, you stand to lose a big chunk of your traffic overnight. On top of that, you run the risk of receiving a manual penalty by Google’s spam team.

Overcoming an algorithmic penalty will test your patience as you will need to clean-up any risky links and wait for Google to re-evaluate your link profile, before your site can recover.

In order to ensure that link building has positive long term effects for your business, your SEO agency should:

1.)    Review your backlink profile regularly to ensure that all links pointing to your domain and relevant, of quality and spam free.

2.)   Contact webmasters to have any risky links removed as well as submitting a disavow request to Google.

3.)    Develop content on your site that attracts links naturally.

4.)    Develop relationships with bloggers, media, local organisations and spreading the word about your company, its initiatives and the useful resources that it offers.

5.)    Engage with influencers in your industry on social media.

6.)    Seek your approval before brokering any links as well as providing you with access to a log of all links they have created on your behalf.

Our Advice:

1.)    Request a full list of links created by your SEO agency. This should include the date the link was brokered, the linking URL, the destination URL (URL on your website) as well as anchor used. Go through the list, highlighting any general web directories, irrelevant sites, articles or guest posts and cases where keywords have been used as the anchor text (i.e. “Melbourne Property Brokers”). If more than 5% of the links are highlighted, then you have cause for concern.

2.)    Conduct a manual link check via Webmaster Tools

Within your Google Webmaster Tools account, navigate to your website and follow these steps:

  1. In the left menu, click Search Traffic
  2. Click Links to Your Site
  3. Under Who links the most, click More
  4. Click Download Latest Links

This file depicts links to your site from latest backwards in time. Scan through these at your discretion to identify risky links.

3.)    Recruit an SEO company that specialises in penalty recovery to conduct a full link audit.

If you have identify risky links and you have conducted large scale link building in the past, this is a worthwhile investment. SEO companies that have proven experience in penalty recovery will have access to various paid tools that provide deeper insights into risky links.

Image courtesy of Nic Taylor, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


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