How To Identify Spammy Links And What To Do About Them

Quality always comes above quantity when it comes to backlinks, but too often websites fall foul of spammy link building practices. But how do you know if you have spammy links and what can be done to combat them?
  • Google announced it would devalue spam links rather than penalise websites for having them.
  • Links should be incorporated in a natural way, where the client provides a useful resource or information on the topic in question.
  • Ultimately, the emphasis should be on quality, not quantity.

Most websites will have collected a few examples of spammy backlinks. The constantly evolving history of SEO has left a few casualties in its wake, and SEO agencies like Go Up are still helping untangle messes made by black hat practitioners, and unauthorised spam link builders alike. Google introduced their Penguin algorithm update in 2012 as a way to reduce web spam and punish those using such tactics.

Regardless of how you acquired a poor backlink portfolio, it’s important to identify spammy links pointing to your site. In the most recent update to the Penguin algorithm, Google announced it would devalue spam links rather than penalise websites for having them. However, in some cases where a site has what Google considers too many low quality backlinks, the search engine will simply devalue all links including those that are healthy, which can of course cause havoc on your site’s rankings and traffic.

What are spammy links and how do you identify them?

Spammy links—also known as low quality backlinks—are ones which are pointed to your domain from spam or poor authority sites. They can be easily identified by a sharp spike in traffic to your domain, often from countries outside of those which form your core audience.

Spammy links can take the following forms:

Low quality guest posts

Well-written guest posts which provide useful information to readers and a valuable contribution to a platform’s user experience form the backbone of a good link building campaign. Links should be incorporated into the articles in a natural way, where the client provides a useful resource or information on the topic in question.

Of course, many SEO practitioners overlook this aspect of the process, instead shoehorning client links via anchor text which doesn’t quite scan with the rest of the surrounding sentence, or seems jarring to read. These articles may also only run for a couple hundred words, regardless of the platform; this is also frowned upon by the Penguin algorithm, which favours longer content.

Link directories

Directories were a once-popular link building method, and continue to be used occasionally in the wake of the Penguin algorithm update. However, as with any other content platform, submitting to just any directory could do more harm than good; link directories which allow you to add your website without any further editorial checks should be avoided. Some directories can have benefits for local SEO provided, of course, that they are locally relevant. However, most other directories should be avoided, and any links gained from them removed.

Comment and forum spam

You may have come across this form of link spam without even noticing it, particularly if you moderate the comments on your own blog. These often take the form of comments which agree with the original post, before suggesting the link as further reading. This type of spam can also occur on forums, whether as new posts or comments, and often provide multiple links from the same post.

How to tell if a link is having a negative effect, and what an SEO team can do about it

There is limited benefit in asking an agency to gain your website links from hundreds of sites which exist solely to pass on link juice, and thanks to the Penguin update, Google is wise to these tactics. Whilst there are agencies who still engage in these sorts of link building practices, a poor backlink profile can also occur of its own accord, often as a result of negative SEO—a black hat practice which some agencies do to incur penalties on their clients’ competitors.

The key to a good SEO strategy is future-proofing a website. While “quick wins” have their place in a modern SEO campaign, they are usually employed in conjunction with long-term goals which take time to gain results. The best SEO teams run content campaigns which place relevant, organic links to a client’s site on high authority platforms. The content in which the link features needs to be original, extremely well-written, useful for the reader and suited to the tone of the platform. Ultimately, the emphasis should be on quality, not quantity.

As mentioned above, Google changed the way it approaches spammy links, simply devaluing any that fall foul of its guidelines. However, if a site has too many bad links, Google takes notice of this as well, and could penalise it accordingly by devaluing all links good or bad. The most significant result of Google devaluing every link to your site is a sudden loss of traffic. As Google considers traffic one of its key ranking factors, along with having a diverse portfolio of organic backlinks, these penalties could have a double impact on your overall site ranking. This may also critically harm your brand’s reputation online, effectively wiping your site off the face of search engines altogether.

Link removal can be a time consuming process. Resources such as Google’s disavow links tool, which was launched around the same time as the Penguin update, allow webmasters to signify to Google that they do not want certain backlinks to be taken into account when assessing the website. However, this is only a signal that Google may choose to ignore.

The disavow tool should only be used in exceptional circumstances. Google itself advises against overusing the tool as there is the inherent risk of disavowing the wrong links if you aren’t careful. If you have detected any low quality backlinks to your site, your first action should be to contact the webmasters of those sites to request that the links be taken down.

For more information about identifying links which could have a negative impact on your site’s overall link metrics, talk to your SEO agency and ask how they can help you rid your backlink portfolio of suspicious domains and spammy links.