Unnatural links can have a devasting impact upon your site and business. Usually, they are artificial links which have been created in a bid to manipulate and enhance a page’s rankings. Yet, they can instead result in sites getting a Google penalty and seeing their ranking plummet. Here we discuss what unnatural links are, how they can harm your business and what you can do about them.
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What Is Considered An Unnatural Link
The main difference between natural and unnatural links comes down to whether or not the links have been created organically. When you’re considering whether or not a link is natural, think about whether it is adding value to your post. If search engine result pages (SERP) rankings weren’t an issue, would you still be inserting the link?
If you find yourself inserting links into your posts in an attempt to enhance your SERP rankings, or trying to forcefully include them in your post, chances are these will be considered unnatural links and should be removed. Any link which has to be artificially generated should be avoided.
How Unnatural Links Can Harm Your Business
Google monitors sites closely for signs of any unnatural links. If they become suspicious at any point about your site, then they can take action against you. Usually this involves a warning being sent to you, giving you a set period (of usually about six months) in which to remove or edit any unnatural links on your site. In the meantime, Google will usually manually remove your site from any search results. You then need to ensure that you submit a reconsideration request to Google before the expiration date is reached.
For any business, but particularly small businesses, having your site be tagged for unnatural links can prove extremely damaging. This is even more so for those companies which don’t have an SEO expert or technician working with them to help delete malignant links. Instead, businesses may find their search results decreasing dramatically and rapidly. For businesses operating online especially, this drastic drop in SERP rankings can prove not simply damaging, but potentially fatal to their survival.
Identifying Unnatural Links To Your Website
Ideally, you want backlinks to be generated from websites that have a high domain authority. However, many websites in fact have backlinks that are more often than not generated by low-quality websites, which in turn generate bad/unnatural links. As well as being bad for your site, unnatural links can also result in penalties. As such, it is essential that you check your site for any unnatural links that may exist.
Key characteristics of unnatural links include:
- Link exchanges – Rather than simply creating a list which includes or swaps links, check that the site is providing relevant and useful information to users who access it. Links should add to the web experience, not simply generate more spam.
- Link schemes – This link-building tactic emerges when you link back to a site from another website you own. If you are engaging in this strategy, it’s time to stop and avoid it altogether.
- Bookmarking sites – There are instances in which directories and bookmarking sites can be relevant. However, these should only be used if they offer genuinely value to the user. If not, remove them.
- Injected links – These types of links have been the ones most penalized by Google. They are usually created when automated software and scripts are used and insert links into post content, but do so without first seeking permission from the editorial team.
- Paid links – Whilst paid links are not technically unnatural links, they often take the format of sponsored posts and ads (such as banner ads or text ads). Crucially, the content generally tends to be poor quality, which can in turn look like spam. If you are sponsoring any content on your website, ensure that you attach the sponsored, nofollow and ugc attributes to any links included to ensure that they don’t negatively affect your site.
The most important factor to consider when trying to search your website for unnatural links is to assess whether or not the links you have included genuinely add value to users. Whilst creating backlinks via blog comments was a common practice during the early 2000s, this practice is now outdated. The same is also true of forum links. In both instances, they simply generate spam and do not offer anything relevant to users.
Use A Tool To Identify Unnatural Links Such As Linkody
One of the most effective ways to identify poor quality, unnatural links is to use a tool, such as Linkody. The Linkody tool allows you to track your links, so that you know when you gain or lose links. More importantly, it allows you to analyze your links and provides you with a range of metrics so that you are able to easily manage you links and domains in one place, as well as easily identify unnatural links and remove or disavow them.
Another useful feature is that it enables you to get an insight into the link building strategies being employed by your competitors and compare your profile to theirs. Link tracking is monitored 24/7 and the tool notifies you via email reports regarding any change of status or new links. Additionally, you can also test it out via a free 30-day trial.
Complete A Thorough Backlink Audit Of Your Site
When trying to identify unnatural links to your site, the first step is to ensure that you complete a thorough and detailed backlink audit of your website. For this it is best to use a tool such as Linkody. Within the application you should find an option to complete a backlink audit of your domain.
“The tool will then generate a list of all the backlinks on your site, usually with your top backlinks listed first. You will be able to identify where they these backlinks exist on your site, via the page title, as well as the source URL and target URL,” says Felicity Utric, a tech blogger at Australianhelp and Top Canadian Writers.
The most important aspect of performing a backlink audit is that it enables you to create a clear picture of all the backlinks being used on your site. From here, you can then assess whether these links need to be reviewed, removed, disavowed or simply left as they are because they are in fact natural and providing users with value and relevance.
Once you have generated a list of all the backlinks on your website, you will need to sort through them to decide which ones you want to keep, which ones you want to delete and which you want to disavow. One way to do this is to sort your backlinks based on their ‘spam/toxic score’. On a scale of 0 to 100 (with 100 being very toxic/spam), organize your backlinks so that you can see which ones pose the most danger to your site.
Ideally, you should start with any backlinks which have a high spam/toxic score, as these are the backlinks which are the most dangerous. With such backlinks, you will most likely want to either remove or disavow them entirely from your site. Backlinks which have a low spam/toxic score are considered safe and you can keep these links without fear or worry.
Check URLs For Patterns
Having collected all your data and sorted your backlinks according to their spam/toxic scores, it is important to carefully analyze the URLs for any patterns. Essentially, the best way to do this is via manual means. Although it is time-consuming, it is the most effective strategy and the best way to identify whether a backlink needs to be removed, reviewed or disavowed.
“Each backlink will need to be opened manually and reviewed. Look out for any signs of unnatural links, such as link exchanges, injected links and any other characteristic of unnatural links discussed earlier. If you find any pattern in the URLs, then this is usually a sign of some form of link spam,” explains Adam Simpson, marketing expert at Boomessays and Assignment Help.
Depending on the size of your site and the number of backlinks you have to go through, this exercise can take anywhere from hours to days to complete. It can be worth conducting an analysis of this data on a monthly or bi-monthly cycle to help you sort and identify unnatural links. It can also be helpful to disavow sites in smaller quantities or groups per month and note carefully the impact that this has on your website’s traffic to ensure that no major issues occur. Additionally, it will also make the task more manageable.
Disavowing a site should be a last resort. If you are engaging in good link building practice, then you shouldn’t need to disavow sites or links. Essentially, you should only use the disavow tool if you are absolutely sure that there has been some unnatural backlinking activity taking place. If you have received a warning about unnatural links by Google and having completed your backlink audit as outlined above, identified sites which are highly toxic and likely to be causing the problem, then you should add them to your disavow file or list.
The key to identifying whether or not a site needs to be disavowed rests with whether or not it is offering something which is relevant and of value to the user. Consider too whether the site is one which your customers would find useful or want to go to, as well as analyzing whether the link is in fact adding something worthy to the page. If so, then the link does not need to be disavowed. In such a situation, you are prioritizing the benefit to the user, rather than the benefit to the search engine. This is in fact, the main purpose and aim of search engines.
If, however, the site is not contributing towards a better user experience or providing useful content to users or to the webpage, then it’s time to remove this link and add it to your disavow file, particularly if it has a high spam/toxic score.
Once you have created a list of all the sites that you want to disavow, you should then create a disavow file and upload this to Google Search Console. You may need to search explicitly for this tool within Google Search Console, as it has been purposefully hidden in an attempt to discourage sites from simply disavowing links when it isn’t required. It can also be helpful to add an annotation to Google Analytics. This way, you can better monitor organic traffic fluctuations.
How Small Businesses Can Combat Unnatural Links
The best thing that any business can do in order to improve their SERP ranking, as well as improve site traffic, is to delete/remove any unnatural links. By using the tools and following the steps mentioned above, small businesses will be able to ensure that any unnatural links that may be detrimental to their website and business are removed and dealt with promptly. Employing the services of a skilled technician can also be valuable, though a costlier option.
Within Google’s support page, the Google Webmaster Guidelines are available to view. They outline what is and isn’t profitable for SERPs, as well as including information on what will cause a site’s ranking to lower. This information is particularly useful for businesses, especially smaller businesses who operate online. It’s worth spending time familiarizing yourself with this to improve your site’s overall quality.
Ultimately, the best way to prevent unnatural links is to spend time cultivating reputable links from legitimate sources. Ensure that backlinks are reviewed periodically and that any found to be harmful are appropriately dealt with. By developing good quality, natural links which are beneficial to users, you will be able to ensure that your business continues to thrive and ranks highly.