Managing Backlinks: A Guide to Backlink Analysis After Penguin or a Google Manual Penalty

Website owners have more to worry about than simple on-site issues. They also need to worry about backlinks. With reports of negative SEO and theories that a competitor can take down your website, you must track backlinks to your site and watch any type of brand comments or complaints.  With Google's rollout of manual penalties and Penguin as a ranking factor, you should always keep track of backlinks and remove or disavow where it's appropriate.

How to Find Backlinks to Your Site

There are several tools on the market to find backlinks. Some tools are more useful than others, but the main tool all site owners should use is Google Webmaster Tools. Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) give you a list of links Google includes with its ranking algorithm. These links are the main ones to worry about if you consider any of them spammy. When you address any Penguin or manual penalty issues, these are the links you should focus on. In addition to giving you a list of backlinks, GWT also shows you the domain where the backlink is coming from.

GWT is great for viewing Google's backlinks, but it doesn't give you much information or statistics about your backlink history. SEO experts use two main additional analysis tools on the market: Ahrefs and Majestic SEO. Both of these tools give you a visual representation of backlinks created and deleted within the last several months. You can drill down to see what type of backlink you have such as a redirected page (301 or 302 redirections), nofollow or dofollow, and the domain and web page that contains your link.  These tools help you find backlinks that Google WMT doesn't show. Most SEOs use these tools to find backlinks before they index in Google, so they can stay proactive when keeping track of a site's backlink history. Ahrefs and Majestic SEO are two great analysis tools that help you get a head start with backlink issues before they happen.

Finally, the Google Alerts tool is another way to get an update on the latest comments on your brand. Google Alerts tell you when the brand is mentioned, but it doesn't necessarily mean you receive a backlink. You still need to watch for any brand comments and complaints to address search results. The Google Alerts tool sends an email to you each time a new web page gets indexed with your brand name. Alerts include comments on a blog, a blogger's review of your brand, or a complaint made on a consumer website such as Ripoff Report or Consumer Affairs.

You can also use Google's search engine to find backlinks to your site, but it isn't as reliable as the other methods. If you type "link:<yoursite>" into Google's search engine, you see a list of sites that contain a backlink to your website. Google openly says that the link operator can't be used for accurate backlink reports. You don't want your competitors to get a complete list of your backlinks, so Google just displays a sample of sites instead of an entire list to protect you from competitors.

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Backlink Analysis

Now that you have a list of backlinks, you need to review them for any spam or negative SEO. Backlink analysis is a long, tedious project that some website owners pass on to someone else such as a freelance SEO expert or link manager. If you don't have the budget to have someone else do a complete analysis, you must find the time to do it yourself.

What most webmasters get wrong is determining spam links from good links. A good link doesn't necessarily mean it's located on a high PageRank (PR) site. Even if the website is popular or ranking well, a backlink can still be considered purchased or unnatural to Google. The main question you should ask yourself when evaluating links is if the links looks unnatural. "Unnatural" means the link was placed by you or you had a hand in procuring it. If a link is placed on a site that sells links, you should definitely make an effort to remove it. If you exchanged links with any other site owner, you should remove them as well.

Years ago, posting articles on e-zine sites such as EzineArticles or GoArticles was a common backlinking method. Unfortunately, the process is probably one of the most common ways to receive a Google penalty. If you have any of these types of backlinks, you should remove the article from the e-zine site.

Online directories were also popular for backlinks. Online directories with strict editorial control such as DMOZ are usually considered fine, but if you have hundreds or thousands of links on link directories, you should have them removed.

When you analyze your links, you also need to consider backlinks that you traded with other bloggers. Guest posting rings are the latest in Google's manual penalty sweep. You don't need to remove the link altogether, but you should ask the blogger to set the nofollow property. A backlink with the nofollow property set does not pass PR, so it's the same as deleting the link.

Avoid keeping links just for anchor text or PR. Some site owners refuse to give up what they consider good links for PR. Even if the link is on an .EDU site, it can still be a part of a manual penalty or Penguin issue. It's best to remove any links that you purchased or can be misconstrued as unnatural. The PR is not worth the search engine penalties on your site.

Should You Pay to Have Links Removed?

As you go through your backlinks, you will find that some site owners ask for payment.  Should you pay to have a link removed? The answer is "no." If you hired a link spammer to flood sites with backlinks, it's reasonable for a site owner to ask for payment. However, you don't need to pay for link removals if you can't get it removed.

Google knows that some site owners try to blackmail webmasters into paying for link removals. One common negative SEO technique is to spam competitor backlinks and threaten to leave them up until the webmaster pays. You don't need to give in to blackmail for link removal. Instead, you use the Google Disavow Tool. The Disavow Tool is located in Google WMT.

The Disavow Tool is a WMT procedure that lets you upload a plain text file to Google. You can disavow one page or an entire domain. Most SEO experts suggest disavowing an entire domain, because a site that sells links probably doesn't have any on-site backlinks worth keeping. The tool basically tells Google that you don't want PR from the site and can't get the links removed. In other words, disavowing a domain or web page stops PR from passing to your site, which means you should use the tool carefully. Never disavow all of your links. You essentially clear your PR to zero, and this can have a devastating impact on your site's ranking.

What to Expect After Dealing with Links

After you remove links and use the Disavow Tool, there are no promises that your work will have a positive impact. However, if you tracked and search engine traffic drops to official Penguin release dates, you should be able to see some rewards. If you have a manual penalty, you need to file a Reconsideration Request (RR) in Google Webmaster Tools. It takes several weeks to hear back from Google, so be patient and work on your site in the meantime.

Some website owners report positive impact quickly, but if your site is severely penalized, you might need to wait several months. Some site owners report a year before they see any kind of search engine rank recovery.

You can't force Google to rank your site higher while you wait for recovery, but you can use other tricks to help compensate for the loss in traffic. First, you can use Google Adwords. Google Adwords is expensive, but it has one of the best ROI (return on investment) in the ad industry. The Adwords tool is best used to drive traffic to high quality landing pages that sell a product or service. You can't use Adwords to direct users to ad sites. Bidding on cheap phrases to get ad clicks is called arbitrage, and you can lose both your Adwords and your Adsense account.

Another option is networking with bloggers. While you can't buy a link or ask for keyword-rich anchor text, you can still have a blogger review your site. The blogger can link to you with a nofollow link and send you traffic. You won't get any PR for the nofollow link, but the traffic helps improve your visibility and potential sales.

Forum links are considered unnatural, but you can still use forums to build traffic to your site. Find a busy forum that focuses on your industry. Join in and help for free. Use your profile to direct people to your site and services. Forums are a great way for you to connect to potential customers, network with other people in your industry, and even show off your skills.

What you can't expect after link removal is immediate recovery. Webmasters wonder why they don't return to previous search engine rank after cleaning up links. When you remove large amounts of links, even if they are spam, you remove the artificial boost you had before Penguin or a manual penalty. Google might remove the penalty, but you no longer have the boost from spam links. You can't expect to pop back up in rank quickly. Instead, expect a long battle to improve rank and continue with a successful site.

Even after you remove a manual penalty, you can still have Penguin issues. If you still have some Penguin effects, your site will struggle to recover. For this reason, it's important to analyze backlinks properly and remove any unnatural links regardless of a site's PR profile.

Should You Start Link Building Again?

building-linksSome webmasters turn to link building again after having a penalty removed. Building backlinks can get you another link penalty, so avoid any link schemes, guest posts and directory submissions. SEO experts suggest that you work more with on-site SEO such as creating more content for the site. Don't throw up just any type of content. Ensure the content is well written and displays ideas that show your expertise.

If you decide to place links on any site, make sure the site uses the nofollow attribute. Nofollow links do not count against you, so you can still get traffic without the PR. Most blog owners set comment links to nofollow, but you should still ensure your blog comments are meant to interact with the blogger with a nofollow link.

With penalties and Penguin, creating backlinks is a delicate game. If you need backlinks, try networking with people you know or stick to reputable SEO companies. If you hire an SEO, ask him what he plans to do to market your website. An SEO should never suggest backlinking schemes, because they can cause your site issues in the long-run. Before you buy links or place one on a site, make sure you follow Google's guidelines and use the nofollow attribute. You can still build a great, popular site without high PR. It just takes time and hard work.