Google Webmaster Update – Clean Up Your Backlinks

A recent video from Matt Cutts, head of Google’s spam team explains how to use a new tool your Google Webmaster toolkit to actively disassociate your website from “spammy” links.

Why is this needed?

With the initial release (and continual update) of the algorithm change code named “Google Penguin“, websites with links that came into their website from other “non relevant” websites, usually with a specific “Anchor Text“, suddenly found their Google rankings were beginning to suffer. In some cases the web owners were receiving warning messages from Google regarding an un-natural link profile.

Back links have long been an essential part of the Google Algorithm, with Google itself initially nicknamed “back rub” as a result of its reliance on the trust it placed on the links pointing to a website. When this was “realised” by web developers and the search engine optimization community, people would actively build 1000’s of links into their website with little regard as to where the link was coming from.

Websites offered “add your url” services and made the process easy for even the most untrained web owner. People disregarded whether the link would be of value to THAT website visitor and simply added their URL with an anchor text they wanted their website (or a particular page) to rank for.

Other website owners used services that would “comment spam” or “article spin” – these services would MASS produce spam comments which would be placed on any blog that would allow them. Often the user name or content within the spam comment would point back to the users website. Articles could be written once and then “spun” – meaning the article would be automatically re-written 1000’s of times and sent to article directories.

Suddenly, web owners were able to “manipulate” the search positions in Google by getting seen through stronger “back link” signals than previously.

As you can imagine, this has been a particular bug bear of Google (and those web owners who didn’t participate in these practices) – hence the Penguin algorithm launch.

Therefore, as with almost everything in Google Webmaster Tools (to us, one of the best signals as to what Google is deeming “important” to your website and therefore your Google ranking), the ability to remove links that have no relevance to your website is vitally important. This could also be a response to a rather worrying appearance of “Negative SEO” tactics, which whilst Google has never admitted could be a problem, most certainly has been viewed with alarm by the SEO community.

Should you just start using this from the beginning?

In a word no. You should exhaust all channels of having the link removed from the website(s) first. This means trying to contact the webmaster or web owner and politely asking if they will remove your link. We have done this for clients in the past (who have come to us because their SEO rankings had dropped) and have had mixed results, so this additional tool is a welcome change.

How do I know which links are “spammy”?

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does the link add value to the website that it is currently sat on? If your link is on page 5 of 100 all called “links 1, links 2 etc” then is this REALLY adding value to that website’s visitors?
  2. Is the website your link appears on RELEVANT to your own website? What is the point in a link about “football boots” appearing on a website that is about “cloud computing”? Answer – none.
  3. Is the website you appear on called “better search engine listing .com” or “page rank booster .com”? The website name can often be the most obvious indicator that the site is simply not relevant to either you, your business or to anyone!
  4. Is the website in your native language? It might seem obvious, however when people have used external link building companies, they do so without knowing where these links will be built from. Having an english website, with an english entry (link or spam) and an english anchor text, on a Russian, Polish, Chinese etc. website is an instant indicator that your site isn’t relevant to that web community.

How do I use the tool?

Matt Cutts describes it much better than we can in the video above and to be honest the facility isn’t appearing in our Google Webmaster Toolkit at this very moment. We do expect this to be added shortly (hopefully!”).

He also mentions that this absolutely shouldn’t be your first stage of removing links, it should be the last.

We were also going to do a do’s and don’ts list but Portent did one (and it’s much better than we could do!).


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