David Fairhurst, Head of Creative Online Marketing at Intelligent Retail, explains why it's important to review your website links
“You may think your website is already optimised and performing at its peak efficiency, but the things which were done to your website to make it perform well in the past may mean you'll fall foul of Google's ever-changing rules, if you don't adapt to those changes.”
The work that I do on many levels involves a series of quite easy to understand tasks all based on sound principles plus a modicum, well, let's make that a large chunk, of common sense. Yet when it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO) and dealing with Google, my job also includes being on constant 24/7 alert for change.
SEO at the basic level involves finding out what search engines are looking for and making a website as close a fit for those requirements as possible, which is great if you have a fixed set of rules to work with, however, Google (quite rightly) loves to improve, and this means the rules change constantly. I mention this because, even though you may think your website is already optimised and performing at its peak efficiency, the things which were done to your website to make it perform so well in the past may mean you will fall foul of Google's ever-changing rules, if you don't adapt to those changes.
Add to this the fact that there's now a very real possibility of what is termed in the industry 'negative SEO', that is, a competitor building links to a website in order to get that website penalised – a possibility which has become far more real with the latest updates to Google Penguin.
I'd have to state, negative SEO is rare, but I've personally seen examples of this, and without constant monitoring, irreparable damage would have been done.
Google and linking
Google used to love links. Links were an easy way for Google to establish if a certain page out there on the World Wide Web was important, appreciated and liked. Unfortunately, because Google has come to rely on links a little too much, giving external links the biggest importance in rankings, a whole industry of link spammers was created, who'd create irrelevant, poorly written content from which to link from, polluting the entire web with rubbish and spoiling Google's search results.
Google was upset. Google users were upset. Nobody wins, except of course the spammers, who overnight had a multi-billion dollar industry and millions of willing customers, all of whom wanted to be at the number one spot in Google.
Thankfully, Google's grown up a bit and for nearly a year now has been severely tightening up on linking rules, expanding and clarifying their own Google Webmaster Guidelines so that it's now clearer what's considered to be bad linking practise.
This means trouble for website owners and spammers alike – practises which were fully acceptable and legitimate ways to gain links in past years are now seen by Google as link spam, so these links need to be cleaned up, the upside being that the web spam industry has also been severely curtailed.
What you need to do
Firstly, check those site-wide links. This is where a link is put (usually by inclusion in a footer file or section in a website template) onto every page in a website. These used to be the mainstay of rankings for web design companies, SEO companies and any online resource, which offered a free service or page out there on the World Wide Web, including popular free blogging platforms like Wordpress.
With site-wide footer links, a company offering web design could get millions of links quite easily to that companies' homepage, without doing any additional work. Every site that was launched by that company would potentially have thousands of links pointing back to the web designers' homepage. Google now recognises that site-wide links are perhaps a bad thing, so have downgraded results for these types of links, in fact, discounting the effectiveness of these links. This isn't a penalty, it just means that after the first link from a website, all others become less effective.
Remove site-wide links where you can, as this type of mass linking from one domain to another is very easy to spot for Google; but don't stress too much if you can't remove them completely, Google is aware that site-wide links are prevalent online and has compensated for this accordingly.
Next on the list needs to be weeding out links from irrelevant websites and web pages. It used to be common practise to get links from online bookmarking websites, forums and blogs and if these are on-topic, these links will still give your website a small boost in rankings, but links from irrelevant content will definitely ensure that Google will be 'smelling a rat'.
Audit the relevance of the links you have coming into your website, if these are from pages with little relevance to what you offer, have little real useful content and are stuffed with advertising, then remove the links if possible. If not, and as a last resort, disavow the links via the Google Webmaster Disavow page – this will tell Google directly that you don't trust these links coming into the website and that Google should ignore them.
Don't rely on chance
The one thing business owners need to do is to make sure that their website is constantly monitored and checked for compliance with Google's ever changing rules.
Google's own Webmaster Tools – www.google.com/webmasters is both free and fully featured. However, this won't warn you if your links are falling foul of changing Google algorithms, only give you infuriatingly cryptic messages if the worst should happen and Google decides to penalise your website. What you really need is to analyse your links and weed out the bad ones before Google takes action.
There are many different ways to weed out bad links; nowadays it's no longer a case of having to do this manually. Many online services are now available to offer very fast and efficient analysis, meaning less time spent managing external linking. Choose a service which can be updated and which offers monitoring – a one-off consultation and analysis really doesn't cut it nowadays. Ask your online marketing/SEO company what they use to identify bad links; this should definitely be part of the ongoing process of optimisation of your website!
David Fairhurst is Head of Creative Online Marketing at Intelligent Retail. David has been involved with search engine optimisation (SEO) and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair.
Contact David on T: +44 (0)845 6800 126 or www.intelligentretail.co.uk.
Date Posted: 5 January 2016
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