If you’ve been following the SEO community over the last couple of years, and particularly in the last six to twelve months, you’ll probably have read a great deal about Google’s crackdowns on low quality links, spammy sites and various methods of ‘gaming’ their search algorithm. While you may not have actively hired someone to use these risky SEO tactics, if your site has had SEO work done to it at any time (even five or ten years ago) it could be at risk of receiving a Google penalty.
What if your SEO company has been using shady tactics without you knowing? Or what if your marketing team has been inadvertently creating low quality links pointing to your site? And since Google has recently been punishing sites for poor quality SEO activity they’ve conducted in the past, what if your site has old links that used to be tolerated by Google but are now being punished by the search algorithm?
How To Get Ahead Of The Game - Auditing Your Backlinks
First thing’s first, don’t panic! If links can be built, then they can be removed, capiche?
To get ahead of the game and ensure the long term success of your site, you might want to get your backlinks audited this year before Google takes an even firmer line on what’s acceptable and what isn’t. While your sales figures and website analytics might look healthy right now, without knowing what backlink foundations your site is built on you’re risking a manual action penalty, which can be devastating for any company that relies on Google for new leads and sales.
While a manual action penalty is only temporary, its effects can be long lasting. Marie Haynes’ case study shows the long term effect that a Google penalty of this nature can have on a site, and it’s not pretty.
In one of her examples, the site in question is hit at the start of September 2013. It took until December of that year to see any kind of recovery, and when this happened organic traffic only recovered to 80% of the original amount. Ouch.
You can imagine what effect this must have had on leads and sales for the site in those three months, not to mention the 20% reduction in traffic that went with them as they moved into 2014.
Another of Marie’s examples shows an even worse penalty. This site was hit in April 2012, and even with a lot of hard work to get the site in good standing, including cleaning up links and earning new, quality links, it took until October 2013 to see any kind of real, long term improvement.
With this kind of long term threat, is it worth holding off on acting now to check and clean your site’s backlinks, particularly at a time when Google is taking a tougher line against low quality links?
Keep Up With Google’s Moving Goal Posts
The best way to protect yourself from these harsh penalties is to stay several steps ahead of what Google will penalise next.
For many years, it was cheap and cost-effective to ‘game’ the Google algorithm with scalable tactics, which is why you’ve probably received hundreds of emails from SEO companies offering their services for rock bottom prices. However, since the introduction of the Penguin algorithm, over the last few years these tactics have become less and less effective – Google’s algorithm has been growing smarter and much more able to detect signs of manipulation.
Incidentally, these cheap SEO services still exist, but don’t expect them to actually improve your search engine visibility.
Back in 2012 your SEO provider may have told you the key to success on Google is to have “a link profile that looks natural”. Now, the only way to be successful in the long term is to have a link profile that actually is natural. By having a good ol’ spring clean of all that link junk, you can focus on constructive SEO activities that are actually building up your visibility, instead of damage control every time Google refreshes its algorithm.
Curb a Long Term Traffic Drop
Manual penalties are only half of the story though, your site could also be hit by an algorithmic penalty.
While getting this kind of penalty doesn’t result in a telling off from Google, in some ways it’s actually worse than a manual action. That’s because algorithmic penalties are harder to detect, and rather than hit your site in one hammer blow, they can slowly develop over several months or even years. Without specialist tools or knowledge it can be very difficult to identify the cause of such a gradual traffic drop, making it much harder to reverse the downward trend in traffic, leads and sales.
Matt Cutts has even stated there is no easy way to tell what penalty has hit your site, meaning it can be a bit of a guessing game when trying to decide what to do next, unless you are able to identify the signs of different kinds of algorithmic penalties.
Doing a thorough link audit would allow you to rule out low quality links as a cause for your poor rankings and declining traffic. You can then focus more of your efforts on improving your onsite content, both avoiding Panda 4.0 and building your brand’s social media presence.
How Do I Get a Backlink Audit, And How Does It Work?
Any reputable SEO company (like us!) can help you scan your backlinks and identify any that could be holding your search visibility back.
The process involves three main steps. Firstly, we’ll scour the web for all your backlinks, even ones that Google won’t show you in Webmaster Tools.
Next, we’ll fire up our specialist link audit software. The software will scan every single one of your links for hundreds of different key bits of data that could identify spammy, risky or manipulative links. This includes several in-depth checks, for example if you have too many links on a server registered by a single person, they’ll all be flagged. Or if you have links from dodgy sources such as web directories, low quality link exchanges or have used black hat SEO techniques that trip certain filters, these links will be flagged as well.
Finally, all flagged links get checked by one of our SEO experts. Managing your backlinks is very important, and if done incorrectly you could be removing the very links that are keeping your site in Google, so this task shouldn’t be left down to automated software alone. Each link is checked manually, and if it’s dangerous or doesn’t look natural we get in touch with the webmaster to get it removed. Easy peasy!
Want to Learn More?
If you think dodgy backlinks may be hindering your site’s progress, get in touch with our SEO team, who’ll be able to point you in the right direction!