If you’ve spent any of your company’s time or marketing budget on SEO, you’ve likely heard about backlinks. Backlinks help determine how your website ranks in Google’s search results and for what keyword your website is ranked. While the concept of getting other webpages to link to your site is relatively simple, understanding how they interact with your site and with Google’s algorithm is far from straightforward.
Why are backlinks important?
To determine what and where your website ranks in Google’s search results, they use a variety of factors, including backlinks. While you can have the slickest, fastest, and easiest-to-use website in the world, if there are no backlinks to it, Google may not rank it as well as it deserves because no other website has given it a “vote” by linking to it!. So, if you’re trying to rank your organization’s website, it would make sense to reach out to people to build the backlinks, or alternately hire an SEO firm to build those backlinks. While both can be good, indiscriminately building links either through your own efforts or by hiring a third party can backfire, leaving you wondering “How can I get rid of these spammy backlinks”?
How Bad are your Backlinks?
So, while you can build a multitude of really bad backlinks really quickly and damage your traffic almost as fast, there are ways to fix the problem. Namely Google’s disavow tool, which can help your recovery from spammy backlinks. Google doesn’t encourage its use, and there’s a very important reason why: Nowadays, not all bad backlinks cause ranking penalties. This is because of Google’s Penguin updates, which separated the ideas of a spammy website and a low-quality website. Spammy websites differ from websites that Google ranks poorly because they actively attempt to scam a user or manipulate a search engine. A low-quality website is just that – low quality. Things like misspelling, bad grammar, bad user experience or a poorly structured site doesn’t necessarily mean spammy, it just means that search engines will rank other pages about the same subject higher; and links from the low-quality domains will not receive nearly as much (or in many cases, any) weight in Google’s ranking algorithm. Because of this, disavowing links is not nearly as effective as it was prior to the Penguin update.
As a result, it’s harder to shape your website’s backlink profile to what you need it to be – if you’ve got a website with thousands of backlinks, and half are from low-quality domains, that’s still a bunch of pages that you’d need to review in some way to determine which to cut and which to keep, rather than only going by industry-standard metrics like Moz’s Domain Authority to determine the backlink’s value.
So, armed with this information, how do you find the bad backlinks and disavow them? It’s actually relatively simple: you filter backlinks with features in common that look spammy; this includes aspects of the domain like:
Low domain-level scores on SEO Tools
Lots of SEO tools give their own rating to domains based on things like ranking, domain age, content length, content quality, backlink quality, etc. Regardless if you’re using Ahrefs, Brightedge, SEMRush, or another tool, find the lowest-rated pages and filter out everything else. That’ll give you your initial pool of low quality and spammy backlinks.
Spammy Top Level Domains
Top-level domains (TLDs) appear at the end of a domain name, for example the top-level domain for https://charlesriverinteractive.com is “.com”. More obscure top-level domains (like “.biz”, “.pizza”, “.info”) are cheaper to buy than more common ones like “.com”, “.org”, or “.net”. Because of this, spammers love less-common top-level domains, and they buy them in bulk. Some are almost entirely used by spammers – according to The Spamhaus Project , 94% of websites using the TLD “.gdn” are spam. Look for groups of domains with TLDs that are obscure and rate highly for webspam – these URLS are good candidates for disavowal.
Spammy Domain Names
While it’s not necessary that a domain’s name match the content on the site, it’s easy to tell if a website has a spammy domain name. Look for terms related to “adult” searches, (adult videos, gambling, etc.) and other “spammy” search terms, like asbestos and payday loans.
Beyond these types of terms, look for “copycat” websites – they’ll have a URL similar to a well-known, authoritative website, but with a different top-level domain (think “washingtonpost.pizza” or “forbes.gdn”). These are most definitely spam – it’s common for organizations to buy lookalike domains so that they don’t get used by someone else, but they’ll usually never host anything on those domains, or at most redirect to their real website. If they’re backlinking to you, they’re most likely not legitimate, and you can be confident in disavowing them.
Domains on the Same IP
The internet has greatly expanded in the last 20 or so years, and while IP addresses were usually assigned to one domain, it’s not uncommon to find multiple legitimate domains on the same IP. However, any domains that meet one or more of the last three criteria and share IP addresses are absolutely, no-doubt-about-it spam.
Generating a Disavow List
So now that we know the signs of a spammy domain, how do you get the list? The most straightforward way is also the most laborious – generate the list by filtering for these spammy domain indicators in Excel. However, it takes hours to do right and it might be worth engaging the services of a reputable marketing firm to speed up the process and ensure an accurate and effective domain-based link disavow list. If this is the case, don’t hesitate to contact Charles River Interactive! We’ve got the experience and technology to find spammy backlinks and create the strategies that elevate your business’ web presence and drive the traffic you need for business growth.