The first search engine result page receives nearly 95% of web traffic, out of which more than 67% of all clicks on SERPs go to the top five results, according to a study from Advanced Rankings (Brafton, The Value of Google Result Positioning, 2017). Hence, if you are looking to drive traffic to your website, you need to aim to rank vital keywords within the first 5 positions on the first page.
One of the obstacles you might face in achieving these top ranking result is spammy links. Spammy links can affect your website ranking to the point where it wreaks havoc. The range of consequence varies from simply losing a few rankings on SERPs to getting blacklisted from Google, depending on how malicious the links are (Neil Patel, How to Protect Your Website from Negative SEO, 2017).
GO MO Group has helped some of our clients identify and resolve the issue of spammy back-links with an effective strategy, but before we get there, let’s first understand the what, how and why of spammy links.
Understanding Spammy Back-Links
As the term suggests, spammy back-links are bad quality links which could lower your website rankings. These links can range from irrelevant sites with little or no content, or worse, duplicate content!
Here are a few characteristics that we generally look out for:
- Low domains and page authorities
- High spam scores
- Low MozRanks
- Un-indexed domains by Google
- Low trust flow: predicts the trustworthiness of a page depending upon how trustworthy sites link to one another
- Low citations flow: predicts how influential a URL is depending upon the sites linking to it (Barry Schwartz, Majestic SEO Announces New Link Metrics: Trust Flow & Citation Flow, Search Engine Land)
- Over 100 outbound links on a single page
Why Do Websites Get Spammy Back-links?
There are a variety of reasons why your website could have spam back-links.
1. Buy Links for Short-Term Results
Some SEO services will purchase spammy back-links to give their clients a sudden boost in ranking. They might do this to just short-term results to their clients or they simply aren’t up-to-date on current industry practices and webmaster guidelines. So, if you’ve recently hired an SEO agency, you might want to check if they are the reason behind the spam links. We have provided an understanding of how to identify if spam links exist on your website.
At GO MO, we recommend that it’s best to steer clear of such tactics because the potential benefits of implementing these techniques don’t outweigh the risks involved.
2. Competitor Attack
In order to sabotage your rankings, some of your competitors may engage in negative SEO campaigns, which often include a bombardment of spam back-links that damage your SERP rankings.
No matter how you end up with spam links, the main differentiator between a good back-link and a spam back-link is the quality of website from which it links.
How do I Know My Website has Spammy Links for Sure?
After everything you’ve just read, your first instinct would be to thoroughly check all your back-links for spam and fix them. To do this, you need to first learn how to identify if spammy links are present on your website.
The first step of the spam link removal process is identifying indicators that spammy back-links are affecting your website. Following are some indicators that can be evaluated:
- Analysed at least for over a period of 1 month, a 40 – 90% decrease in organic traffic
- Analysed at least for over a period of 1 month, a minimum of 10 positions drop in the individual keywords rankings
- Analysed at least for over a period of 1 month, a 50-80% increase in referral traffic could be referral spam
- Analysed at least for over a period of 1 week, a 40 – 60% increase in back-links (all back-links aren’t always good)
- A spam score surge of 4 or above
The tools mentioned below will help you evaluate whether the back-links your website is receiving are spammy or not.
- Google Search Console: Check for a manual action notification
- Google Analytics: An alarming increase in the presence of spammy and low authority referring domains
- AHREFs: Helps in analyzing the referring domains and back-links to your website
Are all my back-links spammy?
Now that you have identified that spammy back-links do exist on your website, it is of utmost importance that you differentiate between good and bad back-links, before you take any decisive action. While differentiating between a good quality link and a spammy link may not always be easy, there are certain steps you should follow while analysing your back-links.
Mentioned below is a step-by-step guide to analysing spammy back-links on your website, before you get around to removing them:
Step 1: Referral Domain Analysis
This gives an overview of all the domains linking to a particular website. The analysis can be carried out using the helpful tool by Ahrefs. Here are the steps to follow:
- Enter your domain name
- Click on ‘Site Explorer,’
- Click on ‘Referring Domains’
- Export all your ‘live’ back-links data
- Prepare a list of non-relevant domains after conducting a thorough analysis
Step 2: Analyze Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA)
The pair is one of the most important indicators of spammy domains. Analyzing the website’s DA and PA is a crucial parameter before proceeding to disavow any domain. Here’s what you can do:
- Click on ‘Site Explorer’
- Enter your domain
- Conduct an analysis of domains based on DA, PA, and relevance to your business
- Prepare a list of domains with a low page and domain authority
Note that domain relevance is an important factor to consider while analyzing spammy domains. While domains with a low DA, PA and a Spam Score above 5 should be disavowed, an exception can be made if the domain is relevant to the client’s business even if it has a low DA, PA and a Spam Score under 5.
Step 3: Scraped Content Analysis
Content scraping is the process of using another website’s content without prior permission and publishing it on your own website. This results in what is known as duplicate content and leads to a drop in rankings on SERPs or incurring fines from Google.
In order to manually identify websites having scraped content, take the following steps:
- Copy the content from the website
- Paste the content in the Google search bar
- Analyze the websites with duplicate content
- Prepare a list of the domains and URLs that display your content
Step 4: Spammy Anchor Text Analysis
Anchor text includes the visible words and characters that hyperlink to another webpage. Spammy anchor text will almost always lack relevance to the page it is linked to. In order to identify such text, you can do the following:
- Enter your domain
- Click on ‘Anchor’
- Click on ‘Live’
- Conduct an analysis of the referring domains
- List down the non-relevant domains
Step 5: Malicious Website Analysis
A malicious website is one that fraudulently attempts to install malware onto a user’s device. Besides causing harm to the website, it can also cause harm to its visitors. In order to analyze a malicious website, you could use an online tool known as Sucuri (Sucuri is a security company that provides websites with services such as malware cleanup, protection, and monitoring services, among other tools).
After entering your domain name, scan your website and the malicious status of a domain will be highlighted.
Once you’ve established that your website could be under a spam attack, how do you get rid of all the low-quality back-links? For starters, here are a few simple things you could try:
- Contact the website owners and request them to remove the back-link to your website
- Contact the site hosting company and request them to remove the link. You can find out the site hosting company using helpful sites like WhoIsHostingThis.com
- Use the Google Disavow tool: the third and most commonly used option, explained in more detail below
Is Google Disavow Link Tool the answer?
Google Disavow Links tool is a the highly effective option that gives webmasters the power to report and submit spam links to Google in case of a negative SEO encounter. Google introduced the tool in an attempt to reduce link spam (Derek Gleason, Google’s “Disavow Links Tool”: The Complete Guide, Ahrefs, 2018).
While there are multiple tools that can help getting rid of spammy back-links, based on our experience, the most recommended way is by using Google’s disavow links tool. It is very helpful, but it is an advanced feature that needs to be used with caution. If used incorrectly, it could have a negative impact on your website’s ranking on Google. That is why you need to get experienced SEO analysts and strategists involved if you are planning on using Google Disavow links tool to solve your spammy links issue.
Google believes that this tool should only be put to use after you have done all that you possibly could to remove spammy or low-quality links from the web, but still haven’t had much luck in the department. The last resort should be to disavow the remaining links. This means that you can ask Google to not take certain links into account when you are assessing your site. (Google Search Console Help, Disavow Back-links, N.D.)
A disavow file is one that contains a list of all the spammy domains and URLs that have been discovered while conducting the analyses highlighted above.
Once you have listed the URLs in Notepad, the Disavow file needs to be uploaded to the Google Search Console.
Done with Disavowing: What’s Next?
After you have sent the list with all the spammy back-links, the next logical step would be to make sure the links stay disavowed. The only way to make sure this takes place is by regularly checking up on the disavowed links. GO MO Group does this after one month of sending the link to Google Search Console by putting in the domain name in AHREFs to check if the link has actually been disavowed.
If the link has been disavowed, then a regular check up is done every three months to confirm the same. If it hasn’t, then we update the disavow file sheet again, and check up on the link on AHREFs after one month.
Case Study: A spammy problem in the banking industry
In August and November 2017, one of our clients in the banking industry was under a spam attack. Since banks handle sensitive financial information, a spam attack can have major repercussions, one of them being loss of credibility. Due to this attack, our client took a huge hit to their keyword rankings and organic traffic.
To fix this issue, GO MO made use of the following tools:
The first step we made was to identify from where these links were originating. Post this, we created a disavow file containing all spammy domains and submitted the file to Google Search Console.
A whopping total of 307 spam domains were blocked by Google Search Console. In order to be extra cautious, we submitted the file Google Search Console again in January 2018 to ensure the issue has been eradicated from the root.
In this manner, GO MO successfully removed 307 spam domains from our client’s website and increased the overall performance of our client.
We have compiled this in-depth guide after conducting thorough research, experiments, and analyses of real-life case studies. It is important to understand that tackling spammy links is an ever-changing process which heavily depends on Google’s algorithms. Hence, it is essential to stay up-to-date about the latest trends and techniques to combat spam back-links.
At GO MO Group, we welcome feedback and suggestions regarding our blogs, so please feel free to write to us! Till then, keep reading our blogs for tips and tricks on how to improve your SEO knowledge, and make the best use of digital marketing for your business.