Tell-Tale Red Flags that Signal Trouble during a Link Profile Audit

If you think the connection between backlinking and rankings on Google is outdated, think again. Backlinks were one of the major contributors to Google rankings back when the SEO phenomenon broke the internet, and it’s still going strong to this day.

Although in the current age Google has some 200 or more factors to consider when it comes to ranking websites, profile backlinks are still one of them. Backlinks that come from authoritative or older domains are considered more impactful than backlinks that come from newer ones.

There’s also evidence that highlights how important domain diversity is for SERP rankings—simply put, the more backlinks you have from different domains, the better your site will rank. Google, then, is not just assessing if you’re being mentioned on other websites, but is also assessing whether or not you make it to a number of different pages which all refer back to you. That is not to say that getting a number of referrals from the same domains isn’t helpful (it is), it’s just not as impactful in terms of climbing the SERP ranking ladder.

By this point, you’re probably thinking: okay, cool. Link-building and backlinking is important for SEO, it will help my website get better rankings. Why the fuss?

Speaking of the Fuss. . . Google is the Big Brother: And Big Brother’s Watching You

The fuss is exactly because you think there shouldn’t be any fuss—because backlinking isn’t as easy or as simple as many people think it is. It’s more than linking to credible sources on your own website, and far more than getting one or two neighbor domains to backlink to you.

Remember the Google Penguin Algorithm? This algorithm update was targeted specifically at webspam—which included bad backlinks. Google now has a far stronger tool to check if any websites are violating its many rules, and this will of course affect their rankings.

How do you ensure, then, that your website is safe and securely ranked on SERPs—and that your overall link profile won’t be affecting your website anytime soon? Through a link profile audit!

Link Profile Audits

The digital universe continues to grow as complex and diverse as the DC and Marvel universes—things aren’t as simple as careless backlinking and relaxing without proper checks. Link penalties have begun to bear down quite heavily upon websites. There are far more risks and far higher stakes in the game now.

Your link profile—every current link on your page and backlinks to your website on other pages—directly determines the course of your page’s online reputation. Google will rate and rank you based on the quality of the links on your page, and the quality of the pages you are mentioned in. Link audits are a simple and safe procedure through which you can ensure that your link profile is not on any blacklists and comes out as genuine. It’s neither an easy nor a quick thing to do. If you’re getting an agency to do a link audit for you, it will take time, they take skill, but the end result will be worth it—a stitch in time after all, saves nine. The task can take as many as 10 hours, and requires sophisticated tools that are often priced high.

If you don’t, however, have the time or money to spare, despair not. A backlink audit process can be done through in under 45 minutes if you know the right sources and the right steps to follow. Identifying potential red herrings in this process will help you salvage your website’s ranking and improve your position in the SERP world.

Assessing the Damage

Assessing the Damage

It’s very common for websites to get penalized by Google—but not very common for the marketers behind these websites to identify that they have been penalized. In fact, only 5% marketers respond to these penalties by submitting a request for reconsideration. This is in stark contrast to the many Google algorithms and the 400,000 monthly manual actions that Google is actively initiating against websites it feels goes against its rules.

Simply put, a Google penalty is a form of punishment meted out by Google. Google has enforced a number of practices which marketers are supposed to follow in order to make their websites rank better. Violate these—or try to find a way around them—and you’re at the short end of the stick. In this case, the violations refer to black hat SEO.

So how do you find out if you have been penalized by Google?

Master Webmaster

It’s always a good idea to keep “auditing” or checking your link profile. This helps to brush away the damage before it can occur. If your website hasn’t had a link profile check in some time, it’s a good idea to begin now.

Google Webmasters is a great resource that helps you track exactly how well your website is faring. It’s also Google Webmasters that issues the subtle “warnings” which signal a penalty. What you need to be looking for is a harmful or suspicious link that Google has possibly found. In case Google hasn’t already taken any action against you, it very well might if the suspicious domain continues to point at your site.

Monitor the Traffic

Has your website lost a lot of traffic lately? If this isn’t due to a competitor or lack of regularly updated content marketing, it’s probably due to a shoddy link profile. Here’s what you should be looking for:

  • A decline in rankings for all the keywords that you’re targeting
  • Decline in search referrals to your domain
  • Decline in traffic for the specific keywords you target

These are the telltale signs that your website has already been penalized. If there’s a decline in keyword based rankings, this is exclusively a keyword based penalty. The reason is mostly an excessive use of high value, specific keywords, all of which use the same keywords. At any rate, if you observe a decline in the organic traffic to your site, always check it against any changes you might have made on your page, to rule out the possibility of a penalty.

Double Checking Links

Gather your backlinks while ye may—we suggest you do this whether or not you have identified a potential penalty. And we suggest you do this regularly. There could very well be a suspicious link just lying around, waiting to damage your reputation. Although if your site uses backlinks excessively, chances are you won’t find them. Often they lie too deep and too dormant for tools to locate them. Be as thorough as is possible. Use multiple link discovery and search sources to carry out the search to ensure all are forced out of hiding.

Which Search Tools to Use?

Several companies have built web crawlers of their own which mimic search engines. They begin with seed sites, and move on to links on the web. This leads to the creation of an index that contains all the URLs and domains connected to and linked with the website. Although they might not find all the backlinks on your sites, they’ll find most of them. Here are a few tools you can use:

  • Majestic SEO (majestic.com)
  • Ahrefs (ahrefs.com)

There are other link research tools which you can use, but they don’t really cover the web. What they do instead is to collect data from many sources and create an aggregate.

The best tool to use, of course, is Google Webmasters. There’s also Bing Webmasters if you want to consider it—multiple sources are better, remember? Although you won’t be able to paint the complete picture, these tools will provide valuable information to you about the backlinks on your website. When running the search, use the data from Google, Bing, and any existing data that you might have on link development.

Identifying “Bad” Links

Identifying Bad Links

Before you can disavow them, you need to identify which links are suspicious and are causing you active harm. Bear in mind that not just the quality of the page, but the domain of the page matters just as well. Shady and suspicious domains should be shunned at all costs. Identifying the source page of these various links you have found is paramount.

These are some of the red flags, which can explain the organic drop in traffic on your website (which is symptomatic of a Google algorithmic/manual penalty):

Blacklisted Domains

Although you don’t really have any directories on which you can check if certain domains are banned or blacklisted, you can use Link Detox (linkresearchtools.com). You can get a report from its Link Profile Audit. Link Detox identifies blacklisted links (its SUSP21 rule is triggered), enabling you to disavow them straight them.

“Dangerous” Pages

Your link could very well be listed on a page that is considered “dangerous”—that is, it is overcome with malware or viruses. These are— it goes without saying— bad places to be. You can use Link Detox for this purpose as well. The TOX2 rule in Link Detox will be triggered, warning you about the dangerous domain.

Weak Domains

Weak domains are those that are overcome with automated spamming. They look normal, but they usually have no external links—except, maybe, for yours. Use the LRT Power*Trust™ to check if a page is weak or strong. We suggest you use it on a daily basis to check the links you work with. You can also find weak pages using Link Detox. If the SUSP1 rule is triggered on Link Detox, you’ll know you have a “weak domain” on your hands. The worst page you want your link to end up in is a page that Google has already penalized.

“Younger” Domains

Although it’s already been mentioned that aged and more authoritative domains have more impact, young links won’t really hurt you. However, you must be wary of domains that are younger than 6 months, and which will have a LRT Power*Trust Domain that falls below 3. On Link Detox, younger domains trigger the SUSP18 rule./p>

Penalized Domains

This one goes without saying, really. Having your link listed on such a page will not just hurt your rankings, but might get you penalized likewise.

Domains not indexed on Google

If Link Detox is triggering the TOX1 rule, you’ll know that Google has either not indexed the page or that the page has been penalized. Domains that aren’t indexed on Google add no SEO value to your link whatsoever.

Pages that Fail to Rank for Their Own Titles

If a page is, very specifically, about realtors in Colorado, and does not show up in the first 30 Google search results, be on your guard. Unless and until the title is vague, there’s no reason for a page not to rank for its own title. You can check for these pages using the BackLink Profiler. When using the BLP, remember to enable the extra metric TitleRank, for the report to be sorted better. The results (in TitleRanks 30+, >5, etc.) will tell the tale of the page’s ranking. You can also check using Link Detox, which will produce a SUSP4 report, which directly indicates automated link building.

Banned Domains

A banned domain is the worst place to have your link mentioned in. Using Link Detox, you can easily work these domains out, as they will trigger the SUSP27 rule, indicating that the domain has LRT Power*Trust™ >0. Also bear in might that the LRT Power Trust shows “more than zero” but the domain will have no ranking—if this is so, Google has probably already penalized the domain.

Gambling, Hacking, or Pornographic Sites

Gambling, Hacking, or Pornographic Sites

A lot of this is basically due to a lack of editorial intervention. If you’re not manually checking the links and are using automated backlinks generated, chances are you might end up on suspicious sites such as those that fall under pornography. These are websites that are generally considered “high risk” and are terrible news for your website. On Link Detox, this kind of a domain triggers the SUSP5 rule. If Link Detox recognizes a high-risk URL, the SUSP20 will be triggered.

Typical Directories

From typical directories and article directories, the days of SEO being positively affected by multiple mentions on the same directories. On Link Detox, the SUSP15 will be triggered, indicating that the links are mentioned on web directories. On the other hand, the SUSP16 rule being triggered indicates that the link is listed on article directories. These are no more considered beneficial for SEO purposes since spam is pretty much the only thing that fills up these directories these days. If Link Detox shows the SUSP26 rule triggered, you’ll know that your link has been listed on a voting directory, which is bad news just the same, since these directories are used mostly to sell links.

Similarly, if Link Detox is displaying the SUSP17 rule, you’ll know that the page or directory that you’re listed on has above a 1000 external links. This is a direct indicator of a blog that’s filled with spam.

Unnatural Links

This is coupled with suspicious anchor texts, which are no longer so easy to spot. Using Link Detox, you can identify unnatural links if the TOX3 is triggered. These might look fine to work with, but trust us—they’re not. Similarly, Sitewide footer links are also bad news and never works in anybody’s best interests unless you’re a known brand. Link Detox shows the SUSP11 rule in case of such links. Hidden images are also flagged, triggering the SUSP25 rule in Link Detox. In case you’re overdoing your keywords—such as the money keyword or the compound keyword—you’ll also be flagged, which will trigger the SUSP28 and SUSP29 rules on Link Detox.

Link Networks

The final nail in the coffin is link networks. Before Google’s Penguin update, a number of supposedly white hat links would masquerade as legitimate and include your links on their networks. You would probably never get to know about this. These are sites that make shady claims—that they’ll make you rank #Number 1 in two days!—and often seem like they’re a great catch.

If the SUSP7 rule is triggered on Link Detox, you’ll know that the domain is full of spam. A bigger red herring is the triggering of the SUSP8 rule which is indicative of a domain that has a Class C IP address. To explain it succinctly, a Class C IP address entails that the ccc block in that address appears too often. IP addresses are generally made up in this format: aaa.bbb.ccc.ddd. Each group of alphabets is a number varying from 0 to 255.

On the other hand, if the SUSP3 rule is triggered, you’ll know either of three things about the domain:

  • That it has 10 or more backlinks from a Class C IP address
  • That it has LRT Power*Trust™ Domain < 5
  • That it has LRT Power*Trust™ Domain < 5
Multiple Domains with the Same Registrant or Server

Multiple Domains with the Same Registrant or Server

Often shady sources use the same name multiple times on a number of domains, which is also symptomatic of a link network. In this case an individual registers many domains with their own name, often multiple times, and uses them all to link back to one—your—website. Link Detox helps identify this by triggering the SUSP6 rule.

Similarly, Link Detox displays the SUSP9 rule if it identifies multiple links from the same server (DNS). This could be in part due to these links all using the same shared hosting provider (think Hostgator), but it never hurts to be sure!

Abandoned Links—Calculating Negative Velocity

Link Detox analyzes link growth of all domains to check if the growth has ceased or decreased in the past few months, especially after growing significantly in the first months. This indicates a domain that has been abandoned by the host. The SUSP10 rule is triggered if Link Detox detects a link velocity less than 70%, highlighting a domain that is well past its expiry date.

Same Google Analytics/Google AdSense Domain

If Link Detox finds multiple domains linking back to the same Google Analytics account, you have a possible link network on your hand. Even if this is an IT agency handling all of its clients with one account, you’re better off without it. As a result, the SUSP12 will be triggered on Link Detox.

Similarly, Link Detox can help detect possible link networks by identifying multiple domains that link back to the same Google AdSense Publisher ID. The SUSP13 is triggered on Link Detox in this case.

Same Website Footprints

Link Detox can also identify if the backlinks are all connected and related to domains that are (a) very similar and (b) link back to your website. A simple example is Wiki or WordPress. The rules that are triggered on Link Detox in this case are the SUSP22, SUSP23 and the SUSP24.

Rewind

It must be evident by now that checking and double-checking backlinks and running a thorough link profile audit is a hard nut to crack—but it’s a necessary action if you are to retain your website’s worth in the world of SERPs and growing SEO competition, especially where it concerns small businesses. If your business is smaller in scale and is just starting, it needs all the help you can afford—and getting penalized by Google is not one of them.

Link Detox is a resourceful and highly efficient tool that can help you regulate your website and perform complete profile link audits. To help you use this versatile tool better, we thought we’d make a list:

RuleMeaning
TOX 1Domain not indexed on Google/Penalized
TOX 2Dangerous domain
TOX 3Unnatural algorithm
SUSP 1Domain that lacks external links
SUSP 2Young domain
SUSP 3Weak link
SUSP 4Penalized link
SUSP 5Suspicious domain such as pornography
SUSP 6Registrant same for multiple domains
SUSP 7ID same as/similar to other domains
SUSP 8Class C IP Address same as/similar to other domains
SUSP 9DNS same as/similar to other domains
SUSP 10Abandoned/Expired domain
SUSP 11Sitewide Footer Links
SUSP 12Google Analytics Publisher ID same as/similar to other networks
SUSP 13Google AdSense Publisher ID same as/similar to other networks
SUSP 15Link directory
SUSP 16Article directory
SUSP 17Excessive external links
SUSP 18Low LRT Power*Trust
SUSP 21Blacklisted domain
SUSP 22Similar website footprints as more domains
SUSP 23Similar website footprints as more domains
SUSP 24Similar website footprints as more domains
SUSP 25Link contains hidden image
SUSP 26Voting directories
SUSP 27Linked to a domain that has been penalized
SUSP 28Excessive— >5%—occurrence of money keyword anchor in backlinks
SUSP 29Excessive— >5%—occurrence of compound keyword anchor in backlinks
SUSP 30Domain the is targeted by spam
SUSP 31Suspicious text anchor
SUSP 32LRT Power>LRT Trust for domain
SUSP 33LRT Power>LRT Trust for page
SUSP 34High level domain possibly used by spammers

Simply put—it’s difficult, now that Google has Penguins and Pandas watching out for spammers, scammers, and shortcut-finders, to deceive it. You might not be willingly indulging in weak or dangerous backlinking practices, but your ignorance can affect your website’s ranking significantly. Small businesses need more than SEO to help build their repute: we suggest you use Link Detox wisely and regularly—and now your watch begins!

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