Over the past several months I’ve had an avalanche of very specific inquiries, all with a related scenario. People are worried that their previous link building activities have hurt their site’s rankings, are going to hurt their site’s rankings at any moment, or are not helping their site’s rankings. When I probe them for more details about their “previous link building activities,” there are several scenarios that I hear:
- One: The person inherited a site for which he/she has no idea what link building has been done, by whom, when, and in what way
- Two: The company previously hired one (or several) SEO/SEM firm that claimed expertise in link building, but didn’t, and now they have 7,600 spammy inbound links
- Three: They’ve done some casual link building from time to time, and now want to go about it in a more strategic manner without antagonizing the engines
The common thread comes back to rankings, and the fear that somewhere down the link building history something bad was done, or not enough good was or is being done now. People are confused. Is our linking strategy sound or is our site about to be penalized? Is our recent rankings drop the result of us taking the wrong advice? Have we done something wrong we didn’t know was wrong, or which wasn’t wrong when we did it?
Many people are guilty of nothing more than taking bad advice, because they truly didn’t know better. Sometimes the people in charge of marketing a web site don’t have the technical expertise to understand algorithms and links. They are at the mercy of an SEO/SEM vendor who themselves might not even know the services they are selling are worthless. Or even dangerous. When it comes to link building, acting on bad advice can have dire consequences. Like a permanent drop in rankings from which you may never recover.
As much as I wish I could tell you there was a quick fix—other than killing off your site and starting over at a new domain—the reality is that your degree of concern must be highly correlated to the extent of the crimes you fear may have been committed.
In simpler terms, you need to know just how big a mess you are in. If your site is brand new and came out of the gate swinging by joining multiple link swapping services, you might want to consider starting all over. If your site is seven years old and the only offense was a few links you bought, all of which are gone now, then you are probably safe. If you have a large and random reciprocal links page, your best course of action may be to cull it down and define a theme. In some extreme cases it might be best to remove your links page completely.
There is no perfect solution that can be applied to every scenario for every site. A college kid using a university provided web space to run a business for which he engages in every spammy and unacceptable link building tactic known to mankind is not going cause the university’s domain to be banned or penalized by Google. Now, if you tried those same exact tactics for your company site, it’s probably a different story. And result.
When I’m doing forensic inbound link analysis (whoo! another new catchphrase), I’ll often see something that looks suspicious on first glance, but further analysis shows it to be nothing to be worried about. Scraper pages are a classic example. You can’t control that someone has a spammy PPC network based on scraped results that happen to have a link to your site on them. Engines know this. But sometimes I find things that look suspicious. Sometimes I do recommend pursuing a “cleansing of the links” that are pointing at your site. And some mistakes can’t be fixed no matter how hard you try.
The wisest course of action that I can recommend for every site is to spend some time looking at your current inbound link profile, before you can’t. If your site has a long and clean link building history, then your first objective ought to be protecting the good reputation you have. Don’t take chances. You already have what many never will be able to get. On the other hand, if you find an inbound link trail that shows evidence of aggressive link building tactics that are commonly thought to be inappropriate, then your objective needs to be damage assessment and repair.
Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.
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