Do you know that Links from “bad neighborhoods” may hurt your site?
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Google has always claimed to be able to find networks of bad links (link farms, etc) algorithmically, although many in the SEO community suspect that detecting bad neighborhoods is more of a manual task in all but the most blatant of cases. Either way, Google have certainly upped the ante recently with the Penguin update and a slew of emails to webmasters, warning them that they seem to have suspicious link profiles.
For the black hat link builder, the lesson to take away from this is obvious: stop doing that. But for the ethical SEO, is there anything to worry about and, if so, what can be done about it?
The only worry is really just that you don’t want to get links from sites that might look suspicious (or to link out to them). Or, if you’re so inclined, you might want to check out the competition’s practices with an eye to reporting any bad behavior.
Is it even possible to identify bad link neighborhoods without the tools and processing power Google engineers have at their fingertips? We gave CEMPER‘s link research toolkit a spin to find out.
Step 1: Find Some Guilty-Looking Parties
Back Link Profiler (BLP) gives top level information about your site’s (or a competitor’s) link graph. BLP allows you to sort your incoming links by trust and other factors, but there are plenty of legitimate sites that don’t look great if you just look at the numbers. There is a fair amount of trawling to do by hand.
Step 2: Find the Buyers
Once you have your motley collection of weird and wonderful links, it’s time to put them into Link Juice Thief (LJT). This tool will find which outgoing links these sites have in common, and therefore highlight potential ad buyers. This is where the process stumbles a little. It’s a long, hard task to find suspected link selling websites, even if there are any in the first place in the link profile with which you’re working. BLP has neat features for automatically pulling out the usual suspects (porn, malware, etc), so those are obvious enough (and they might well be selling links).
Step 3: Identify the Networks
So, you’ve got some guilty parties. Obviously you won’t want to be getting links from them, but you want to make sure that you don’t pursue links from any site involved in their network or that has sold them any links in the past. It’s likely that Google have become so good at detecting bought links that any links from selling sites will be tainted, even if you’re not buying yourself.
Whether or not you go the whole hog to identify a linking network, deep analysis of a competitor’s link graph (or your own) is a worthwhile process. Many SEOs focus on trawling competitors’ links for sites that could also link to you, but really getting into their profile can also tell you a lot about their overall strategy.