Easy Mass Back Link Evaluation for the Non-SEO

Bad Links

Some of those links are gettin’ a little rusty.

Have you seen traffic dip in the wake of Penguin 2.0? Are your rankings for converting key terms slipping from where they used to be? Even worse, have you received the dreaded Google Webmaster Tools notice about unnatural links? Do you suddenly have a reason to review each and every one of the thousands or tens of thousands of links pointing to your site? Are you perhaps vetting a new linking vendor who’s providing you with a large inventory? How do you ensure that you’re getting what you’re paying for, and that your vendor isn’t simply giving you links from a site with a bad design hosted in a nasty neighborhood, or a site that just started last month whose PR has been inflated well beyond what the site’s actually worth? With this post I will give you some insight into how to evaluate a large number of back links, quickly.

Get it? GET IT?!?!

First, you will need a tool that will show you the PageRank of a site in your browser. I use SEO Book’s SEO Toolbar. I’m not going to go on at length here about the general uselessness of PageRank, but in this case it can be useful. (Even tools that don’t give an exactly accurate measurement can be useful for comparative analyses, sort of like what we’re doing here. Google Analytics, for example, once your site gets big enough, just shows extrapolated data based on a percentage of visits. That doesn’t make the data it provides meaningless.) Along with PageRank, you will need a tool to measure the approximate amount of traffic to the site over the last two years, encompassing the time frame when Penguin 1 and Penguin 2 hit. I use SEM Rush.

So how do you know what’s a good link and what’s a bad link? It’s a mixture of common sense, intuition, and experience. My general procedure is this:

1. Open a browser with two tabs, one with SEM Rush, one blank. Copy the root domain of the URL you are evaluating into the blank tab, and into the SEM Rush search field also. While SEM Rush churns the data, watch the site load. Is it really slow? Is there an intrusive popup ad, or autoplay video, or anything else that would indicate shoddy quality to a person and consequently a search engine spider? Then disqualify the page. Are there too many ads above the fold (meaning, do you have to hunt for the content?), are there ads to poker/pill/porn sites, is the site very generic, is it just a list of links- there are too many reasons to list to disqualify a link here, so I will use Google’s language for “what to look for”:

Cheap spam links, paid links that pass PageRank, link exchanges, links hidden in CSS or   Javascript, homogenous anchor text, excessive links in too short a period of time, links from sites in other languages, links from blog networks, links that appear sitewide in side bars or footers, links to and from “bad neighborhood” sites, broken internal links, over-optimization of the site itself, excessive website downtime, duplicate or scraped content, low value or spun content, too many ads, meta keyword tag stuffing, cloaked pages, doorway pages, multiple H1 tags per page, hidden content, using automated query tools (rank checkers), being hacked, or promoting black hat techniques. (I know, this looks like a lot to look for but you won’t have to get this granular with every site. These very specific critiques are meant to tip the scales in the frequent occurrence of an “edge case”.

2. Check out the site’s traffic profile in SEM Rush, and compare that to the site’s PageRank. You may have a different standard than I do that you will develop after much practice, but my personal standard is that if the site is anything more than a PR 2, it needs to have some traffic to support it. I figure that Google could conceivably give an ungamed site with good content but no traffic up to a PR 2, but I think once you hit PR 3 range, the site was gamed to that PR unless it has traffic to support it. So if SEM Rush says the site has only seen 5 visitors a month for the last 3 years yet the SEO Book toolbar shows them at a PR 5, I would not use that site.

3. Again, looking at the traffic profile in SEM Rush- are there any huge craters where the site lost a great percentage of its’ traffic over the course of one or two months? That site was severely penalized! Don’t use it!


4. Do the words “seo”, “link”, or “rank” appear anywhere in the URL? Don’t use it!

The thing to keep in mind when doing these reviews is to remain highly skeptical. You want to look at every link with a critical eye and assume they are no good. Assuming they are fine will get you in trouble. Penguin-proof yourself- only accept legitimate links moving forward! Your rankings, traffic, conversions and clients will thank you.

photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregoryjordan/,  http://reverendmommy.blogspot.com/2009_03_01_archive.html

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