As a website gets older and/or more popular it begins obtaining some very questionable looking links. Some are downright scary.
These generally come in the form of
- low quality
- large quantity
Some of the websites I work with have millions of natural links. You should see the crazy links that these websites get. At some point they end up getting what seems to be like 100 bad links for every 1 good link.
Scary links I’ve seen
Case study #1
One client I have as recently as 2017 was under a rare but very large negative seo or “reverse seo” attack. They’re a prominent attorney in the northeastern United States. In 2017 they were on the receiving end of multiple negative SEO (aka reverse SEO) attacks.
The first wave hit them with thousands of links for every bad word you could imagine and many which were completely new to me. These are not simply just sexual terms but nouns and verbs which will make you lose sleep at night.
After that didn’t affect the target website the next wave hit. This time they used comment spam on websites located overseas. Think Russia, Pakistan, India, etc. Their strategy this time around was to use very desirable keywords to their most important pages, but from very low quality sources. Since much of the spam involved blog comment s[am many of the links were NoFollow.
Case study #2
Also in 2017, a huge spam outbreak hit California Personal Injury Lawyers. I documented it here, and it is now hitting attorneys in Oregon and Washington and probably other states as well. In this case someone opened thousands of random little landing page websites and for whatever reason they linked to everyone who was on the front page of Google in every city.
Should I worry about low quality links?
Google has stated dozens of times now to not worry about low quality links. In fact, ironically, Google’s Nathan Johns just said this today, March 15, 2018 (it’s ironic as someone was just asking me about these types of links). Of course, you can be penalized for intentionally building links from low quality websites. But we’re talking about Google here. They have the DATA from BILLIONS of websites. In Google’s own words “In the vast majority of cases you can ignore [links]”. Any highly trafficked website gets boatloads of low quality links. Many websites have far more crummy links than good links. Even this website I am typing on right now showed up in the sidebar of hundreds of sites a couple of years ago – I don’t even know how. I personally received links many times per day for a couple of years from sites all over the web. Didn’t phase me a bit and most definitely didn’t impact rankings.
Should I be worried about NoFollow links?
NoFollow is an attribute assigned to a link via an HTML tag which tells search engines the links should not influence the ranking of the link destination.
Search engines do not pass any “juice” along on NoFollow links. No good juice. No bad juice. No juice.
I think NoFollow links are great and a natural part of having a website on the Internet. All natural link portfolios have NoFollow links. You should most definitely have NoFollow links. If some stupid website is linking to you with them, don’t worry about it at all.
If your rankings are going down and links happen to be a factor it is most often the case that your competitors are accumulating better links than you are, not that a NoFollow link is somehow hurting your website.
Disavowing bad links
Once upon a time people manipulated search engine rankings with lots and lots of spammy links. They still do, of course. However, when an algorithm rolled out and a website was hit by an algorithmic penalty, sites would drop in the rankings on a very specific date and webmasters would know they needed to disavow their “bad” links.
Google has said many times now that the practice of disavowing questionable links is now practically useless.
Demoted vs Devalued
Since BILLIONS of popular websites attract thousands of crummy links from websites which duplicate their content or link to them from their terrible little websites, search engines were forced to adapt to ignore these crummy links so that a website’s position in search was not affected. Google has devalued these links.
Links which are clearly the efforts to manipulate a website’s ranking in search indeed devalue a website. You have to be REALLY sloppy to obtain these links. If you outsource your SEO overseas and they link to your most important page about wedding dresses for “buy wedding dresses online” 400X, then yes, expect to drop in the rankings. These links demote a website; they have a negative impact.
Am I losing rankings due to poor backlinks?
If you’re on page 1 and you’re shuffling places with a few of the top players, you are not “penalized”. If you’ve suddenly sunk to page 7, then yes you have a problem.
- If you’re receiving crummy links from around the web, congratulations, your website is now big enough to hit all kinds of bugs as it sails down the Internet superhighway. Google and other search engines are completely aware of this and as Google has stated they’re great at evaluating links and it really doesn’t matter. If it did, Amazon, eBay and Facebook would perform terribly.
- If you’re really freaking out anyways simply disavow the domains you do not want linking to you. Most people cause more harm than good with the disavow tool, so be sure whoever creates your disavow file knows what they’re doing. I’m personally a bit paranoid about disavowing links and usually let them ride. I’ve only disavowed links a handful of times. In case study #1 above, I did, but no, there was no affect on rankings at all, and we’re talking thousands of the nastiest (DoFollow) links I’ve ever seen in my life.