Links, or hyperlinks are the main mechanisms that connect the trillions of websites on the internet to one another. Links typically appear in the form of a highlighted text phrase on a webpage, that takes you to another page either on that website, or it takes you to a separate website altogether.
Prior to search engines, hyperlinks were the only method websites were connected by, and the only way users could find the sites they were looking for. Today many people find what they are looking for via searches on search engines like Google, Bing & Yahoo. Links still play an important role when navigating around the internet from a user perspective, and search engines use links as part of their method to surface the most relevant content in their search engine result pages, or search algorithms.
Links can be internal (on your website) or external (on another website). We call these internal and external links. To dive further into understanding what links are & why they are important, Moz has a great article to better understand both internal and external links.
Good Links Versus Bad Links
Good and bad is always a relative term. In the context of this article, we’re going to consider “good” links as links that help the website they point to in some way. Usually by way of direct traffic (people clicking) or better visibility in search engines. We’re going to be focusing on search engines specifically. We’re also going to be focusing on Google specifically, as Google is the most used search engines and commands a lions share of over 80% of the search market.
Google publishes an actual list of what they want sites to do & even gives examples of what they do not want sites to do. This collection of guidelines is called the Google Quality Guidelines. The guidelines while being a very long read containing a lot of details, offer a pretty simple foundation.
Google wants website owners to:
- Offer something of value
- Be honest
- Build & update your website with your users in mind
- Ignore search engines
- Do not pay for links
- Do not create spam
Google wants website publishers to ignore they exist. They want an honest, holistic listing of all websites based on their algorithms. In reality every day thousands of websites are created with the intention of showing up in search engines, while millions of dollars change hands hand attempting to gain additional visibility on search engines. People have been gaming the search engines for a very long time, and more than ever Google wants it to stop.
Google wants to see “natural” links pointing to your website. These are links that would exist without search engines. These are Angie’s List profiles, Yelp profiles, links on local chamber of commerce sites, links on local news sites and so on. Good links have common signals – they show up on relevant websites (per geography, industry or topic), have simple anchor text and are usually found on trustworthy websites. Here is an example of a good quality link on a local business group.
Google considers “bad” link as links existing with the goal of ranking your website higher. These are links that appear on websites that have nothing to do with your website in any way/shape/form, have very specific anchor text and are usually found on websites that are less than trustworthy. Here is an example of a spammy link on a very questionable looking website.
Why “Bad” Links Matter
Over the last few years Google has been ramping up their efforts to remove sites that benefit from low quality links from their search engine result pages. The specific filter that Google uses to remove sites benefiting from low quality links is called Panda. You can read more on Google Panda here.
Here’s where the line gets a little blurry. We’ve talked about two very different types of websites, legitimate versus spammy. Paid links can apply to both of these website types. Paid links are exactly how they sound – links that are paid for. Many companies purchase links on legitimate websites via advertising campaigns. These are for the most part not the paid links we’re talking about. Paid links in this context are referring to websites that allow you to publish articles on their sites for a payment. This is an area Google has a hard time identifying
Paid links, just like natural links, are not all good or bad. Google looks at your intentions & websites you’ve placed your links on. It goes back to the being honest and not spammy.
How To Check Your Site
To take a look at your backlink profile, simply verify your site via Google Webmaster tools, and you’ll be able to download your links directly from Google. Majestic is also a great option as you can verify your own website, then access all the link data without having to sign up for a paid account. Majestic has more options, while Google will likely give you more results. If you have the time use both!
Each backlink tool will show you a list of your links. Start by downloading your links, then going to each website and giving it a human test – ask yourself the following:
- Does this look like a legitimate website?
- Does my link look natural or forced?
- Do I think real customers will find me and click this link?
Keep a high level tally. Do you see natural, useful links – or do you see mostly crap links?
At The End Of The Day
Steer clear of any activities that may lead to more backlinks pointing to your website that are low quality and can be considered spammy. If you have a lot of questionable links we recommend dealing with those links before it affects your visibility and traffic. If you need help reviewing your backlink profile we’ll be happy to help. All backlinks should be natural, so they don’t hurt your online rankings. To make sure you don’t make a lot of common backlink building mistakes, check out this step-by-step process on how to build backlinks the right way in 2018.