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How to spot a harmful link

Blog Article

The quality of your website’s backlink profile has never been so important.

dodgy-link-eggBut with thousands of links associated with your site, how do you separate the good from the bad? Do you trust expensive third-party services, do you judge purely on first impressions, or do you assess based on advice from an experienced SEO agency (that’s us)? Did you pick the third option? Great. There are two main times at which you’ll need to scrutinise your website’s backlinks:
  1. When you’re conducting a backlink analysis
  2. When you’re sourcing new link prospects
It’s time to show search engines some respect.  

Website Warning Signs

Unattractive & uninviting

We’re not shallow; we’re just picky. While it’s true that some ugly websites have great personalities, the vast majority have issues that run far below the surface – sound familiar? Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts to help you narrow down your search. If a site looks untrustworthy, it probably is. That’s not to say that a site can’t be simple – some of the best websites on the Internet embrace minimalism – but at the same time, it can’t be cluttered either. Take a look at the basics. • Is the site easy to navigate? • Does the design follow a determined structure? • Are the pictures of a high quality? • Are there more adverts than real content? • Is there a high percentage of commercial anchor text? • Is contact information visible? • Is there an obvious call to action? The appearance of a website may not give you a definitive answer on its worth, but it will help you to determine how thoroughly you should explore the rest of the content. Remember: if you can’t find your way around, neither can Google.  

Poor link metrics

There are a number of useful online tools designed to help you examine the quality of links. Two of the most popular are Open Site Explorer from Moz and Majestic SEO. Both services offer aggregated results based on a series of complex algorithms. That’s right, there are link algorithms trying to understand search algorithms. The four key metrics across these two services are: (all rated out of 100)
  1. Domain Authority (Moz): A prediction of how well a site will perform in search results.
  2. Page Authority (Moz): A prediction of how well a page on a website will perform in search results.
  3. Citation Flow (Majestic): A prediction of how influential a website is based on the number of sites linking to it.
  4. Trust Flow (Majestic): A prediction of how trustworthy a site is based on how many trustworthy sites link to it.
So what’s a good score? Well, to be honest, there’s no right or wrong answer here. With all of the above, you should be striving for links from higher-ranking sites. But, it’s important to remember that search engines look for natural link profiles, not perfect link profiles. In a perfect world, you’d only receive links from sites rated 70+, but realistically, that’s just not going to happen. Yes, a natural link profile can be manufactured, but such manipulation will always be second best to the spontaneous and organic linking of regular web users who have never even heard of SEO. At best, avoid most links with a domain authority or trust flow of less than 20 – unless, of course, all of your other links are rated well above it.  

Links to harmful sites

Would you judge somebody based on the people they hang around with? Google does. After slashing the value of anchor text and cutting keyword data, many believe that the search giant is simply positioning itself to give credit to co-citation – the practice of judging a website by those it’s directly and indirectly linked to. In other words: if your good website links to another good website, but that other good website links to a bad website, you could suffer by way of association. Got it? To limit the impact of this emerging ranking factor, just run a quick manual or automated check of a link prospect’s network. Stay away from anything offensive, adult or untrustworthy to avoid being stereotyped as one of the crowd.  

Lack of community & social activity

Now that we’ve established the dangers of a bad link neighbourhood, it’s time to look a little closer to home. A recent study of search engine ranking factors placed social endorsements among the most influential. Engagement is key. Nowadays, a company’s website is just a small part of its wider online presence. You could even argue it’s the most boring. While Internet users have evolved to expect engagement; some websites still believe that preaching is the way forward. If Google is Neighbourhood Watch, these websites have ASBOs. They’re there to serve one purpose: to sell. They’re not exciting, interesting or even particularly relevant. They’re the complete opposite of what modern search engines are looking for. Focus your efforts on gaining links from large, diverse communities with the potential to increase rankings and drive referral traffic.  

Good social indicators

• Evidence of engaged website audience: Blog comments, user content, feedback forms, Q&As. • Integration of social media: Social sharing buttons, embedded social feeds, high number of followers. • Presence of email marketing: Mailing list subscription box, option to download previous emails.  


Analysing the quality of links isn’t easy. After all, search engines invest millions of pounds into doing exactly this. The purpose of your research isn’t to outdo an algorithm, but to gain a general understanding of a link’s value to your site. Our guide hopefully gives you direction in what to look for, but maybe the best indication of a link’s quality comes from its position in the search results.  
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