SEO: How To Prune Unnatural Links Using Google Webmaster Tools
As I recently wrote in Forbes, if you’ve been seeing your website rankings tanking over the past year or so, you’ll want to check for bad links. Not broken links, that’s a different type of “bad” link. I’m talking about toxic, unnatural, or spammy links pointing to your website. A commenter on that post asked “What tools to monitor the backlinks and to identify any potential bad links do you or other readers recommend?” You could use a paid tool like Link Detox or Majestic SEO, but here I’ll offer a simple guide to using Google Webmaster Tools for free. It won’t give you what those other tools can, but if you’re on shoestring budget and just want to do something, anything, to get some things cleaned up on your own this is how you can get started.
1. Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ and log in. For the purposes of this tutorial I’ll assume you already have a GWT account and have set up your website there. If you haven’t, you’ve got a little extra work to do, and I recommend you start with Jayson DeMers excellent guide on using GWT for SEO success.
2. Expand “Search Traffic” on the left and click on “Links to Your Site.”
3. Click on “More” under “Who links the most.”
4. Check the links here. Here you see the domains linking to your site, not the exact pages on those domains. If you want the exact pages, then click on “download latest links.” What do you get from “download more sample links” vs. “download latest links?” Scott Krager answers that question in his Guide to Google Webmaster Tools at Moz.
There are two ways to download lists of links, but the “Download Latest Links” is the more useful of the two. ”Download More Sample Links” just gives a list of the same links as the latest links but in alphabetical order instead of most recent. The main report lists the domains linking to your site sorted by the number of links.
5. Start pruning. “But how do I know which links are the bad ones?” you ask. You can divide your links into three groups fairly easily:
- Definitely good. A link from CNN.com is definitely good.
- Definitely bad. 42,567 links coming from a domain in India you’ve never heard of, and which, when you visit it, has nothing to do with your line of business, nor can you figure out what the website is about even though it’s in English, is definitely bad.
- In-between. A lot of your links might fit here. If you set up a profile on a directory years ago, and you’ve got 100 links coming from it, is that bad? Hard to say, it depends. That’s where you might want to invest in a tool like Link Detox mentioned above, or hire an SEO professional.
Regardless, you should start by pruning the links that are obviously bad ones. How?
- If you can log in to these websites, then log in and delete the offending profile/account and its accompanying links. If someone else built these links for you, ask them if they have logins to delete them.
- If you can’t log in to a website, see if you can find contact info to ask them to remove links. Failing that, contact them any way you can. You might want to compose a form email for this purpose if you’re removing a lot of links. Warning: A form email can be ignored by a webmaster if they think their site is super legit and that a competitor of yours is trying to hurt you by removing good links. A little customization/personalization lets them know you’re for real. Tip: Send email requests from an email address that is the same as the website to get credibility with webmasters.
- Failing these above methods, try out the Google Link Disavow Tool, but as Chuck Price says, use it the right way.
Have experience removing unnatural links? What tips would you add?