What’s The Difference Between A Good Link And A Bad Link And How To Be A Hero (kind of)

If you thought this was going to be a really bad SEO joke, then sorry, it is yet another article about how you can determine the difference between a good link which helps your site and a bad link that potentially harms your site.

If I could have thought of a funny or witty answer, then no doubt I would have provided it, but sadly, when it comes to your link profile (or the lack of a good one), the subject matter is just not funny, in fact, to thousands of websites and owners at the moment, the difference between the good, the bad and real ugly could be costing them thousands of visitors (and Pounds) a day.

The chances are that if you are reading this you have a manual penalty from Google, which has been slapped across your online face because of some dodgy links that Google has got a little bit angry about. Be it a site wide penalty or a partial penalty, having any kind of manual penalty is going to affect your rankings, which is why everyday you will find hundreds of people checking thousands of spreadsheets, losing the will to live every time their reconsideration request is rejected.

For some, they will ignore it. Why bother? For others, they will panic, slowly dreading another check of their website analytics, as yet another day of low visitors and low sales bites them due to dodgy linking practices of their murky past. But the ones that face the fact head on, knuckle down and start digging their way out of the SEO shit they find themselves in are the ones that have a chance, no matter how many “experts” tell you otherwise.

Like many problems in life, the first step is to admit you have messed up, whether through yourself or via an SEO firm, so now is the time to stand up, admit you have a penalty, admit that your links have more spam than ham and start the long road to recovery. Whether the penalty is fair or not, that is really not your problem right now, you have no say or complaint in the matter and you can scream, shout and swear at Google, so you now have to work your little legs off to get things back on track.

You see, I feel every penalty is recoverable. I go against some of the grain when I say this, but I honestly believe that any site that has a penalty can get it lifted, no matter how many bad links you have. As I say, many will disagree, but I have seen and I have been part of some big old penalty recoveries, with many hundreds of thousands of links and I also know others in my industry that have as well. Of course, this costs money when you get someone else (like me) to do it for you, but there is no real reason why you cannot do it yourself, if you have some knowledge and a lot of time, patience and coffee. Oh, it also helps if you can handle rejection, because the chances are your efforts might not be good enough the first few times you try, but then, if it was easy, I wouldn’t be writing this.

So, enough of just writing crappy old content for the sake of Google and my own rankings (a joke .. of course..) and on to the real reason why you are reading this.

Let’s look at links.

The Bad Links:

I think there is a scale of the type of harm that some links can do, with some types massively hurting you immediately and other types that bite away at your legs until they also really hurt you, but probably not as much from the outset.

Whilst everyone will probably have their own opinions, thoughts and rationale behind what makes a bad link, I now present, in order of how much trouble I think they can create for you, my bad, bad, bad back links.

Site Wide Links – In my opinion, based on the penalties I have handled and the many case studies online, site wide links can be a killer. Site wide links are the same link appearing across hundreds, if not thousands of the same pages on a website. So in effect, you end up with Website A sending your website 1,000 links, from just one link in the side bar or footer for example. Not only is this just bad practice, it will also flag up quickly to the search engines because the balance of links just does not right. To be getting 1,000 links from just one domain is not natural and clearly looks like a placed link.

Keyword Rich Anchor Text Links – Years and years ago, your SEO firm would huddle round a table and devise a link building plan, looking at the keywords you wanted to rank for and then set out building links to your website using these keywords as the anchor text. So, if you wanted to rank for Blue Cars, Red Cars and Green Cars, you would vary your links to feature these keywords as the anchor text for the link.

These days this is yet another nail in your SEO coffin, because these are the links that will probably be one of the biggest factors for your manual penalty. These links stand out because it is pretty obvious that very few people would link to a company or mention a company using the products as keywords, as most would either use the company name or similar. Of course, it never hurts to have a few keyword rich anchor text links, but these should be massively in the minority, if you want a nice, balanced and natural looking link profile.

Unrelated Placement Of Links – You also need to think about where your links are appearing and the type of websites they appear on. If you were selling mobile phones and yet you had a load of back links from travel sites, clothes sites and those naughty sites where the ladies dance too much with too little to protect their modesty, then once again, get the red flags out and plant them firmly in your link building profile garden. If you are going to look at some kind of link building, keep it related and keep it authoritative. One good link is worth 1,000 crappy ones, so related and authoritative are two words you must always keep in front of you for your SEO.

Low Quality Directory Links – The old days of keeping a list of PR directories and adding your link to them are about as finished as they could be. Now, I still think there is something to be had from directories, but they need to be established, authoritative, related and well maintained. If you have directory links in unrelated or spammy directories, get them removed or disavowed, because although I do not believe these are the biggest penalty factory, they do play some part especially if they contribute a large percentage of your profile. But if you have a link in related and quality directory, I would leave this out of your first phase of link removals, and only worry if you continue to get rejected.

Press Release / Article Links – Keyword rich anchor text links in Press Releases and Articles are really not ideal, especially if you have released the same thing to many sources. The odd press release or article here and there is going to do you no harm, it’s when you start to look at a really high volume of these type of links that you really start to get some issues. However, as generally you will have the login details for these type of sites, you can usually sort these out quickly. One note on this and from experience once again DO NOT PAY to have these removed, just make sure you tell Google in your reconsideration request they tried to charge you and simply disavow them instead.

Broken Links – Where you see link in your Google Webmaster tools that when you search for are no longer in place or do not appear, make sure you chuck these into your disavow file. There are many sides to this debate, but play it safe and disavow them anyway, just in case they come back one day and start to impact upon your profile. There is no massive evidence to support what I say, but as I safe, play safe and just disavow any link that appears to be broken in terms of the site no longer being live.

The Good Links

This is where life gets a little bit more complicated, because going and getting links is a no no and you will frowned upon and socially cast aside if you get caught out reaching and begging for a link, no matter what approach you try.

Links now have to be earned. So how do you earn them?

You earn links by being good, by being the best you can and by actually forgetting you want links.

Forget you want links? Sounds stupid? Maybe, but when you look at my logic you will see where I am coming from.

If you have a website that is well designed, offers something of value and has a wealth of really good content ( I know what you are thinking and yes, mine is exactly that, so thank you for your feedback ) then why wouldn’t people link to you? You have to back up all of your links by making sure you are worth linking too, because too many links to a really poor website is just going to stick out. Your focus needs to be on you and what you do, not what others are doing, because if you set out to offer something that people will want to link to, then they will, in their own time.

Put this into the real world context. You are a plumber. You go around to Julie’s house at 1am in the morning, you fix the leak, you get her heating working so the kids (James and Claire just for the story) can be warm and you then follow up as promised and put a new system in the next week. Julie loves you more than anything else in the world at that moment or time frame. Next time someone Julie knows needs a plumber, she will recommend you, she will also remember you for her future jobs. You have earned their custom and their trust. You saved her and her children from a cold night. Julie loves you. Good job Mr Plumber! You are a hero. You are Julie’s hero.

A website is the same. Make people (Julie) remember you and make people talk about you … for the right reasons if possible.

If you are selling a product or offering a service, be the best you can and make sure the website is the best it can be. People love writing about others and people also love giving credit where credit is due, so make sure that next time someone is searching for something that you sell, you come across as the authority for that product, by making sure you have the best content, social media profile and online presence that you possibly can.

So, what do you need to look for in a good link?

  • Needs to come from a related website – sites that operate in a similar niche or could be connected to you
  • Needs to come from an authoritative website – already ranks high in your industry or is well known and trusted
  • Should not use keyword rich anchor text
  • Should have your domain name or company name as anchor text
  • And above all…. needs to be natural looking

Also, never under estimated how important links from social sites like Google+, Twitter, Facebook and Linked In, are and as these are probably the most common way of getting your content shared, they are vital in your link building profile. To Google, the likelihood of someone sharing your article via Twitter is probably going to happen way more than someone linking directly back from their website to you, so you need to make sure you have a really strong social presence and keep building and building this presence up.

Avoid having too many of the same links. So, a link profile with 90% directory links is going to cause you immense issues, where as a link profile with a mixture of a lot areas is going to be less of risk. As I said before, I still believe there is value in some high quality directories, but they should make up a much smaller chunk of your link profile.

Varied, Natural and Quality – three words you need to think about when building your link profile up.

Forget quantity, as one link from a website like the BBC is worth 100 links from lower grade websites, so aim for the best links you can by:

  • Delivering EXCELLENT content on your website
  • Writing often about your area, but not filling the site with rubbish
  • Becoming an authority in your niche or field
  • Having a well maintained and interesting social media profile
  • ……….. By being the best you can

Go on, go be a hero and earn those links, you know you can.



  1. Joe

    Fab article.

    I like the grit and knowledge learnt.

    Keep em’ coming.


  2. Ian

    Cheers Joe,

    Really appreciate it mate,


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