What To Do When Good Links Go Bad

In my years of working in SEO, I’ve seen a lot of weirdness. Some of that weirdness is related to links and link building. There was the time we discovered 50,000 links built overnight or the time a carefully plotted strategy was ruined by spammers and scrapers. But what do you do when good link building goes bad?

There are a lot of reasons why good links go bad. I’m not talking about link farms harming your rankings (naughty) or anything like buying a link on a specific site known to search engines for selling links. I’m talking about when good links go bad. There are lots of good links from valuable sources that you can get and sometimes acquisition of those links, while in general being helpful, can be harmful.

For some time, I have been an advocate of *not* getting blogroll links for rankings. Not only does the value of these links tend towards 0, the blogs they are on are usually valueless. I once worked on a site where for some reason we suddenly gained 50,000 site-wide blogroll links. What it looked like was a spammy site where non-client sites were being used to pretend to be natural. Our rankings took a dip across the board for a couple of months. Nothing too dramatic in ranking drop and the effect was only 60 days but still demonstrated to us how bad blog roll links could be.

But good links can go bad. Good links from news sites or links from sites that have been penalised for some reason – what happens when someone gets caught for selling links (but you weren’t buying) or something else goes wrong? This can and has happened to me and here is what I did.

First thing to do is – DON’T PANIC. If you panic at this point and start turning off links then it could go even more badly wrong. You (hopefully) have weekly or monthly visibility on the number and source of links pointing in to the website and will be able to trace what links were unexpected and tipped the balance.

Map out how bad the damage is – is it a few keywords, a lot or is the whole domain missing from the SERPs. If the whole site is missing it may be more than just good links gone bad. If rankings have dropped for a handful of related terms it might be some good links gone bad.

Check for new inbound links you haven’t previously accounted for. One case I had was down to a series of things all happening at once including a press release going out, a news story being scraped and republished a significant number of times and other totally normal, natural link building. It could be new links coming in to the site in a volume you had not accounted for.

When all else fails, check the mozRank and PageRank of the affected sites. Where Google says it is worthless and SEOMoz says it is valuable, you may have found a penalised site. This could be hindering rather than helping. When asking for a link to be removed, I am always thankful and polite. I express gratitude for them placing the link and explain that while I do appreciate it, the link seems to have confused Google and could you please trouble them to remove it in an attempt to correct the trouble. Don’t pull a JC Penny and as one audience member at a conference I spoke at experienced, ask for all links to be removed regardless of legitimacy.

When good links go bad the cardinal rule is *DON’T PANIC*. There are a number of changes to the algorithm happening and I hope you’re engaging in a number of activities which build traffic and are not purely for ranking. Keep pressing forward, check, examine, research and keep building links as you correct. Do not react by pulling everything you can because instead of plugging a leak you’ll be sledgehammering the hull.

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5 Responses to “What To Do When Good Links Go Bad”

  1. syed shehzad says:

    Thanks for this really informative article. Can we contact Google and informe them about our site has been penalized for x y reason. Can they look into this and advice us any next steps to perform to avoid penalty?

  2. Arctic Llama says:

    I had the habit of putting all my own sites in my blog roll. This seems fine. The issue is when you notice that one of your sites is missing from a mature site and then you add it and thousands of new links from all those archive pages show up. Then things can get iffy. What I have found is that if you are linking your homepage or other pages that can’t be considered “overly” optimized, there is usually not much damage.

    Regarding other sites, this seems to violate a long held tenant at Google that you won’t be penalized for what happens out of your control on other people’s websites. As the black hats have long said, if you can hurt a site by linking it badly, then the next move in the game is to build bad links to your competitor’s websites to get them penalized.

  3. Gareth Brown says:

    We recently experienced a very similar scenario for the first time. It’s hard not to panic when the client is breathing down your neck for answers! I’m not sure that PANIC describes the event that broke out in our office that day. In panic mode it is hard to see the woods through the trees. But we did finally take a step back and tracked down the problem sites. Key lesson – track links :)

  4. Lucy says:

    Good article, i think that with the likes of the Panda update the quality of links is more important than ever,

    I agree ‘Arctic Llama’ if Google start to penalise ‘spammy links’ then what is stopping your competitors from sending thousands of poor quality links your way. I don’t think that ‘good links’ can go bad, I think that Google’s algorithm is just getting more advanced in sniffing out the links that were never that great in the first place.

  5. Yannis says:

    Don’t panic is definitely advisable. (i think we all have a few initial moments of panic). I agree with Gareth though when it comes to the client front, as a lot of clients don’t understand fully the SEO industry and how search engines work etc so it can be a bit stressful to say the least.

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