If you ask the average SEO what they spend their time doing as of late, they’ll probably tell you: backlink audits and a little bit of link acquisition sprinkled in. Why? Because links still matter! And a massive cleanup is underway across the industry to remedy the wrongs done in years past.
For an advanced SEO that conducts backlink audits, attempting to coax a site out of a penalty and trying to earn penalty-proof links, there are many issues that can arise. We see these problems come up all the time, and we’re even hosting a webinar this Thursday to address them: Most Common SEO Problems Causing Penalties in 2014 (register soon!).
There’s no written recipe to this culinary delight we call SEO. Thankfully our community is supportive and shares information such as the tips provided below. Hopefully you’ll find them as useful as our team has in the recent past to address issues that come up with link acquisition and site auditing.
#1 Earning Links While Under Penalty
Yes it is possible to still earn great links while under penalty! Scalable and manipulated tactics were affected, not good ‘ol authoritative links that have been tried and true for years. Our clients continue to earn links through use of unlinked brand mention strategies, broken link building tactics, resource pages & lists, useful links pages, niche directories and .gov/.edu earning tactics. The links that you should be earning now are because they should be there in the first place, not because you paid someone or had to convince someone to do something unnatural. Earn the links that should be there in the first place!
We’ve written many posts on this topic along with other industry experts, so check out some of the great articles, strategies and information you can use to help earn links while under penalty listed below. Don’t simply stop the effort, find new ways to do it right.
- Guide to Using Unlinked Brand Mentions – By Kaila Strong on Moz.com
- Link Building Strategies that Move the Needle Webinar – By Kaila Strong on VerticalMeasures.com
- Link Building Strategies and Tips for 2014 – By James A. Martin on CIO.com
- Free Link Building Tips for 2014 – By Shaun Anderson on Hobo-Web.co.uk
- From Link Building to Link Earning – By Razvan Gavrilas on SearchEngineWatch.com
#2 Tools Not Working Properly
A common problem of the advanced SEO today is relying too heavily on third party tools. Third party tools fail us, have downtime or stop being supported by their developers. They provide inaccurate information or worse yet don’t provide information at all. I’m sure many of you reading understand the struggle and continue to utilize tools for one specific reason or another, through gritted teeth for fear of the alternative: manual retrieval of information.
There are times where tools just simply can’t be relied on. If you work with a team, encourage them to use tools or encourage yourself to actually do it. Also, figure out ways to come to the same conclusion without relying on that tool exclusively. Be prepared for a day when your tool is down or doesn’t work or is found to be inaccurate. Know how to gather data manually too and know automation has its setbacks.
#3 What Google Says Sometimes Isn’t True
I’ll be recounting a story at SMX Advanced when I present this week in Seattle about a time when Google – gasp – provided the wrong information to our team. Working on a client with a penalty we were given example links which were deemed “unnatural”. But these unnatural links didn’t seem like what we’d seen in the past. Oh no, these were links that we see so much in our industry: on recap posts.
What is a recap post? Posts like our very own Weekly Measure, or Marketing Land’s daily Search Cap, they are summary articles which showcase the best articles of the day or the week. Seems harmless enough right? These natural links, links we know 100% were never manipulated/asked for/bought, were given as examples of unnatural links. Three of them.
Never assume Google is correct with the information they provide. After thorough examination of these links, we couldn’t find anything tying them together that made them “unnatural.” We asked Google for clarification and sure enough they responded,
“It looks like the most recent examples that were sent to you weren’t the best.”
Just be warned, sometimes Google says things or shares information and you have to take it with a grain of salt. Trust your instincts!
#4 Proper Quality Control & Sanity Checks
Ensuring proper quality control and frankly having some sanity checks built into your analysis are essential. As Advanced SEOs, we are often tasked with looking at massive amounts of backlinks, analyzing huge numbers of content pages and leveraging data from multiple tools. In essence, we swim in a sea of data on the daily but this data isn’t always accurate.
In order to address this issue I highly recommend setting up proper quality control throughout all of your SEO processes. Sanity checks are a good idea too, simply to test the accuracy of your tool. Here are some examples:
- After compiling a disavow file for a site, take 5 random links from Webmaster Tools and see if they are in the documentation in your disavow file. Any of them missing when they should be there would indicate you lost some data during your analysis and it is not complete.
- Grab a sample of 5 links from a tool you use to determine the link value (we use Link Research tools which give a toxicity score). Manually review just those 5 links. Do you agree with the determination? If not, your tool may provide inaccurate data.
- Not going to include a certain data set in your final disavow file? Some people opt to do this with no follow links, using the logic that if a link is no follow it shouldn’t penalize them. However, tools can be wrong. Pull 5 links from a data set you aren’t going to analyze, manually review them by spot checking. Do you agree with what the tool labeled them as? We have found many tools that say a link is no follow but it really is do follow.
#5 Preemptive Disavow
The last and final issue that many advanced SEOs come across is this:
My site has seen traffic decreases, I’ve noticed ranking drops but I haven’t been notified of a penalty. I know I have some shady backlinks, should I proactively get them taken down? Should I proactively submit a disavow file?
We asked this question of a few noteworthy SEOs and will be sharing our findings at SMX Advanced this week, so be on the lookout. The general consensus? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, unless you are one SEO we talked to who submits preemptive disavows all the time for clients. Be sure to check out our blog, Twitter and follow me @cliquekaila to hear more about our findings we share at SMX. Sorry I know… such a tease!
Are you an advanced SEO with a common problem or issue? Tell us about it in the comments below… we may be able to help!