Really? The Links Say What?!

Thanks to a tip we received on Twitter, we discovered that the anchor text of a not-insignificant amount of our backlinks contained, shall we say, some not-safe-for-work terms. First, a little background.

Backlinks are one of the major ways that Google knows how close to the top your website should appear on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), or if it should even show up at all! The anchor text is what the user of a website sees when they come across a link on the web. It also indicates the terms and related terms that your website should rank for once a user searches for that term in Google. In this case, it should be apparent that we don’t want Sundog to show up on the SERP when NSFW terms are searched for.

There was not a huge liability for Sundog, as the quality of these links was very low. They weren’t located on pages with high Page or Domain Authority (PA and DA, respectively). The PA and DA are values that indicate to Google how much weight, or Authority, to give to content on that page. Links on low PA/DA pages and sites won’t be valued as much and vice versa.

Still, these are links that Sundog should disassociate with, especially since they don’t point to any user-accessible pages on our site.  It’s also possible, since these are essentially junk links, that Google could devalue Sundog’s ranking for other, work-appropriate, search terms.

Google, thankfully, created a tool two weeks ago that allows us to do just that! Oh, lucky day! It’s called the Disavow Tool and is quite appropriately titled. It allows you, through Webmaster Tools, to upload a text file with the URLs of the webpages that contain the nefarious links. This will indicate to Google, “Oh, hey, we should ignore these links pointing to Sundog and not include them when calculating where they should show up on the SERP.”

It’s important to make sure that there aren’t any “good” URLs (sites that have good backlinks) included in this text file, otherwise we’ll have to reupload a list with just the URLs and wait for Google to recrawl and reindex our site.

So, how to go about this process? It turns out to be very straightforward, as long as you have the proper tools.

  1.  Using SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer, type in the URL of the website that you’re finding backlinks for. In this case, “www.sundoginteractive.com
  2.  Download the .csv of all backlinks. This will take some time to process and export, up to 15 minutes
  3. Open the .csv in Excel
  4. We need to isolate only the bad backlinks. In this case, we know that all links pointing to www.sundog.com/member/* are bad, so we can filter and isolate them easily.
  5. Copy the URLs of the pages containing bad backlinks (only the URLs, they’ll be in Column A) and paste them into a blank .txt file
  6. Save it as something you’ll remember. It helps to put a date on it, for example: “BadBacklinks 11-2-12.txt”
  7. Within Webmaster Tools, navigate to the Disavow Links tool
  8. Click the “Disavow Links” button
  9. Read the scary warning, then click “Disavow Links”
  10. Read another scary warning, click “Choose File”
  11. Select the .txt file you just saved, “BadBacklinks 11-2-12.txt”
  12. Click Submit

There you have it! Google estimates 2-3 weeks before the nefarious backlinks will be completely disavowed in their index, so make sure to check your backlink portfolio again at that time.

This is also a handy tool to negate any blackhat SEO tactics that may have been used in the past. It’s very possible that after the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates they may now be negatively affecting your sites SERP ranking.

As a result of these algorithm updates, it’s possible for someone (a competitor, bored Russian high school student, etc.) to target your website with a negative SEO campaign. It’s important to regularly investigate your backlink profile, especially if you notice any odd traffic fluctuations from organic search.

Constant vigilance!

~John