We can all admit (at least to ourselves, if you aren’t willing to admit it to others!) times when we were new to the whole SEO thing and we made a typical newbie SEO error. But some of those mistakes, even if they weren’t considered mistakes at the time you did them, can live on forever on your websites. Because let’s face it, when was the last time you went over your older site with a finetooth comb? Unless it happens to be under 20 pages, probably not since the day you created it. And sometimes what should be obvious, such as the title tags on all 2,000 pages of your site being the identical “YourSite.com – Insert Your Fancy Slogan Here” (whether a deliberate 1999 error or a website auto-update gone horribly wrong) to the 100 extra linked keywords you creatively placed below the copyright notice on a page you were trying to get ranked higher three years ago, can simply go unnoticed and forgotten about…. well, forgotten about by everyone except the search engine’s algorythms.
And your linking strategies definitely fall into this category. When was the last time you looked over your outbound links or had a better look at your inbound links other than the quick number check doing link: and the quick skimming of the first few listed links? I would hazard a guess it has probably been a while, and you are overdue for a link health check.
Here are some things to consider and look for as you evaluate the linking strategies on your sites and see how well they are working for you.
Visit all your outbounds.
First and for most, go through your site and click all the links. No, I am not talking about sending a link walker through your site to see what pops up with a 404, although it is fine to use that as a preliminary check to remove any dead links you have on your site (Xenu is one of the popular tools to do this, although there are many more out there now). But what you need to do is actually point and click through each and every external link on your site.
Why? You want to make sure you aren’t linking to any “bad neighborhoods”. This could be anything such as a site that hasn’t really changed much in the four years you’ve linked to it, but now you can identify it as being something less-than-worthy, whether it be a FFA page or a bunch of scraped content. Or perhaps the webmaster of a site you linked to decided it was more worthy of an arbitrage site, and changed it to something with three large AdSense blocks and requiring three taps on the page down button before you even see some semblance of content, original or um, borrowed. More on What exactly qualifies as a quality link.
You also want to make sure that none of the websites you linked to have let their domain name drop and it has been picked up by domain parkers, or worse, turned into a porn site. It isn’t good for business when you send your site targeting seniors looking for travel information to a site that has since turned into a hardcore alternative sex site! It definitely isn’t good for business.
Do any of your outbound links need to have a rel=nofollow added? You might link to a site that is a pretty iffy site, however still could be of some use for your visitors. So instead of removing the link altogether, simply no follow it.
Ah, good old link bait. Fortunately, gone are the days when everyone tried to spin everything as something that could get Dugg or Slashdotted for both the monumental traffic and the links that would inevitably follow as people discussed the topic on their own blogs. More on link bait at Is link bait dying as a search engine optimization technique. Fortunately, it isn’t nearly as prolific or annoying as it was when I originally wrote that article. But with so many people doing it, it is definitely a diluted technique. Just watch how quickly the front of Digg moves… blink and you miss it, which means many people who might have found your blog post on Digg and blogged about it might not even see it. Bring on Link Bait V2.0, although I know some will argue it is here and being used already 😉
If you participated in any link exchanges over the years, make sure the return link still exisits. Some webmasters are notorious for leaving a link on for a few weeks, then removing it, assuming (correctly, in nearly all cases) that the webmaster wouldn’t ever make a return appearance to check and make sure the link is still there. There are certainly less devious reasons there might not be a link back to your site anymore, such as a website was sold to a new owner or the domain was snatched up by a domain speculator when it was dropped.
Another thing to look for is whether or not it seems the site is passing link juice. In other words, a site might have a perfectly fine link to your site, but it won’t help your site at all in terms of a boost in the rankings.
And lastly, avoid using the words “link exchange” or URLs with “links.html” in it. And avoid soliciting on your site for “link exchange partners”, there are many ways to creatively say this without using those words.
Did you get nofollowed?
Obviously, no one likes a nofollow tag on their link. So how can you handle this? There are a few ways. The first is to simply pop a rel=nofollow on the link back to their site. Effective, but doesn’t really help your own site’s rankings. You can also ask the webmaster about it, although depending on your site’s topic area, he or she might be more or less willing to remove the tag. Or, if the nofollow tag is removed, do watch incase it makes a return appearance in the coming weeks.
Are you cross linking your sites? If so, make sure that it isn’t too obvious. Obvious would be linking all 8 of your sites to each of the other sites, and then placing those links on every single page of each site. One or two links on a site is fine, and place the links where it makes logical sense, such as an article related to the theme of another site. You should also check to make sure all of those sites aren’t sitting on the same IP, something that was definitely more common several years ago and something that many hosts still do by default (GoDaddy is well known for hosting thousands of websites, even tens of thousands, on a single IP). And also make sure those cross-links aren’t the only links coming into the site.
What is the anchor text?
Have a look at the anchor text for both internal and external links and see if you can clean any of them up. More on Choosing your anchor text for incoming links.
Don’t forget that when you link to a page with images, to be sure you include an alt tag (alt=) in the linking code. And this would definitely include any logo you have linking to your home page.
I won’t get into the whole “Google said, webmasters said” thing here. I am sure you all know where to go to find the opposing sides in this battle! But if you are buying links, you do need to keep a few things in mind. First, buy links well under the radar. This means you will probably have to go alternate routes than buying through the mainstream brokers. Second is the disclaimer, there is the possibility you might find your site losing rankings in Google because you are buying or selling paid links. Many webmasters state they don’t care that Google is threatening to remove sites buying links, however at the end of the day, it is your site, and it is up to you how close to (or over) the line you wish to go when it comes to paid links. If your livelihood would crumble if Google banned the site you are considering buying links for, then tread very carefully or have a good backup plan in place.
Again, read above. Selling links is usually much more obvious, so it is harder to stay under the radar on this one. If you do decide you have to sell links, then avoid the most obvious placements of footer links and navigation links, and only sell to those sites that are in your market area. Having a website that cater’s to a woman’s shoe fetish with footer links to viagra, poker, texas holdem, credit cards, loans and online pharmacy. Okay, at a stretch you could say that credit cards and loans are targeted to women who need to finance their need to be the next Imelda Marcos, but all those links together in a known spam placement sends up plenty of red flags.
www versus the non-www version
The age-old question, should you leave the www or remove it? The simple answer for an exisiting site is to select which version ranks best, as well as which has the greater number or most valuable incoming links. Then choose that as your default. And then make sure you use it yourself, and check the incoming links you can change to ensure you are helping the cause too. You can also select your choice in Google Webmaster Central, effectively telling Google which one you prefer.
While these are not the only things you should look at when checking your links, it is a definite good starting place for evaluating and checking your linking status. Anything else you would suggest?