Bad Backlinks: Scourge of Solid Search Engine Optimization

Quality website content is KING! We’ll never get tired of saying it, because it’s true! Our approach to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has always been with the mindset that fresh, relevant, quality content is the best and most crucial way to improve search engine rankings. While there are many methods that can help, we’ve made it a point to not try and “trick” search engines with methods like paying for a bunch of bogus backlinks (in case you’re wondering, a backlink is any link from a website, blog or elsewhere that leads to your site).

In the frontier days of the internet, backlinks were the only way for anyone to find your site. If your website wasn’t listed and linked to on someone else’s site, it was doubtful anyone would find you. It wasn’t long before the need to find sites gave rise to search engines like Google, where one could type in a keyword and be directed to a relevant site. During search engines’ infancy, the amount of backlinks leading to a site carried a lot more weight.  It made sense at the time; having a ton of backlinks put a site closer to the top of a search result. Not anymore.

As search engines’ algorithms became increasingly complex, they started to realize there was more to relevance than who was linking to your site so they started factoring in all sorts of things. Enter Search Engine Optimization: the heroic quest to show up as close to number one as possible on a keyword search. Around this time, you may have realized the value of good internet strategy, and the importance of SEO within it, so you may have hired some folks to increase your rankings.

Only a few years ago a very easy way to fool Google or Ask.com into thinking that everyone loved your site was to create a bunch of backlinks to your site from other sites that featured little other than ads or backlinks to other unrelated sites. Search engines interpreted those bad backlinks as signs of importance and boosted the rankings for the site. It worked so well that some companies offering SEO made it the cornerstone of their entire strategy and did little else if you paid them. In the meantime, Google, and most of the rest of us, thought about it and grew up some.

Google’s algorithm is now “smart” enough to check the quality of backlinks. What does this mean? It means that Google and other search engines are focusing more on content, making good website content the most important among all SEO components. This has been our approach from day one. It also means good backlinks still help. Like having a link to your site from a relevant site (imagine a link from Kelloggs.com that goes to a site on the best cereals of all time). But what if those cowboys you hired for your SEO have 300 backlinks going from a “backlinks for sale” ad depository to your website? Google and other search engines will penalize you in your rankings, more severely if those backlinks are broken and don’t go anywhere.

But don’t get mad and don’t try to get even. To begin with, you can use tools like alexa.com, or opensiteexplorer.org to identify any bad backlinks you might have. Once you know whether you’ve got a bunch of crummy backlinks or whether you have solid relevant links coming into your site, you can remove the bad and keep the good. Going forward, you know to be wary of any SEO company that tells you their plan is to build or buy a bunch of backlinks. If the company you hired way back when is still hyping backlinks as the answer, you may want to consider firing them. Anyone (like us) telling you the most successful SEO strategy is to have good website content that’s consistently fresh, full of your keywords, and supported by strong title tags & meta descriptions is a good bet.