How To Clean Up Bad Links and Establish Trust With Link Vendors

Clean Up Bad Links

More and more clients are coming to me for audits because they have been harmed by low-quality linking efforts, either intentionally, unintentionally, or possibly as a result of a competitor’s attempt to harm their site.

As a result of having gone through several of these in the past months, I have developed a core set of guidelines for clients to help them understand how to deal with the problem.  While it’s not a comprehensive all-inclusive set, it goes a long way toward improving the SEO considerations of a site’s overall inbound link profile.


What is a good target for our links-to-root-domains ratio?

The rule is “the lower the better.” There is no specific standard target number. If you have a writer posting regularly to a highly reputable site on a consistent basis, that is usually the ONLY reason there should be a high number of links from one site. Even then, all other quality rules should still apply even to that content.


For those articles with some minimum Page Authority and some minimum Domain Authority, should I leave those articles “out there”?

Do not trust PA and DA numbers. These do NOT address quality, relevance, or trust signals, and are HIGHLY SUSPECT as indicators.


Please give us guidelines for identifying bad links that need to be removed. 

  • Careful review of inbound links must be performed to evaluate which links are considered harmful or of the type unacceptable to Google. While this step is not likely to be perfect, it is however likely to identify the most egregious links known to exist.
  • A link is most likely to be problematic if:
    • The site where the link comes from is there purely to provide SEO links
    • And/or if a site even looks somewhat low quality
    • And/or if the content is not well written
    • And/or if the site is not relevant to your market
    • And/or the link(s) is/are not directly within the main content of an individual page
    • And/or the site name includes “SEO” or “LINK”
    • And/or the page Title is irrelevant to your market topical focus
    • And/or the page Title includes “SEO’ or “LINK”
    • And/or the domain name looks odd (is made up of letter/number combinations for example)
    • And/or the domain country is in a country outside of your target market
    • And/or the link is on a “forum profile” page and was put there by your SEO vendor
    • And/or it’s a “directory” that has lots of links on that page to sites not relevant to your market
    • And/or it’s a “directory” that has entries where the name of the sites listed is mostly keyword stuffed nonsense
  • None of these symptoms should be ignored just because a domain or page has a high DA or PA, or PR(ToolBar PageRank). These numbers are NOT valid if any other bullet point is a “yes” match for that link.
  • For those sites that send multiple links where the site/domain itself is a broadly problematic site, this can be beneficial from a link clean-up perspective. It’s realistic to see that some of those sites are likely to be sending even more links than existing link review reports show. The end result (whether you’ve identified every link from a site or only some) is that you can contact one domain and potentially have several, several dozen, hundreds or more links removed in one contact step. But of course, that’s only if the site owner cares, let alone can be reached.
  • Once review has been completed, an attempt will need to be made to contact those sites with links flagged as highly problematic, requesting those links be removed. Method of contact can be email, site contact form, or phone—depending on which method has been identified as being available, if any.
  • In addition to looking at the site itself for a “contact” page, with email or phone listed, if none exists, you can do a “whois” lookup to see if there is an email or phone number listed for the registrant or admin contact for that domain.
  • If any contact option is available, that method should be noted in the spreadsheet for that link (or that group of links associated with that domain).
  • Contact should be attempted, and the date of the attempt should then be noted in the spreadsheet.
  • If no response is received within a reasonable time (one to two weeks), this should be noted in the spreadsheet. If response is received within that time, response (“removed,” “will remove by X date,” “refused,” or “requires fee of $X”) should be noted accordingly.
  • After all that work is performed, any responses claiming “removed” or “will remove by X date” should be verified and results noted in the link spreadsheet.
  • Only after all that work has been done should a disavow submittal be made, but only if you are highly confident that you’re not including a lot of sites that are in fact, quality link sources. (The evaluation process is crucial because of this.)
  • Only after THAT, as well as implementation of other recommended on-site changes and audit priority fixes related to duplicate content, should a new re-inclusion request be made, that details and provides documentation as to actions taken.


Does a site have to have a high Domain Authority or Page Authority in 2013 to be trusted for links?

Even a site that has a low DA and/or PA can be a good, valid link. For example, if it’s a relatively new site, just getting going, or one that is a one-person operation, that does not mean the site is not valid, trustworthy, or relevant. It only means it’s a new site, or the owner has not yet built up other signals. Quality, topical relevance, and link implementation are all more important considerations.


How can we ensure a link building company is going to provide us with quality results?

This is one of the most challenging issues site owners face in 2013. As a result, I’ve established a set of strict guidelines that I suggest clients have written into any contract they sign with a company offering link building, content marketing, or other similar services.

  1. They will comply with recommendations as set forth in my audit implementation plan.
  2. This applies to all recommendations, including link quality, type, and diversity
  3. They will provide samples of actual content on the first several pieces they provide, if they are providing content
  4. Such content is subject to your approval prior to placement
  5. They will provide detailed monthly reports
  6. Reports will include list of links or sites where content will be placed prior to placement
  7. Link and site list subject to your approval prior to placement
  8. Reports will include list of links to locations where content has been placed
  9. Reports will include description of any other action they plan on taking the following month
  10. Reports will include description of actual action implemented

The above guidelines are, of course, just that—guidelines. If you wish to build upon them, or bypass any, that is your prerogative as site owner, and your right to negotiate directly with professional services vendors.



10 Ways to Increase the Odds of Getting Editorial Links

One of the problems with public relations is that you can’t always guarantee editorial coverage. And when you do score some major media coverage, the sweet taste of success can be a little soured for the SEO team through the absence of what could have been a very tasty editorial link. So how can you maximize the chances of getting that powerful link?

Here are some suggestions that will help to swing the odds in your favor.

1. Be newsworthy. Your story must be newsworthy, period. It’s an absolute must if you are to stand any chance of getting a link. But “newsworthy” doesn’t mean blockbuster stories that spread like wildfire; often it just means telling a good story well.

Media stories can be broken down into different templates that are used over and over again. Inspiration is all around you.

So grab your target publications and have a good read – not a quick scan, but take your time to really digest the stories you find. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What was the story about?
  • What attracted your attention?
  • How do you think that story got there?
  • How could you create a similar type of story for your business?
  • What could you do better?

The more you understand about the stories that “made it,” the more you’ll be able to craft your own.

And when you present a newsworthy story, your chances of getting an editorial link increase.

2. Partner with PR professionals. If you’re new to the public relations game, you can learn a lot by working with a PR professional. Casie Gillette, director of online marketing, KoMarketing Associates is an SEO who has spent a lot of time working with PR teams. She admires the negotiating skills of PRs and has used them to good effect.

“PR professionals have spent their entire career building relationships and know all about negotiation with the media – something that SEOs don’t generally know a lot about. We worked with a client’s PR team to set up an exclusive and the results in terms of visits and links were incredible,” said Gillette.

3. Ask for a link – politely! You might be tempted to demand a link from a reporter along the lines of “you can only use my story if you give me a link.” This is definitely not to be recommended because:

  • It’s unprofessional and shows you don’t understand the dynamic of public relations.
  • The reporter will almost certainly say “no” and move on – you’ll be too much hassle and they’ve got other people to interview and other stories to cover.
  • You lose the coverage for you or your client – editorial coverage in itself is awesome – and by holding out for a link you’ve just messed up!
  • Perhaps because of the policy of the publication, the journalist has no power to give you a link.

So never demand because you’re not really in a position of strength. It’s best to give reporters the stories they want and when they’re feeling warm toward you, that’s the time to ask if it would be possible to link to your site.

4. If you’ve got breaking news, invite reporters to link to the original source. Mike Essex of broke a story on how he found that e-books were becoming the new content farms. The story was covered on a lot of media including CBS News, which included a nice editorial link.

However, not all the sites that covered the story gave an editorial link. Essex got in touch and rather than asking them to link, he suggested they let their readers check out the original source – by linking of course. “That was a far more effective link building strategy than saying can we have a link please?” said Essex.

5. Create more in-depth resources that extend your story. Publications online and offline have limited space for stories and therefore a good news story can only tell part of the story. One great way to improve the chances of a link is to provide additional value on your site.

The classic case is with market surveys. A good press release can grab the press’ attention but they can’t publish the whole story. That’s where creating rich content based on the results can attract editorial links (see “18 Ways to Create Unique Content From Survey Results“).

“One of the biggest mistakes traditional PR can make, especially when they’re issuing a report as an exclusive is not to publish the report on their own site,” says Ken Deutsch of “That’s where the SEO side comes in – together PR and SEO can get terrific editorial links.”

Another resource that works well is the in-depth story. Here’s an example of where the BBC linked to the story of chocolate on Cadbury’s website:


Fig 1. BBC covers love of sweets (candy).

And here’s the story on the Cadbury site:

2-bbc-sweets-link-cadburyFig 2. The Cadbury Story 1800-TODAY.

Time-bounded offers and contests can also work well in attracting editorial links.

6. If you’re an online business, highlight how your product is used. Can you create a good story where the reader has to go to your site to see the full story? If you’re an online business, the answer is almost certainly yes.

For example, this week was featured on the BBC “Click” show.

The site is a nostalgic way to combine historic photographs with the same scene photographed today. The story doesn’t really make sense until you see it in action as in this example.

3-dear-photographFig 3. encourages you to match old photographs with the small location today.

Check out and you’ll see that not only the BBC, but a host of other major media sites have linked – that’s nice link building and PR work!

7. Build relationships with reporters and media. In public relations, establishing good relationships with target publications, editors, and reporters is essential.

Manage those relationships and over time you’ll increase your chances of success and opportunities to win links. To do that you must make a great first impression. Keep your answers brief, memorable, and to the point.

You must be absolutely professional – give the reporter exactly what she wants and give it to her right away! Be helpful and responsive, and she’s likely to help you when you do ask for that editorial link.

8. Provide information updates on your site. Useful updates are also great at encouraging editorial links. This was not lost on the travel website Parking on Hawaii can cost tourists up to $30 a day, and so when the site published and regularly updated a list of free and low-cost parking spots on the island, Carol Pucci of The Seattle Times found it impossible not to share this useful resource with her readers and provided a nice editorial link.

4-seattle-times-storyFig 4. The Seattle Times can’t resist linking to and those free parking places.

9. Make use of your strengths. If you can help promote the final article on a large scale, then your chances of links can be increased. David Ciccarelli, co-founder and CEO of, said when pitching the media they “usually try to add extra value to the person writing the article through insider tips and statistics.”

“If we are featured in the article and a link has not yet been given, we ask for a link to our website. One way to get that link is to let the writer know that we have a massive social media following that we’d be happy to share the article with. We currently have 171,000 fans on Facebook and approximately 194,000 fans across all of our social media channels,” said Ciccarelli.

10. Use third-party services. Public relations is a skill that can be learned and will greatly increase your ability to get links from important, authoritative media sites. However, there are third-party sites that can help you get started.

HARO ( is a fantastic free resource that puts you directly in touch with reporters looking to talk to businesses that have useful opinions to share.

If you sign up you’ll get over 200 queries from reporters every day. Keep an eye out for general queries that any business can answer, like this one:

5-haro-postFig 5. A general HARO query that can be answered by almost any small business.

Another service, (this time a paid-for service) comes from Dan Janal, a PR veteran of more than 30 years. Janal will both write and distribute your press release for you. And it can work really well. Here’s an example from

6-nbclatinoFig 6. was used to win this editorial link.


Editorial links, just like editorial coverage can’t be guaranteed. However, follow these suggestions and you’ll maximize your chances of success. As they say in “The Hunger Games,” “May the odds be ever in your favor!”


Instagram to Start Sharing Data with Facebook in January

Instagram updated its privacy policy today, revealing that it will soon start sharing data with Facebook.

To go into effect from 16 January, Instagram’s new privacy policy reveals that the company will start sharing data with Facebook, following the social network’s acquisition of the firm back in April.


The update policy reads, “We may share User Content and your information (including but not limited to, information from cookies, log files, device identifiers, location data, and usage data) with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Instagram is part of, or that become part of that group (“Affiliates”).

“Affiliates may use this information to help provide, understand, and improve the Service (including by providing analytics) and Affiliates’ own services (including by providing you with better and more relevant experiences).”

However, Instagram is quick to point out that users will be able to choose who sees their Instagram photos, and says users can opt out of posting all of their images on Facebook. Thank god.

This move doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given that following its acqusition of the firm Facebook moved Instagram staffers into its office and has been working closely alongside them.

The move might have been spurred by Instagram’s recent falling out with Twitter, despite reports that the microblogging website once tried to acquire the photo sharing app. µ

This article was originally published on the Inquirer.

Google Takes 67% Search Engine Market Share

Google Bing Yahoo logos

Slowly but surely, Google continues to close in on 70 percent market share, moving up 0.1 percent again this month to take a U.S. record 67 percent of all search traffic in November,comScore reported.

It wasn’t at Bing’s expense though, as they also grew their share 0.2 percent for a total of 16.2 percent. Yahoo dropped a tenth of a percentage point to 12.1 percent, while and also saw slight drops – to 3 percent (down from 3.2 percent) and 1.7 percent respectively (down from 1.8 percent).

Yahoo, despite relatively new leadership, has been slipping or holding steady for the past 16 months.

The November numbers mark new records for both Google and Bing and reflect explicit core search volume. This excludes contextually driven searches that do not reflect specific user intent to interact with search results.

November saw nearly 17 billion explicit core searches, with Google sites taking the greatest piece of the pie with 11.4 billion queries. Microsoft sites accounted for 2.7 billion searches.

Bing did see an increase of 0.4 percent in “Powered by” searches, taking 25.4 percent of queries in that category. Google dominated here as well, with 69.4 percent of searches on other engines carrying their organic results.


Is There A Deception In the Google Ad System?

As I was writing my previous article for SEJ, I conducted several experiments during which I stumbled across few troubling issues with Google’s methods. One such behavior is a serious issue in terms of customer awareness, which may be considered  border-line fraudulent. Make no mistake, my intention is not to become the Ralph Nader for Google customers, but something at this scale is worth my time and yours too.

Google Instant

Dollars, time, and cents

Before getting into the issue, let me remind you of some basic definitions:

Instant Result-Streaming:

Instant Result-Streaming is what Google does when you start typing a query (longer than a single word), and before you finish it, search results are streamed to the front page. This all happens very quickly before you click on the search button, or sometimes you don’t even have to click on the button. Google calls it “Google Instant”.


CTR (Click Through Ratio) is a measurement that indicates how many times your advertisement was shown versus how many times it was clicked by the user. For example, if your advertisement was shown (impression) 100 times, and it was clicked by the end user twice, the CTR for that ad would be 2%.

The Problem:

The problem is that Instant Result-Streaming (Google Instant) is eating up impressions before the users get ample time to view the page, and automatically decreasing CTR because no one will click on those ads present. In other words, you (advertiser in Google) are paying extra for a feature Google uses to increase its appeal. You’ll find below an example how this occurs:

My query is “auto insurance coverage in New York”. With this question in mind, I start typing. But, as soon as I finish the first word “auto” and before I start typing the second word“insurance” results are streamed with ads. Here is the screen capture:

Google Instant

Consider: This preleminary streaming result rapidly transposes as you type

Now, keep in mind you are comfortably viewing this screen capture with ample time because this is a blog page, not a search page. However, in real Google Instant time, as I continue typing with the complete query in my mind, I will not pay attention to this page any longer. It flashes within a fraction of a second before I start typing the 2nd word. Therefore, the impressions byAutoZone and Advanced Auto Parts are totally wasted. Here is my second word screen capture:

Google Instant money maker

Again, while still typing my real query more impressions go by.

Again, I will not pay attention to this page either because I am still typing. Impressions by State Farm, Geico, and Travelers are wasted. Now the 4th word:

Google Instant impression loss

More lost opportunities

State Farm gets another hit along with Maureen Lavelle and MetLife. I am still typing:

Google Instant

The survivors show up with only wasted impressions in their wake

Now I am finished. I am looking at the page, and I have ample time to decide what to do like any other Google user. The top ads State Farm, Geico, and Travelers survived. However, they survived at the expense of few wasted impressions along the way. In addition, the other advertisers like MetLife, or Maureen Lavelle are no longer on the screen. Their impressions were totally wasted.

Google does not give infinite impressions. The number of impressions are directly proportional to bidding, thus the advertiser is paying for it.

Before declaring it as DECEPTION, I have the following questions for Google (if they honor SEJ readers by answering).

  • Do the impressions in Google ads have a timer such that an exposure less than, say 5 seconds, would not count as an impression?
  • If the answer is “no” to the above, then comes the next question: Are Google’s customers presented with an explanation that some of the impressions could be part of Google Instant operation, with extremely low probability to be clicked? I did not find such information on Google’s ad system myself, but it is possible it exists in some form.

If one of the answers above is YES, then the Google Ad system is still not off the hook. This is because of the CTR problem, which will be lower with Google Instant than without it. But we can no longer call this problem a deception. However, it stands to reason that if both of the answers above is NO, then this is a deception.

I checked the Internet to see if this problem had ever been addressed, and yes,  in fact it has. One blog ( explains this issue focused on its effect on the CTR. The fact that the issue was already published on blogs provoked me further. It told me that the answers to both questions above are most likely “NO”. I was sad to see how people are taking an “accepting” position and trying to offer some Micky-Mouse solutions.

It is not my personal interest to find flaws in Google, I just stumbled upon it, and was astonished with the degree of disrespect Google has developed over the years for their core clientele, who are the bread and butter of Google. With this mentality in place, I would not be surprised to see some class-action suit against Google down the road. I strongly recommend that Google takes this issue seriously and finds a remedy showing their fairness. Here is the simplest solution:


Photo credit: Google time versus money mashup – courtesy © fontriel and © Michael FlippoFotolia. 

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Search Engine Journal, its staff, or its partners.


Google Hires Ray Kurzweil as Director of Engineering

Beginning December 17, 2012, Google’s new Director of Engineering is Ray Kurzweil, a renowned futurist whose affinity for Google has been known for years – since Google funded Kurzweil’s Singularity University. At Google, Kurzweil will be working on new projects involving machine learning and language processing.

Raymond Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil, who earned a fortune developing computer voice recognition, is now Google’s new Director of Engineering. (Image via Wikipedia)

The announcement comes one month after Kurzweil’s release of How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, a book that explores the mysteries of the human brain, and how this knowledge can be used to create intelligent machines. He goes far enough to predict the rise of the machines (cyber-humans) by the end of the 2020s. The Terminator may not be a work of fiction, after all.

Ray Kurzweil is best known for other two bestselling volumes, The Singularity Is Near and The Age of Spiritual Machines. He is also known for important contributions in fields of optical character recognition (OCR), text-to-speech synthesis, and speech recognition. And he believes that the future belongs to nanotechnology and robotics. Now Google will be a part of that future.

In a blog post on his site, Google’s new Director of Engineering describes his new position with enthusiasm:

“In 1999, I said that in about a decade we would see technologies such as self-driving cars and mobile phones that could answer your questions, and people criticized these predictions as unrealistic. Fast forward a decade — Google has demonstrated self-driving cars, and people are indeed asking questions of their Android phones. It’s easy to shrug our collective shoulders as if these technologies have always been around, but we’re really on a remarkable trajectory of quickening innovation, and Google is at the forefront of much of this development.

“I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Google to work on some of the hardest problems in computer science so we can turn the next decade’s ‘unrealistic’ visions into reality.”

Google artificial intelligence dreams, may not be that far after all.


Why I Love Google Panda (and you should, too)

“Panda” has become kind of a dirty word among SEOs. Tweet about a trip to the zoo or a cuddly stuffed animal, and you’re bound to get a tweet back saying, “Ugh, don’t say panda, I’m still traumatized.” My response to this reaction is twofold:

Reaction 1: Whatever, you guys. I still love pandas.

I mean, look at this guy:


Reaction 2: Whatever, you guys. I love Google Panda.

The hell you say?

Yes, that’s right. I’m kind of a fan of Google Panda. Why? Because in addition to being an SEO, I’m also a Google user. I use Google multiple times every single day; everything from topics I’m researching for work, to the menu of the place I’m going for dinner (WHY PDF WHY?), to a variety of queries that start with “can dogs eat.” And back in 2010, Google started to suck.

An embarrassing anecdote

During the 2010 holiday season, I went out and got myself my very own, non-plastic, real live Christmas tree for the first time. Unbeknownst to me, that tree came with a very special Christmas gift just for me: fleas. My apartment got fleas like your great-aunt’s cat Mr. Mittens. It was bad, people. And it being the holiday season, I was pretty strapped for cash. What I wanted was a way to get rid of the little bastards myself, without calling an exterminator or spraying my apartment with poison. So what did I do? I turned to Google.

Here’s what I found: pages and pages of articles titled “How to Get Rid of Fleas” that were all meaningless, thin-content paragraphs riddled with links to exterminator services. Not just one or two, but multiple searches resulted in a SERP full of this garbage. It was only after a fair amount of digging that I was able to find the solution (vacuum alllllll of the things really thoroughly, seal your clothes/bedding in a plastic bag for a day or two and then wash them in super-hot water) I was looking for.

Lately, I’ve been speaking to some college classes on SEO and when I start to talk about Panda, I ask if they remember a time when it seemed like every search they did turned up shallow, worthless results that seemed to talk about what they wanted, but didn’t actually provide any answers. And you know what? They all remember, and they all agree that SERPs have improved significantly since then.

The Panda update was an upsetting, stressful time for SEOs and business owners alike. It was far from perfect; a lot of perfectly good content got knocked out with the bad, and a lot of innocent (i.e. non-black-hat) websites were affected. But it ultimately did make a lot of SERPs better, returning more trustworthy information that is more relevant to the query.

Take a look at the SERP for “How to Get Rid of Fleas” today. It still has a ton of results from sites like eHow and Instructables, which are sites that we might typically associate with having been hit by Panda. The difference is that now, those pages actually contain information on how to get rid of fleas. Additionally, there are results from highly reputable sources like the ASPCA, adding a measure of trust.

Panda was intended to make sure that when people Google something they can actually find it. On that measure, I’d say it succeeded more than it failed.

Bad panda

“But Ruth,” I hear you say. “You should know as well as anybody that innocent businesses were affected by Panda. People lost a lot of business.”

bad panda

I know, and I kind of blame Google for that. They told us that the best way to rank was to have content on every page. No matter how many times they told us “create content for users, not search engines,” by also telling us to have content on all the pages, they were effectively saying “create content for search engines.” Small businesses often don’t have the resources to create the kind of consistent, deep, relevant content that Google really wants. I can see why creating a bunch of keyword-rich but otherwise meaningless content might have seemed like the next best thing. I can only imagine how frustrating and scary it was for businesses to have their pages wiped from the SERPs in Panda’s wake, and I KNOW how frustrating it was for SEOs to try to help those once-burned, twice-shy businesses get back into Google’s good graces.

How Google makes money

Google makes money because Google has gigantic market share. They can charge advertisers more because they have the biggest pool of potential ad impressions and clicks to sell. This means Google has a complete interest in ensuring that when people search for things, they find exactly what they’re looking for. That’s it. Google does not care whether or not they foster small or local business growth in the U.S. and abroad. They only care about serving up the most relevant results they can to as many people as they can, so everyone keeps using Google.

Like I said, Panda wasn’t perfect, but it did make a big difference in SERP relevance to a lot of queries. The other side of Google’s gigantic market share, however, is that many businesses need some kind of presence on Google to succeed. We owe it to our clients – nay, we owe it to the Internet itself – to help them actually create relevant resources for users who search on their keywords. In addition to pleasing Google, you may convince some of those people to buy something.

It also means that we should make sure our clients invest in diverse sources of traffic. If a site has more than 50% of its traffic coming from Google, that leaves you pretty vulnerable to changes in Google’s algorithm.

Finally, it’s more important than ever to help businesses of all sizes – even those who can’t afford SEO – market themselves online, the right way. I’m so excited that SEOmoz is working with GetListed now. I’m hoping that with increased access to resources to market themselves online, small and local businesses can start knocking content farms out of the SERPs. I’m also hoping that future updates like Panda – designed to keep quality in the SERPs – will be less dangerous to small and local businesses,because they’ll know more about what to do and what not to do.

I’m also hoping we can go back to thinking “D’AWWWWWW” instead of “D’OH!” when we see a cuddly guy like this one:

cute panda