English Español Deutsch Français Italiano Português (Brasil) Русский 中文 日本語
Submit post
Go to Blog
Pat Marcello

Good Links vs. Bad Links: Where Does your Site Stand?

Pat Marcello

Anyone who knows much about SEO knows that backlinks – where one site links back to another – are important for your search ranking. The more backlinks you have, the better – in general. But there are good links and there are bad links that you don’t want. Google considers some backlinks to be worthless or even poisonous to your site’s health.

So, let’s talk about links – good links and bad -- and figure out which links you want to have and which you should avoid like Dengue fever.

Good Links

Google loves nature. Naw… they aren’t out there bird-watching. But they do they want to see Internet nature taking its course. They want the content placed on the Web to be so amazingly bomb that people will just link to it naturally.

So, for example, look at Wikipedia. When you search for just about anything, you will probably see Wikipedia listed on page 1, often at or near the top.


Because people want to explain things to their readers, and it’s much easier to add a link to Wikipedia than to go into a long explanation. Though you can’t really rely on Wikipedia to provide 100% accurate information, many people think that you can. So, Wikipedia gets tons of backlinks.

I won’t get into a discussion of how fair this is not, but suffice to say, I think it sucks. Don’t get me wrong… Wikipedia has its place, but Google has made it just a little too powerful when you can’t completely rely on the research there, capiche?

Yet, Google sees these backlinks as “good” links because they happen naturally.

Do Follow and No Follow

There are two types of link that can be potentially good or bad, but it’s a coding convention that can either allow search engine spiders to follow the link from one site to another or tell them to STOP right there.

Do Follow links are best because they do allow search engine spiders to follow a link to wherever it eventually winds up.

No Follow links stop the spiders from going any further with a short HTML tag that is added to the link. (rel=”nofollow”) This is automatic in WordPress. Because of so much spam commenting in years gone by, the WordPress developers decided that all comment links would be no follow. So, links you may be earning through WP blog comments, for example, are usually no follow links.

Though do follow links are preferred, the SEO community has been hashing and re-hashing the idea that no follow links still pass some mojo. Yet, no one has been able to come up with a definitive answer. Only the Google ghods know for sure.

That said, your linking profile should look natural. You should have a distribution of both types of link. If you have only “do follow” links, it’s a sure signal to Google that you’re doing something wrong.

Reciprocal Links

Reciprocal links, where one webmaster links to you and you link back to his or her website from yours, used to be a great way to get backlinks and a way to getting your site rank higher. However, Google has changed its position on links such as these.

Though reciprocal links won’t hurt you, they probably won’t help you much, either. Google doesn’t see them as having been earned. Yes, according to the Big Dog, if you don’t at least bleed a little for your link… it’s pffft!

One-way links are best. That means, a site just links to yours, period. You don’t link back from any of your pages and search engines consider a one-way link a “vote” for your site. The more votes your site has, the better your rankings will be.

Bad Links

These are the worst type of backlinks to have, and these links can get you into major trouble. You can even suffer the dreaded state of Web existence called “de-indexing.” Yep… Google can just take your pages out of their search index, period. That’s hard to recover from.

The biggest no-no is paid linking, where you pay a service to place your link on sites with higher page rank than yours. This used to be perfectly OK, too, but a few years ago, Google decided they wouldn’t allow paid linking any longer because they saw paid links as “gaming the system.” It kind of was, in reality. Paid linking is kind of like buying votes in an election. Sure, it’s done, but you don’t want to be caught doing it.

Good Links vs. Bad Links: Where Does your Site Stand?. Image 0

Google also denies links that you got through any kind of linking system , which they call “link schemes.” Link wheels, which were big a couple of years back, for example, were an easy way of getting your pages ranked in search.

In these systems, you would add your web page to the system, along with thousands of other pages, and a link back to your site would be placed on other pages in your niche. You probably agreed to host links from other sites in your niche, as well. Usually, you had to pay for a service to do this for you to keep everything humming.

A couple of years back, there were also blog networks that would take your article and place it on one of its system of blogs. The blog where your article was placed was supposedly in your niche, which wasn’t always the case.

The content people wrote for these networks was often spammy, too – spun, duplicate, or just pure garbo, and that’s just what Google is fighting against these days. They want to clean up the Web.

Though getting backlinks has become harder and harder for SEOs, I do applaud that effort. Who needs to search for something and get a whole page back of irrelevant results or results that all lead to the same website. Black hatters (people who use tactics meant to game the system) used to be able to do that, but not so much anymore.

If you have either paid links, links from a link wheel system, or links from any type of content exchange network, find them in your Google Webmaster Tools account and banish them to oblivion.

Links from your site to your site

If you have two or more websites, you may have them linked together. There’s nothing wrong with that, but rumor has it that Google is discounting these links, too, so it’s not something you should care too much about doing.

Links in “Bad Neighborhoods”

OK, so what’s a “bad neighborhood”? It could be a black hat site. Or, more likely, it’s about gambling or porn. Though Google still ranks sites such as these, you really don’t want to have an association with them, unless of course, you’re in the gambling or porn niche, it probably doesn’t matter.

Where do we go from here?

Of course, the optimal link back to your website is a “do follow,” one-way link. You can get these by guest posting on blogs in your niche or just by “link baiting” with killer content. Link baiting means you give people a reason to link back to you within the content.

So, for example, you write an article to teach new webmasters how to optimize their sites and keep Google happy at the same time. A great way to provide more information without having to parrot back all of their exquisite requirements is just to link to Google’s SEO Starter Guide. It’s link worthy.

But if you have links that aren’t so kosher with Google anymore, you should really use Webmaster Tools to go through them and figure out which ones are hurting you. It won’t be easy, fun, or quick, but if you expect to get search rankings back that you lost because of a Panda update, you MUST!

Otherwise, just build a new site and start all over again. Google doesn’t penalize webmasters (at least not yet), only web pages. That said, if you’re a black hat person who will do anything to show up in the SERPs (search engine results pages), Google might just kick you and everything about you out of their index. Just sayin’.

The simple way to get rid of nasty backlinks is to contact the owner of the website where the link lives and ask for it to be removed. That works sometimes, but sometimes, it doesn’t. Webmasters ignore you or they just don’t care.

If you have a whole lot of these spurious links, you can use Google’s or Bing’s link disavow tools, but you should use them with caution. Google says that most webmasters won’t need to use their tool, but if you spent a lot of cash on link wheels or have some low-rent site linking to you thousands of times, you may want to look into using these tools to get rid of unwanted chaff.

But beware. Even Google says it should only be the method of last resort.

The Big Dog Knows

Yet, some of it doesn’t matter. For example, I had thousands of links coming into my site from two sources when Panda hit in May of 2012. I asked one site to remove their links and I believe that we’re down to zero from nearly 12,000. The other site has nearly 4,000 links coming in. I emailed them about removing the links and they totally ignored me.

I could use the disavow tool, except… Google knows about these types of site and how they work. According to a comment made by Google’s John Mueller on June 29, 2012:

Good Links vs. Bad Links: Where Does your Site Stand?. Image 1

So, you really needn’t do anything for Google. UpDowner was the site that removed all of their links from my site, to their credit. I’m not too terribly worried about the other site, however, and probably won’t bother with the disavow tool for that particular site. Google already knows which sites are spewing links out for sites all over the Web and that their backlinks are pretty much worthless. They’re just not counted.

Keep it Clean

The important thing to remember in all of this is not to try and force links. Starting in 2010, infographics became all the rage. People put a lot of work into creating these visual snapshots of just about any topic and these were touted as the newest, bestest, greatest way to get links back to your website.

And they were. It worked for a while, but is it working anymore?


Google saw the embedded link back to the infographics maker’s site as not being a true endorsement of the creator’s website. The same goes for blog themes, where the theme developer adds a link back to his or her website at the bottom of the theme. It’s not a true endorsement.

The best thing to do right now is just become a content genius. Create written text, video, and audio with care and make it the best darned content anyone has ever read. You can teach, entertain or inform, but whatever you create for whatever purpose, you want it to be GOOD.

That’s how one-way, relevant links are born.

Pat Marcello

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Pat Marcello is President and SEO Manager at MagnaSites.com, a full-service digital marketing company that serves small- to medium-sized businesses. Follow her on FacebookTwitter or Google+. Pat’s last article for SEMrush was "Google's Fetch and Render: Why It's Important."
Send feedback
Your feedback must contain at least 3 words (10 characters).

We will only use this email to respond to you on your feedback. Privacy Policy

Thank you for your feedback!