When a potential client comes to us for a proposal, the first thing that we do is to analyze the existing backlink profile. We used to put an insane amount of time into this exercise, but when that time is weighed against other tasks for existing clients, we decided that it needed to be made a bit quicker. We’ve explored various methods of doing this, but here’s our current favorite, using Raven SEO Tools. If you’re not a subscriber you can do a free 30 day trial, by the way.
1. Go to Raven SEO Tools Backlink Explorer (after you login, it’s under Links) and enter the URL you wish you examine. You’ll soon see a list of backlinks with a lovely little Export CSV button at the bottom of the page. Click it and open the data in the application of your choice.
2. You’ll see the following columns:
Source URL ACRank: this is the only one that needs explanation. This is simply a number from 0 to 10 that gives a rank for the page’s importance. The higher the rank, the better. Anchor Text Date NoFollow Image
While the list is ordered by ACRank on the site itself, once you export it you’ll need to sort it by ACRank.
3. Once the list is sorted by ACRank, I do a few quick calculations to get an idea of the percentages of links with ACRanks of 0 to 2. Based on what I’ve seen so far, these tend to be the lower end links for the most part. While some of these links will be sending you quality traffic, remember this is just a really quick exercise in figuring out how much cleanup you need. Many of the lower quality links will also be sitewides, which used to be very popular (especially in blogrolls) but are less so now.
If you have more than 50% in this category (0 to 2) then I would suggest you clean up before moving on, or in conjunction with building new links. If you’re showing less than 50% of lower quality links, then while I’d still suggest digging in deeper to check your links, I would also be happy in advising you to start pursuing new ones for the main part of your time.
Issues Faced With Cleanup
Cleaning up lower quality links is not at all as easy you might think. To give you a real life example, we’ve recently spent close to 4 months attempting to remove or update 600 links for a client’s site. We have successfully taken care of 450 of these links, and that is with a ton of effort, sometimes 10-15 emails exchanged just to take care of one link, and a few flirtatious comments. It’s tough work.
Webmasters want to know why they should remove your link…is my site that bad, they ask? Do I have a penalty? Be prepared to explain your reasons honestly. Maybe you used to think sitewides were a more valuable part of a link portfolio than you do currently, and you want to have most of them removed on irrelevant sites, as you might think they’re harming you in some way (or at least not helping.) However, keep in mind that it’s a bit insulting to be told that your site is poor quality and you no longer wish to be associated with it, so try not to offend the webmasters even further.
If you simply want to change your link (for whatever reason) then you also must be prepared with an upfront answer about why you want to do this. This opens up a whole new can of worms as you can imagine. Webmasters will accuse you of trying to use their site to get better rankings (um, yes) and more traffic (again, yes) and they will occasionally ask for money (regardless of whether you originally paid for this link) and sometimes refuse to do anything at all. The simple fact is that no matter what, you’re getting links to get more converting traffic to your site. Webmasters do know this so don’t try and pretend that it’s all about brand awareness.
Just as you encounter frustrations with building new links, you will with cleaning up old ones. As mentioned above, our last effort currently shows a 75% success rate, which is very high from what I’ve heard from a few other link builders but remember, that is the work of 4 months. When you think about the money spent on that, you may think that building new ones would have been the way to go, but a nice clean portfolio is much easier to keep an eye on than one filled with masses and masses of spammy links.
There will also be steadfast webmasters, new webmasters who have no idea who you are or what you’re talking about, sites that no longer exist, emails that bounce back, etc. It can sometimes make you want to bang your head right through a window, but in the end, I think cleaning things up can give you an even better idea about how to move forward with better quality links.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.