No website is without linking related flaws. Whether it’s on-site or off, I can’t say that I’ve ever encountered a “perfect” website from a linking perspective. Some link building mistakes are unintentional and inconsequential, others are catastrophic. See When Link Rehabilitation Is A Viable Option.
The idiom “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it“ is in full view all over the web. We’ve all seen sites making mistakes. My own site is a case study in poor link optimization. I’ve made mistakes many times over the years. I’ve killed off pages with Pagerank. I’ve orphaned pages accidentally. I have no xml sitemap. I don’t do the rich snippets thing, I’m missing alt text.
One of my older articles that was out of date was sitting with a juicy link from Harvard Business School, and I didn’t know it, nor did I notice a Title tag replicated on several articles where I had lazily neglected to edit them. My business is global, but I do have two local locations, but I haven’t optimized for local either. My site is a classic example of a shoe maker going shoeless.
I rarely fix these flaws even when I find them because, well, my site ranks exactly where I want it to for the exact terms I care about at the three largest engines. I’m afraid to fix my ugly duckling web site. Why? Because perfect can become the enemy of good, and if good is a #1 ranking, then the heck with perfect.
Do you agree? If I ever notice a drop in rank for terms that I value, I know what the mistakes are, and I know how to fix them. Others are not so lucky, and sit atop a time bomb of linking mistakes that are going to blow up, sooner or later.
Being your own worst enemy
The self inflicted linking wounds are the saddest, because most of them could and can be avoided. See Aggressively Seeking Links: How Much Is Too Much? One site called in a panic wondering why 50% of their organic click traffic vanished, and it turned out the marketing folks were not aware the I.T. folks had deployed a new content delivery system that changed every URL on their site, literally overnight, without a 301 plan. That actually happened.
We used the 404 referrer log to reverse engineer a link recapture plan, but it took months and was a miserable time for them, all of which could have been avoided. Other self inflicted wounds center around search rank, and include going too deeply into the link buying end of the pool, duplicate sites, 301 roll ups. There are many of these. I believe almost every person doing those things knows going in that it could be a mistake, which makes the resulting nightmare self-inflicted.
Linking damage control
But there are those who are genuinely unaware they have made mistakes, and equally unaware that those mistakes are hurting them. I’m seeing a growing wave of concern bordering on paranoia about linking related mistakes. I’m getting new clients who don’t even want me to build links, they want a linking damage control strategy because they previously paid for (and took) bad SEO advice. Now they want to see if damage has been done, and if so, undo that damage. Fair enough. Those are the scenarios where we link builders can help make repairs.
On the other hand, there are those that want help not because they made an honest mistake, and not because of some moral linking epiphany, but because their rank took a nosedive and they know why, and now they want someone to plead their case to the powers that be.
Sometimes we can help, sometimes we can’t
More than once I’ve pronounced a domain DOA, and recommended a full fresh start rather than an Superfund style toxic link clean up. See When Your Link Portfolio Is Devalued. Then again, if you are running a site and have truly been the victim of an overly aggressive SEM advisor/firm that you trusted and now wish you hadn’t, then depending on the damage done, there could very well be hope.
True story, one site I helped clean up had paid links across several verticals related to their niche. That niche? Knitting. Seriously. Well, knit me a black hat. The irony is they didn’t have go black at all to get what they were after. They had content, brand, history. They had what they needed to dominate their space without touching the paid side of the street. But the temptation was either too great, or they didn’t know what they were doing was risky.
Take some proactive steps
Since most sites have been through a few vendors by now, it can be hard to know exactly what’s out there that could be doing you harm. Think of an old house that’s been added on to several times over the years. That wiring in the basement is a code violation today, but was considered perfectly safe when it was first done.
If your site is among those that’s either seen an unusual change in position, or been touched by multiple SEO/SEM vendors or consultants, you may want to take a closer look at the inbound links pointing at your site. You’ll need to look deeper than what a link: search will give you, and deeper than the 1,000 links Yahoo site explorer will show you.
And don’t panic if you discover that years ago, before your time, someone engaged in a paid link fest for your site. Those links probably aren’t affecting you at all in either direction. If you’ll sleep better getting the opinion of a linking expert, hire one for an “inbound link health checkup”. These shouldn’t be expensive if your expert has a clue and knows what to look for. Remember, though, one man’s dirty link is often another man’s clean link, and once you start poking at a beehive, bees come out. See Spotting Unnatural Linking Patterns.
Whether those bees will sting you or not is another question.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.