Ok, so you’ve set out on a link-building strategy crusade. Maybe even landed yourself some hot, juicy connections. That should be enough to achieve your SEO goals, right? The more backlinks you’ve got pointing to your site, the better, right? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but….no.
Link building, like just about any other marketing technique, is not a “set it and forget it” type of thing. It’s like planting a garden. In order to see the fruits of your labor grow and flourish, you have to care for them. You have to prune them. Your links are the same. One too many “weeds” in there and you could lose the whole harvest.
What, exactly, is link pruning?
Link pruning is actually pretty simple in concept. Thanks in large part to Google’s recent Penguin update, more and more webmasters have been penalized for using the shady practice of creating unnatural backlinks in an attempt to cheat the system. Link pruning is the practice of analyzing the links to and from your site and either removing or having removed those that are less than kosher so that you can avoid becoming a target by Big Brother.
Why is it such a big deal?
Link pruning is about much more than just making things look cleaner. It’s crucial to successful SEO. Think of it this way….link building is kind of like developing a personal association. If you hang out with a bad crowd, sooner or late you’re going to develop a reputation similar to those with whom you spend your time. Even if you’re not engaging in whatever unsavory activities your cohorts are involved in, you may still be considered guilty by association. It’s the same with links. If your website is associated with other sites that are questionable in the eyes of Google, your site will be viewed in the same light.
The result? Your ranking will take a hit. In other words, all that hard work for nothing.
The good news is, you can avoid all of this by proactively pruning back your links from time to time, making sure that only those characters you’d be proud to associate with remain. (Mom would be so proud!)
Tips and Tricks…
Now that you know what link pruning is and how important it is to your SEO ranking, let’s take a look at some simple tips and tricks for making this activity part of your marketing routine.
- Go through the outgoing links on your own site and remove any that fall into the following categories:
- Questionable content (link farm, directory, x-rated, etc.)
- Unrelated to your site (i.e. a hunting site when your business is kitchen remodeling)
- Contains content that is of poor quality (poorly written, duplicate, irrelevant, link-stuffed, etc.)
- Domain that has been banned by Google
- Next, you’ll need to figure out what sites are linking back to yours. There are a ton of third party sites that offer free tools for this, including Google’s Disavow Links, Ahrefs and Backlink Watch. Pick the one that works for you and go to town.
- Rank backlinks by quality, using the same guidelines you used to weed out lousy outbound links (see above).
- With your list of unwanted links in hand, go through one by one and locate each one’s hosting site. Sometimes it’s as easy as going to the website where the backlink is located and finding contact information for the webmaster. If there’s no contact info available, you can usually find it by doing a Whois lookup.
- Create a template email to use so you won’t have to keep typing the same email over and over (hello, Carpel Tunnel…). Be professional and courteous in your email and always include a link to the page where your backlink is located to make things easier.
- Don’t expect to see your links removed right away. Give it a good 2 weeks before following up.
- Create a record of your communications that details who you contacted, the date you sent each communication and the response (if any). This will make things easier when you need to figure out who you need to follow up with and when.
- Keep in mind that getting backlinks removed can be a gazillion times more difficult than getting them placed in the first place, so be patient. The most important thing is to remain in communication with Google at all times so that they are aware of the situation and won’t hit you with a penguin penalty over something you’re actively working to correct.
- For best results, link pruning should be done ideally once a month, if not at least every 6 months.
Given the new, more complex (and ever-changing) algorithms from Google, link pruning has become more than just an optional task, but a fundamental component of every successful SEO campaign. Remember, as Emilie Barnes once said, “Growth takes time. Be Patient. And while you’re waiting, pull a weed”.