Mar 20, 2017

Link Detoxing: What Is It and Why Should You Care?

by Digital Marketing Institute

Your backlink profile—total links pointing back to your website—is likely filled with low-quality links. Thanks to bots and auto-republishing tools, a wide variety of small, low-ranking and low-quality blogs are likely doing one of two things:

  • Linking back to your website or blog in a round-up blog post or as a resource
  • Scraping your content with a link back to your website

While you want links pointing back to your website to build good SEO and a high-quality backlink profile, you don’t want these to come from sites that are ranked low in Google and other search engines’ eyes. Why? Because that bad “link juice” then flows to your site, making Google see you as low quality as well.

To better understand this, Adam Thompson, Director of Digital Strategies for 10x digital explains:

“Link juice, link authority, and backlink authority are all different words that mean essentially the same thing. Google uses links to help decide which pages to rank higher in Google search results,” says Thompson. He continues, “If Page A links to Page B, then link juice ‘flows’ from page A to page B and that generally helps page B rank higher on Google. The more pages (and the higher-quality the pages are) that links to page B, the more link juice page B has and the higher it will tend to rank on Google.”

When this happens, your online reputation could take a hit, not to mention Google could also penalize your site for Black Hat SEO practices. Once you’re in the Google penalty box, it’s hard to get out.

Luckily, you can clean up your backlink profile with a link detox. While you likely won’t be able to remove every single link, you can freshen it up to avoid penalties and start focusing on building a healthier backlink profile. Here’s what you need to know to give your website the link detox it needs.

Do It Yourself

Anyone can perform a link detox, starting with a backlink analysis of your website. A great free tool for this is MOZ Open Site Explorer. Simply type in your web address and assess the link profile that they find. You can look at links via your subdomain and root domain if your site is set up as such, in addition to organizing by link equity, do-follow, no-follow, and more.

Another great tool is—if you sign up for a free trial, you’ll get full access to your report.

With your list of websites, the removal process begins. Here are the steps you need to take:

Step 1

One of the most important factors in the link detox process is domain authority, which is listed all the way to the right in the MOZ report. Domain authority is a number that predicts how well a website will rank in search engines, making it a great scoring metric for removing back links.

Start a list of websites that are lower than 30 DA (the ranking that most marketers agree is the bare minimum for middle to high-value websites).

Step 2

Also add links to your list that fall under the following categories:

  • Using over-optimized anchor text, as opposed to your business name or website URL. An over-optimized anchor text might be something like: “Computer repair shops in San Antonio, Texas” as opposed to “” Spammers use the former and Google is highly aware of it.
  • Using scraped content or full of other spam links. Most websites built simply for linking are obvious to spot: they’re crammed with links, ads and text that’s simply been copied from one website to theirs.
  • Out of country links that don’t make sense for your brand. If you own businesses in Vermont and have links pointing back to your site from Ukraine, they’re likely spam.

Step 3

Go through your list, site by site and start collecting contact information for each page. Manually reach out to every single website asking them to remove your link and/or article, if they republished it. To find contact info, check the contact page, their Facebook Page’s “About” tab or even their press page, which often has contact info. Wait 5 to 7 days for a response and follow up if you haven’t heard back.

Step 4

If there are an overwhelming amount of bad links pointing to one or a few specific pages, consider removing the page altogether, republishing and starting fresh. If website owners are unresponsive, which in many cases they will be, this takes care of the problem without their cooperation.

When you do this, make sure to 404 the pages:

In general, if you remove the page that is being linked to (such as a spammy forum thread) and make sure that it returns a 404/410 HTTP response code, we'll ignore the links to those pages,

explains John Mueller, from Google.

Note that doing a 404/410 on these pages is a much better option than disavowing them, which can be detrimental to your site. Google highly recommends not doing that unless you absolutely have to. It’s recommended to work with a professional if this is your only option.

Moving Forward

Now that you’re working with a fresh backlink profile, you can focus on building high-quality link-backs to keep your website in good graces with search engines. Here are a few best practices for doing that:

  • Use HARO to get expert quotes on high-quality websites. Journalists and bloggers for well-known sites like Forbes and MSN, along with smaller, but still well-known brands and sites use this tool to find expert quotes for articles. In most cases, you get a link back to your website, which is natural and looks great in your backlink profile. (Check out HubSpot’s guide to using HARO for more information.)
  • Cross-promote your website with other high-quality blogs and websites, whether you write them a guest post or ask for a shout out.
  • Reach out to local newspapers if you’re throwing an event or hit a company milestone. They may want to do a story on your business, which will likely lead to a link back from their news site.
  • Create a high-value resource (infographic, interactive tool, calculator, guide) and send it to influencers within your industry. Email or tweet high-ranking bloggers and website owners to see if they’d want to publish the resource.
  • Add links to your website on all company profiles, if it isn’t there yet.

Link detoxing is a tedious and manual process. Once you’re finished, however, you can move forward with a clean slate. Use the best practices for high-quality link building and do a backlink analysis once per quarter to stay on top of any potential issues that could lead to a Google penalty.

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