Search engine optimisation techniques and tips for anyone who is serious about their website. SEO is not for the feint hearted and it requires consistent application of a wide range of techniques and initiatives to be applied on a regular basis. There are a number of things that you can do to improve your website through a better understanding of what SEO is about and what is required. Through a growth in your own understanding you will be able to deliver a better web solution and improve your chances of attracting greater and better qualified leads to your website.

Bad SEO Links Will Not Be Tolerated By Penguin

We are all well aware of spam e-mails, which are just plain annoying at the very least, but did you realise that spam links pointing to your website or even set up on your domain exist and what damage they are about to do to your SEO efforts?  These can quite easily destroy your web ranking and SEO credibility and with the new Google Penguin update about to be rolled out (Feb 2016) this problem will be critical if you have not checked your links.

Many people may be unaware of spam referrals to their site and wonder where these come from.  If you check your Google analytics, there is an option under "Acquisition" for “Referrals” that lists the referral sites that have generated traffic to your site.  This however fails to reveal the real and complete story of what might actually be happening on your site. What you may not realise is that there are 100’s if not 1000’s of other websites that are linking to your site that could be doing you untold damage by way of spam links.

SPAM Backlinks

So just what are these spam links and where do they really come from?  For many people, these are the result of purchased back links provided by many SEO services.  A selection of these “SEO consultants” did what they thought was an easy way to build credibility and citations to your website. Much of it however was produced by cheap and unethical SEO practices (black hat) using link farms - A practice that you are more than likely completely oblivious to.

Another more serious source is from spam sites that generally have been hacked or compromised by malware.  This latter group results in malicious code being inserted into valid websites where this code links to pages in other websites containing keywords placed in the query strings (as shown in red below) forming part of that URL link eg. “/index.php?broker&slim=broker&lineonly2587?fr=viagra-naturel-maca”  with 100’s and 1000’s of sites interlinking to one another.  In this way, you can very quickly find a sudden increase in links to your website.  In the graph below, you can see the sudden spike in one site.  We have just taken over and where we are now desperately trying to remove over 12,000 links back to our client’s site.

In the above graph you can see where the client had SEO work done in 2014 that saw about 1000 paid for backlinks added. In late December we saw the beginning of 550 new links and then in January 2016 a further 5000 backlinks added as a result of the spamware.

What Google Has Indexed.

On the flipside of the court in, we have those pages which Google has indexed as being in your site.  These are important because not only do they direct search results to your site but they also tell Google what your site is about - in theory… But read on.

Normally you will have told Google which pages to indexed through either your meta tags and/or your robots.txt file.  As time goes by, you may have errors in your links as a result of renaming or removing pages within your site and is not correctly managed these were will result in broken links and show up in the Google index search console as crawl errors.

Eventually these links will drop out of the index.  However, you should aim to keep these to a minimum and manage them properly.

The problem that can occur in the case of our spam links is where they point to a single page that varied query string in the URL.  Each of these variations can end up as an index entries in its own right even though they all point the same physical page in your site.


In the screenshot above you will see how the number of ‘Not Found’ pages suddenly spiked at the end of January. In the list of broken URLs shown below the graph you might also notice the parameters attached to the URL “index.php” (this just so happens to be the default URL of a WordPress site’s home page).

The Downside On Spam Links

So now we find ourselves with thousands of links to our site along with thousands of other links as index entries in Google.  So where is the problem?  The problem lies in the content of those query strings which invariably contains all the wrong keywords your site.  This influences how Google views your site and what it thinks your site is about.

Worse still, we have all those backlinks!  Invariably they are from low quality websites or sites that are considered as spam by the search engines.  This will definitely lower your SEO rankings.  With the new Penguin updates to be rolled out soon, having such back links to your site can lead invariably to the single result of resulting in your site being “clobbered” in the rankings.

If the malware has hacked into your own site then need to will be linking out with spam links and best can result in your site being blacklisted by Google.  This is something that you do not wish to have happened.

How to Identify and Cull Bad Links

The first thing you must have is to lease it up Google search console on your domain.  Other applications are also available that can assist you in identifying the source of such links.  We will however restrict our comments to the use of Google's free tool – Google Search Console.  Your Web developer should have set this up for you as a matter of course when your site went live.

Removing bad back links.

  1. The first thing you need to do to identify who actually is linking back to your site.  To do this, go to the option search traffic/links to your site found in Google search console.
  2. You will see a shortlist of those who link the most to your site under which there is a link to more option which you should click on.
  3. This will produce a list of the top domains that link back to your site.  You should then select the option to download this list as an Excel file.  Review the results noting the number of links from each domain back to your site.  Those domains which you wish to remove.  This list of domains should be saved to a standard text file with something such as notepad.
  4. After having finalised your list and formatted it in line with the instructions from Google (see…) You will then need to submit this file as a disavow file to Google.  The link for this is not so easy to find.  So, here is the disavow page link within Google search console.

Removing Google index entries

For your index entries that you wish to remove from Google, this is going to be a lot more complicated.  The steps to be taken will depend on the nature of the URLs to be revoked.

Whilst Google has removed URLs option under the Google index option of search console, this does require is specified each URL individually.  There are no "wild card" operators available.  You also need to bear in mind that this is a temporary removal tool and in 90 days’ time.  Google will be include the URLs if it finds any reference to those URLs in it indexing process.

Other options available to you that you will need to consider using either together or individually include:

  • setting up 301 redirects on old URLs that you wished point elsewhere.
  • Using robots.txt file to disallow the search robots from scan in specific files and directories within your site.
  • Set in Meta tags in your pages to prevent the search engines from indexing the individual page and/or following links within page.
  • Using the URL parameters option under all in Google search console.  This tells Google how it should handle parameters (or query strings) in your URLs stop this is an advanced option that could, if incorrectly set, destroy existing valid search index entries.  Based on certain parameters, you can instruct Google to not index pages that include this parameter.

In anything other than the simplest cases for index removal, we suggest you talk to your developer or SCO consultants with regards to this type of operation.

In our own clients situation, they lose previous WordPress site was the cause of all is link problems, when we moved into Business Catalyst were able to soon identify take action on the problem because of links were to a Ph.D. page that simply doesn't exist in Business Catalyst

We now just have to be patient with Google as this process of cleaning up back links and index entries takes an indeterminate amount of time and one it is in the hands of Google.  

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