Through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Google Analytics work I recently completed for a client, I was reminded, and prompted to share via this blog post, that all backlinks (links to your website from another website or blog) aren’t created equal when it comes to SEO. For years, I and most fellow marketers, have known that having links to one’s website on the websites of other creditable, highly regarded websites was a good thing as far as Google’s SEO algorithm goes. Such backlinks cause Google to view your site as also being creditable and trustworthy, and therefore, improves where your website appears in Google search engine results for search terms relevant to your organization’s products and services. But, many marketers lose sight of or are not aware of the fact that all backlinks are not “good.”
Like Anyone Else, Google Judges You By the Company You Keep
The bad backlink news is that if your website is receiving a lot of referral traffic from non-creditable and “spammy” websites, i,e., “bad” sites, it can really harm how Google treats your site from an SEO standpoint. As it should, Google has never been one to reward websites and their owners for trying to “play” or “game” them. They recognize spammy backlinks for what they often are, an attempt to improve SEO by purchasing or placing links to one’s website on low-quality sites, and Google will be less likely vs. more likely to present listings with a link to your website in its search engine results for your desired search terms. (A quick, but relevant digression: A past blog post called out how Google is more likely to reward authentic sites, and that includes sites that have “mutual admiration” relationships with organizations who respect their work, products, and services, and are willing to share links to their website.)
Based on my review of many clients’ Google Analytics data, it’s not uncommon to have a few “spammy” sites referring traffic to your website, and it’s unlikely that having a half dozen or less such sites driving traffic will cause Google to ding you significantly related to where you appear in search engine results. Of course, the aforementioned assumes that your website is reputable and relevant and meets other SEO best practices and standards, not just backlink ones.
While the purpose of this post is really to alert readers of this potential SEO danger and to explain how you can identify if your backlinks may be hurting vs. helping you, at the end of my post, I will share some experts’ thoughts on how to fix this bad SEO equation. If your site has close to 10, or many more than 10, “bad” sites referring traffic, you should take immediate steps to remedy this.
A Google Analytics data review allows you to see how visitors are finding your website. Once logged into your Google Analytics account, you can view this data by accessing the “Channels” report under the “Acquisition” left-hand menu tab as shown below.
- direct = someone entered your website’s domain/URL directly into their browser or they had your website bookmarked
- organic search = someone entered relevant terms in a search engine and then clicked on a link included in a search results listing
- paid search = someone clicked on an online ad as part of a online advertising campaign you ran on a search engine advertising platform, like Google Ads
- social = someone clicked on a link to a page on your website included in a social media post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
- referral = someone clicked on a link to your site found on a website or blog
An immediate red flag — one I saw with the client that I referenced at the top of this post — is, in most cases, when too large of a percentage of your website traffic is “referral” traffic. Ideally, your two largest traffic channels would be “direct” and “organic search.” If the percentage of traffic associated with these two latter channels, individually, is lower than the % of traffic from “referrals”, that’s an indication that you could be driving a lot of traffic to your website from “spammy” sites. Let’s face it, the folks you most want visiting your site are quality visitors, i.e., current/returning customers and individuals who have found your site because of a relevant search engine search.
Your next step in assessing whether your SEO is likely being negatively impacted by “bad” backlinks is to click on “Referral” where it is listed under the “Default Channel Grouping” in Google Analytics, as shown in the image above. A list will immediately be generated showing you the various websites and blogs that are referring traffic to your site. It should be pretty obvious to you by the names of the referral sources which ones aren’t reputable blogs and websites with which you want your own website and your organization to be associated.
Bottom line is this — whether you intentionally had an organization who claimed they could improve your SEO purchase/provide/set up such backlinks on your behalf, or such backlinks were established by someone your organization did not engage for SEO help or who is not affiliated with your organization and who was/is looking to negatively impact your organization and SEO results, you’ll want to eliminate spammy backlinks since they’ll harm you in the long run.
Learn more from experts, including Google themselves, about backlinks and get advice on how to resolve “bad” backlink scenarios, or reach out to us for assistance.