Summary: Link Audits with Tom Critchlow on #SEOchat

Guest: @tomcritchlow of Distilled: http://www.distilled.co.uk . We’ll be discussing Link Audits. @tomcritchlow is responsible for managing the Distilled team and writing killer blog posts. He is also a Distilled evangelist and speaks at various industry conferences. Tom makes Excel look easy and passed his GAIQ exam in 2010.

@tomcritchlow: I’m normally responsible for managing the @distilled SEO team but right now I’m in Seattle working with @seomoz for a few months. I’m also a fan of science and an all round data geek.

Why should you perform link audits and how often should you do them?

This entirely depends on the size of site and industry you’re in. Smaller/nicer industries can get away with less often. But it’s important for everyone to do at least one! @willcritchlow wrote a great post here: http://dis.tl/gc9nS0. The principal is that you should always do an audit before starting with with a new client. To be sure there are no surprises!

There’s a great intro to link audits here: http://www.click2rank.com/2010/11/29/5-questions-to-ask-when-doing-a-link-audit/. This is a little old but a good one from @vanessafox too: http://dis.tl/ibbDd9. I know some SEOs in super competitive industries who have people dedicated to auditing and monitoring their own site’s links.

@kmullett: Would this be company link audits, competitive link audits or both?
@tomcritchlow: We’re mainly talking company link audits rather than competitive link audits here I think.
@ashbuckles: My question was all link audits but it’s important to segment as well.

What are some of the obvious bad signs to look for when looking at your backlink portfolio?

Obvious things to watch for: too much anchor text, not enough diversity, obvious paid links or any kind of footprint. I think link diversity is super important. Directory links are good for example, but bad if you ONLY have directory links. So you need to balance the profile. If you work with a brand who only has brand anchor text, throw some keyword rich links in! For manipulative/negative/malicious links (e.g. from copmetitors) are harder to spot though. In that case you need to go deeper and start looking at the linking IP blocks, see if you can find low quality link farms etc. Largely I just see links being devalued rather than sites penalised. That said, as soon as it becomes public (e.g. jcpenny) you can get slapped pretty hard.

@kmullett: We do client + competitive audit. If you don’t do an audit you can’t show gain in reports. :)

@kenjansen: How much is too much anchor text?
@shuey03: I think it all depends on what’s normal for a particular industry or niche.
@kmullett: Too much duplicate anchor text which is especially common across multiple site footers.

@jasonmun: I use Open Site Explorer to check for link diversity. Great tool!

@ashbuckles: How much is too much anchor text links? Doesn’t that depend on the competition? I see some #1 ranked companies with 99% anchor text, for example.
@tomcritchlow: yeah @ashbuckles makes a great point. This is all relative, so you have to balance your link profile vs competitors.
@jasonmun: Open site explorer is a good tool If the top 10 links are anchor text links, you know you are in trouble.

@shuey03: Do you see manipulative/negative/malicious links often?
@tomcritchlow: Nope – I don’t see manipulative stuff too often (not that works anyway) but I have come across it and it’s nasty.

@shuey03: Any good tools to help find linking IP blocks?
@tomcritchlow: Best tool for analysing linking IP blocks is majestic: www.majesticseo.com

@beyondcontent: What about getting balance between link diversity and links Google would class as unrelated/not suitable? Grey area..
@tomcritchlow: When I say diversity i’m mainly talking link type (e.g. directory, blog). I don’t think Google looks much at thematically related links…. #controvesial!

@kmullett: Have you tried any of the http://ontolo.com/ tools?
@tomcritchlow: Yep. Folks @distilled use them.
@shuey03: @kmullett does @ontolo have any tools to help with link audits?
@kmullett: @shuey03 @ontolo yes, they have many.

@beyondcontent: Unrelated links came up in @econsultancy article this week, newspaper sites selling footer links, blatantly spammy. The case against article marketing by @econsultancy http://goo.gl/PxZaU

What does a ‘healthy’ link portfolio look like?

I think I largely answered this in Q2 actually – basically a good diverse mix of links. Not relying on any one type too much. Here’s a good post on analysing a link profile to spot unnaturalness: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/advanced-link-analysis-charts. I don’t know how effective article links will be after the panda update. My analysis here: http://dis.tl/hPcgt1. This is a gem from @justinrbriggs http://dis.tl/e9b48x.

@jasonmun: What are your thoughts on blog commenting and forum link? I personally dislike them.
@tomcritchlow: Blog commenting is filthy IMHO. That said, I know folks who do it and it’s still highly effective. Sad in 2011!
@shuey03: I believe blog commenting and forum linking is valuable as long as it is on industry related sites and you provide value.
@ashbuckles: I still believe blog commenting has a place, socially. But not spammy, quick, pointless comments.
@JoshuaTitsworth: When you comment to just get a link and not to add to the blog post it falsifies the community.
@ashbuckles: Correct. I only comment when I ‘really’ have something to say.

@shuey03: If you have enough diversity, do you still see plenty of value in spending time building directory and article links?
@tomcritchlow: yep – article and directory links are still effective as part of a healthy balanced diet, I mean link profile.

@ashbuckles: So if you say Google doesn’t care as much about themed links, what are more important factors? i.e. branded links, etc.
@tomcritchlow: I think Google doesn’t look at themed linking because it’s too hard/noisy as a signal. Sites get links from all sorts of sites. Strong/trusted/diverse links are more important than themed links.

@jasonmun: Can you give us an example of how we can leverage social media for links?
@shuey03: Infographics are a great way to build links socially – Great post from @seomoz on infographics here: http://bit.ly/fV6eHp.

@saffyre9: re: Themed linking – do you have any examples/data on that?
@tomcritchlow: Not really I’m afraid. Gut feel/experience.

@tomcritchlow: Hey, while we’re here can I give a shout out to the @distilled Link Building conference we’re running: http://dis.tl/hBoY5q :)

@kmullett: Check linkback speed to index by typing in exact match phrase in Google then select latest to find when it hits the index.

What are some steps you should take to correct a poor link portfolio?

Correcting a link profile comes in 3 forms really:

  1. You got a penalty. If you get a penalty you need to clean up. Take down ALL the links you can that are even borderline. Then file reconsideration.
  2. You are unbalanced. If it’s just that you have an unbalanced profile you can usually just use that to drive your link building strategy going forward.
  3. Malicious from competitor. If it’s malicious – I’d recommend reporting to Google asap. Google hates that kind of thing. You often can’t get the links down. A useful tip is to watch for link networks – so look for footprints and try and contact the person behind the network.

This is a great article about link building with low quality links: http://dis.tl/fDxuLQ.

@JoshuaTitsworth: Would you say updating links rather than implementing a 301 is a good idea?
@tomcritchlow: I’ve heard that using 301 redirects can dampen/remove link penalties but I’ve little personal experience with it. I think that’s why they might work for removing a link penalty. If link juice/effects are destroyed.
@kmullett: Well a 302 would at least make more sense wouldn’t it? Temp move.

@shuey03: Have you found that Google actually listens if you report malicious links?
@tomcritchlow: They listen but don’t respond.

@davesaunders: How do you “clean up” bad links?
@ashbuckles: Sometimes you can request removal of links, take down duplicate content, remove doorway pages, etc. Another option to kill bad links, albeit risky, is to 404 pages and move content to another URL.

@jasonmun: What are your thoughts on Google Bowling? Anyway to avoid this?
@tomcritchlow: It’s actually pretty hard to do if you have an established site. I have *ahem* friends who have tried and failed to google bowl competitors out of the index. Not impossible, but very hard.
@jasonmun: I reckon the amount of effort to bowl a site can be better used optimising your own site.
@kmullett: There are automated tools out there that exist to facilitate such crap via pligg, comment spam, etc.

What are the best (paid and free) tools for doing a link audit?

By far and away the best tool for link audits: http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/ I know I’m biased but it’s great. As previously mentioned though, majesticseo is great especially for lower quality links: http://www.majesticseo.com/. I also still use yahoo http://dis.tl/dMZ75a good to get as many link sources as you can. And of course GWT is a no-brainer.

Once you have collected link URLs, analysing them is a must for serious/enterprise audits: http://dis.tl/dHghsQ. Not really a tool, but here’s some great visualizations of link profiles: http://dis.tl/8ZkUOn. Let me say it again, @seomoz’s http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/ combined with excel is pretty much all you need. Speaking of excel – check this out from @MikeCP http://www.distilled.co.uk/excel-for-seo/.

@matt_storms: I have been using blekko and finding some interesting things.
@tomcritchlow: I must admit to not having used blekko too much yet.
@kmullett: It has some interesting results. They just blocked 1million domains! Blekko announcement. http://selnd.com/h0OKnE
@tomcritchlow: So blekko has pages like this: http://blekko.com/ws/distilled.co.uk+/links but is there a way to export/download them all?

@ashbuckles: @kmullett What is it about Majestic SEO (it’s a great tool) that you’re partial to?
@kmullett: @ashbuckles good question. I just think it has greater depth and I like the output.

@kmullett: Do you use many Google operators manually? allintext:, allinanchor:, allintitle:, etc Low return volume though.
@tomcritchlow: Nope don’t use them much myself. Tends to return poor quality data.

@garyjmag: Other than OSE, what is your favorite part of the SEOmoz toolset?
@tomcritchlow: The webapp is awesome too plus new Q&A section.

@tomcritchlow: One final thing, you should all follow @distilled – we have some very exciting news announcing next week :)

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