Doing Link Removal? Use This Flowchart to Quickly Evaluate Backlink Quality

With Google Webmaster Tools sending out hundreds of thousands of “unnatural link” notifications, as well as the new Penguin penalty – er, “algorithm update” – link removal has become the hot new topic in the SEO industry.

At Bruce Clay we’ve been performing SEO penalty assessments and link pruning projects for some time now, and we’ve found that by far the most tedious part of the process is manually evaluating each and every backlink. Especially if you’ve got a list of 45,000+ URLs to sift through.

We created this flowchart in order to make the process of evaluating backlinks as efficient as possible, as well as to ensure that our analysts use the same metrics when working independently on the same project. We hope you find our chart as useful as we have.

Brief explanations follow below.

Editor’s Note: See our updated Backlink Evaluation Flowchart, revised in August 2015.

Link Evaulation Flowchart
Click for the full-sized graphic.

Load the page. Can you find the link?

This is the obvious first step. If the link isn’t on the page, you’re done – move on to the next. Ctrl+F is your friend here. Don’t forget to check the source code if you don’t see the link on the page, because it might be hidden.

Does the page appear to exist ONLY for SEO?

If you’ve been monitoring your backlink profile and doing link pruning for any length of time, you should be able to spot these almost instantly. Usually, low-quality directories and spun article sites just won’t pass the smell test, and a lot of them will look identical because they’re run by the same person.

Is the link relevant to the page?

This is the most subjective option. Consider the topic of the linking and linked pages, the position of the link, and any other metrics you use to gauge relevance.

Does the anchor text contain high-value keywords?

Are these keywords used excessively in links to your site?

We added these options in response to Google’s Penguin update, which (among other things) targets backlink profiles with a high percentage of exact-match anchor text for “money” or “transactional” keywords.

Does the link contain a rel=”nofollow” attribute?

Does the page Head section contain a Meta Robots “nofollow” tag?

If Google has been told not to follow a link then it shouldn’t be affecting your rankings, no matter how spammy the linking site is. You may also want to check the site’s robots.txt file to see if the linking page exists in a disallowed directory – but this is such a rare occurrence that we left it out of the chart.

Tedious though it may be, link evaluation is absolutely necessary when it comes to link pruning, either for your site or for a client’s – you need to find all the poor-quality links as quickly as possible without accidentally getting beneficial links removed.

Did we forget anything? Do you have a question about the chart? Leave a comment below.

Bob Meinke is an associate SEO analyst, formerly part of the Bruce Clay team. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s in English and a minor in creative writing. Aside from his beautiful wife, Katie, Bob’s favorite things are unintentional irony and purposeful ambiguity.

See Bob's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (9)
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9 Replies to “Doing Link Removal? Use This Flowchart to Quickly Evaluate Backlink Quality”

“Great resource! Link removal can be a tedious task, but this flowchart simplifies the process, helping to swiftly assess backlink quality and make informed decisions. A must-have for anyone managing SEO strategies!”

I think this is a great flow chart to simplyfy the process specially for those who are not too familiar with basic SEO. Many of those who’ve been penalized seem to be in a frenzy to remove ALL the links they have, it is heart-breaking watching them drive the knife deeper in the wound that Google inflected upon them. I say Google inflected because Google (through Matt Cutts) has been saying for years that external incoming links would not negatively affect websites because they have no control over them. The savvy SEOs did indeed suspected that Google would do (or is actively doing) something about it, even though they are saying they wouldn’t, simply because it is their most important signal in calculating PR. Now where does this leave people who believed in Google’s claims? and what evidence does Google or anyone else for that matter have to guarantee that those businesses are responsible for the link spam (although I personally think that most are). With this move many innocent businesses have suffered catastrophic losses that they may never recover from, and the most important thing that came of it is that google is now saying, without any doubt, that any one can sink or decimate a competitor by pointing a ton of useless links at their website and claim their position at the top of the SERPs, until someone else comes along and know them off of it… turning this into the Internet’s version of the wild wild west, and making the blackhatters giggle with delight at the new opportunities.

Thanks for the comment! I also share my clients’ frustration whenever Google decides to move the goalposts without warning, especially now that they’ll inflict penalties based on factors outside a webmaster’s control.

These days pretty much everyone needs to keep a watch on their link profiles.

Thanks for this. Removal of bad links is so vital, making this massively useful!

It’s great flow chart, which help to remove spamming links. Thanks for posting.

Hi Bob,

Really pleased to see that you have shared this. We’ve been more than a little concerned about the number of site owners who are jumping into link removal campaigns without real confidence in their knowledge of links they want to remove.

Your flowchart actually helps give non-professional SEOs the basic understanding needed to make the correct decision about link value and effect.

For those who still have some niggling doubts about whether they have gotten it all right, we’ve found the SEOgadget Cleanup & Contact Tool a useful double-check.

While we built our tool to make backlink removal campaigns easy to manage, we certainly don’t want anyone making mistakes and ending up removing links that are useful!

I’m off to add your post to “Helpful Resources” list.

Thanks again!

Hey Sha,

Thanks for your response! I agree – one of the worst things you can do while pruning links is to remove links that are benefit you.

Hi Bob, thanks for the flow chart, at least I know how to start a link removal plan! :)

Kent – Thanks for the response. I’m glad you find it helpful!


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