To Know if a Previous SEO-er Used Black Hat Techniques on a Website

u/dietpepsisucks

How to know if a previous developer used black hat techniques on a website?

I'm performing a website audit for a rental company in a small college town, and I noticed an unusually large amount of backlinks. 1,500 to be exact.

I'm currently using the Ahref's backlink checker, and most of these websites have low domain ratings and have nothing to do with their business. They're very spammy, unnatural websites.

My first question is, how does this happen in the first place? I'm wondering if the previous website developer used black hat SEO tactics and bought the backlinks to increase keyword rankings. Google Search Console doesn't indicate any manual actions taken against the company's website though.

My second question, will disavowing these low quality links cause more harm than good?
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emuwannabe
Just because there's a large number of backlinks doesn't make it "black hat"
And TBH if there was truly any "black hat" being used, it would have been offsite and there's no way you'll ever find out about it if they were truly good at black hat SEO

To give you an example, I have clients that I get about 600 new links per month. PER MONTH! so 1,500 total is nothing to worry about.

No matter what, DO NOT DISAVOW ANY LINK. That's a surefire way to tank your rankings.

If you are concerned with on-site "black hat" the biggest thing I'd suggest is looking for content stuffing on pages, doorway pages, or pages with a large number of outgoing backlinks that are unrelated.

I've recently been talking to a prospect and that's what they are suffering from – the current (soon to be former) SEO provider stuck a bunch of non-related links in the footer of their site that are hidden. A definite no-no and I'm surprised they haven't been penalized for it yet.

dietpepsisucks ✍️
I should have mentioned that I compared the number of backlinks the website I'm currently auditing to their local, higher-ranking competitors.

Less than 200 high-quality backlinks compared to 1,500 backlinks with very low or non-existent domain ratings. Most of these domains have nothing to do with a small rental company in the midwest, and over 700 of them aren't in English.

Where did these backlinks come from? Is backlink spam even a thing?

emuwannabe

very low or non-existent domain ratings.

How do you determine this? It's not a Google ranking factor.

I mention this because I know most people rely on those fake metrics Domain Authority and Page Authority. But those are made up. You shouldn't be making business decisions on those factors.

The truth is you don't know what value Google has given those sites. And the fact that Google hasn't flagged any indicates that your metrics are not helping much.

I would move on and ignore the links. There are no issues because nothing has been flagged by google.

Whether the previous developer paid for the links or not is also a non-issue.
dietpepsisucks ✍️
It looks like Ahref's Domain Rating and URL Rating metrics are proprietary to their software, so that's a very good point.

I worked in-house for a large corporation for a number of years, and I created a lot of high-quality content specifically for backlinking purposes, and I was taught 'quality over quantity' when it came to backlinking for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Thank you so much for your help!
emuwannabe
The quality over quantity thing is disputable. I know lots of people swear by it, but I've been doing link building for 20 years and you'd be surprised how Google actually applies it's quality rating.

Hint: Its very generous.

It's like the "relevant and related" section of link building. Now of course we want high quality links from relevant and related sites, but that doesn't mean they ALL have to be relevant OR related. Or, to put another way, the relationships between sites/links can be very broad. If you are a roofer you aren't stuck to just going after roofing related links. Really any trade related link is a good link, as are flooring stores, lumber yards and tradespeople directories.

Lopsi

I'm performing a website audit for a rental company in a small college town, and I noticed an unusually large amount of backlinks. 1,500 to be exact.

Okay cool, an SEO audit for an actual real business. Sounds good.

My first question is, how does this happen in the first place?

oh dear.

My second question, will disavowing these low quality links cause more harm than good?

Even worse.

Please just tell the client you've got no idea what you're doing and you're going to cause them more harm than good. You shouldn't be dealing with clients at this point. You're so far in over your head its not funny.

dietpepsisucks ✍️
I was taught 'quality over quantity' when it comes to backlinks. Should I not be disavowing backlinks that lead to broken and spammy websites that aren't related to the industry either way?

I typically don't mess with backlinks too often. I usually focus on writing website content, keyword research, and optimizing technical factors. But thank you for our input! It was very helpful.

Lopsi

I typically don't mess with backlinks too often. I usually focus on writing website content,

I'm not trying to be rude here… but why are you doing a backlink audit if you don't normally mess with backlinks?

brb going to take someones appendix out. No idea how or why but I'll give it a go.
dietpepsisucks ✍️
I spent a number of years creating high-quality content specifically for backlinking purposes. I worked with other SEO professionals and we rarely had issues with backlink spam.

I've read conflicting information all over the place about paid backlinks and backlink spam. Do I keep hundreds of backlinks that lead to broken pages or NSFW sites? Or do I wait until Google penalizes the website
GrumpLife
It's not as easy as you think for Google to give a manual penalty. Most of the time, they just ignore the garbage now. If they penalized every site that had shitty backlinks, it'd be pretty easy to crush your competition.

The best course of action here is to document that the 'bad backlinks' existed before you took the project on. Let the owner know but there's no need to alarm them. Mention it in passing and let them know that you work on a professional level and will not be focusing on that type of backlinking.

CallMenicholi
The number of backlinks has nothing to do with it. 1,500 is not large BTW. Google typically ignores spammy links.

Low Ahrefs Domain Rating (DR) does not necessarily mean spam. You should look at anchor text and the referring domain to make a determination.

Disallow should be done only when necessary. Even toxic links have authority.

You should work on replacing these links.
Ronitn
Just check backlinks quality and anchor text.

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