Friday, October 16, 2009 at 4:53 PMWebmaster level: Intermediate/Advanced
Webmasters who check their incoming links in Webmaster Tools often ask us what they can do when they see low-quality links. Understandably, many site owners are trying to build a good reputation for their sites, and some believe that having poor-quality incoming links can be perceived as "being part of a bad neighbourhood," which over time might harm their site's ranking.
If your site receives links that look similarly dodgy, don't be alarmed... read on!
While it's true that linking is a significant factor in Google's ranking algorithms, it's just one of many. I know we say it a lot, but having something that people want to look at or use—unique, engaging content, or useful tools and services—is also a huge factor. Other factors can include how a site is structured, whether the words of a user's query appear in the title, how close the words are on the page, and so on. The point is, if you happen to see some low quality sites linking to you, it's important to keep in mind that linking is just one aspect among many of how Google judges your site. If you have a well-structured and regularly maintained site with original, high-quality content, those are the sorts of things that users will see and appreciate.
That having said, in an ideal world you could have your cake and eat it too (or rather, you could have a high-quality site and high-quality backlinks). You may also be concerned about users' perception of your site if they come across it via a batch of spammy links. If the number of poor-quality links is manageable, and/or if it looks easy to opt-out or get those links removed from the site that's linking to you, it may be worth it to try to contact the site(s) and ask them to remove their links. Remember that this isn't something that Google can do for you; we index content that we find online, but we don't control that content or who's linking to you.
If you run into some uncooperative site owners, however, don't fret for too long. Instead, focus on things that are under your control. Generally, you as a webmaster don't have much control over things like who links to your site. You do, however, have control over many other factors that influence indexing and ranking. Organize your content; do a mini-usability study with family or friends. Ask for a site review in your favorite webmaster forums. Use a website testing tool to figure out what gets you the most readers, or the biggest sales. Take inspiration from your favorite sites, or your competitors—what do they do well? What makes you want to keep coming back to their sites, or share them with your friends? What can you learn from them? Time spent on any of these activities is likely to have a larger impact on your site's overall performance than time spent trying to hunt down and remove every last questionable backlink.
Finally, keep in mind that low-quality links rarely stand the test of time, and may disappear from our link graph relatively quickly. They may even already be being discounted by our algorithms. If you want to make sure Google knows about these links and is valuing them appropriately, feel free to bring them to our attention using either our spam report or our paid links report.