How Google reads your backlinks

People spend a lot of time scratching their heads, trying to understand how Google reads their backlinks.  They want to know what links they should seek to their websites that are still “safe”.

With all the turmoil over unnatural links and Penguin penalties over the past year or two, ever more people are sorting through their backlink profiles trying to understand which links to keep and which to try to cull.  What confuses many people the most is why some links would be valued over others.  “Why doesn’t Google like the links I worked so hard to build?”

The problem is that people are used to assuming that:

  • Every link is good.
  • High PageRank is what counts the most
  • Automation is good, because more is better.

These are wrong assumptions.  Remember that Google looks at each link to your website as a vote of confidence or a recommendation.  And not all recommendations are of equal value.  For instance, suppose you need headache medication…


Add the Infographic above to your site!


If one person recommends a headache medication, you might be inclined to try it. But if several people recommend a different headache medication…yes, exactly.  More is better.

But wait!  What if a doctor recommends a different headache medication.  Yup, authority trumps quantity.  And if several doctors recommend a completely different headache medication…exactly!  More is better, after all, especially when it comes with authority.

Now, what if the drug pusher around the corner offers his recommendation?  No thanks.  But what if a dozen drug pushers all recommend the same headache medication?  Of course you’ll take their advice, because more is better, right?

No way!

And Google is at least as smart as you are.  If hundreds of spammy sites link to your website, that is not a better recommendation than if one spammy website links to yours.  The more “drug pusher” websites recommend your website, the more likely Google is to label your website…

So, just as you would not want a throng of drug pushers recommending your product, make sure there is no throng of spammy websites recommending your website. Google will see more value in your website if inbound links come from trusted or – even better – highly trusted sources.


  1. Thanks for sharing your twist on Google Backlinks. It’s funny….. but true. We give you a 9 on SEO creativity.

  2. Great illustration to make the point. Thanks for the embed code. Grabbed it. 🙂

  3. I urge people not to over-react to the spam team at Google. Google selectively enforces. They tell three people with links in comments on GrowMap that comment links are evil while valuing thousands of other comment links of the same type.

    Remember that the most important factors are RELEVANCE and QUALITY. You want most of your incoming links to be in RELATED content on high quality sites. Some links from quality sites in unrelated content are ok, but not optimum. If you want to comment in blogs try to comment mostly in posts related to the links you want to get.

    While some are so afraid of Google they no longer leave links in excellent comments they leave on blogs they regularly read, I believe the value of building relationships and allowing that other blog’s readers to see what is important to you (because it may also be important to them!) outweighs the potential risk that Google might single your comments out as “bad links”.

    The primary reason any site gets an “unnatural link warning” is because they have too many of all the same kinds of incoming links (all comments, all articles, etc.) or they have too many links with exactly the same anchor text.

    Remove links from obviously spammy, MFA, and poor quality sites and build more of whatever kinds you don’t already have. Don’t spend too much time worrying about removing every link. Do remove the ones Google specifically complains about.

    And most of all, do NOT just disavow links from other sites because it is highly likely that Google will us those to penalize them in the future. That is what companies that rely on algorithms do. It is why quality bloggers get blacklisted by Akismet and why disavow “votes” may make our sites disappear in the future.

    If you are afraid of Google or any other authority you are a slave. I choose freedom over slavery. If that causes Google to penalize me so be it. You can not protect yourself from that by being afraid and not doing what you need to do to be found and build relationships. Even the most innocent sites get slapped at times.

    Do what you need to do that is ethical and know that building relationships and incoming links are so important that you can not let Google scare you out of doing what you must do. Hedge your bets by focusing on building a local component into your site or ideally creating or joining a geo-targeted group blog. You can contact me for more information on how to do that.

  4. I’m with Gail on this one. I have sites that were ranked well at one point and now don’t get the traffic they used to and no idea what’s changed. Google’s even taken away the one tool we might have used to get some kind of idea of what’s going on.

    I don’t fear Google as much as I want to maintain my website for quality. So there are some types of links I won’t accept and some types of comments I won’t accept, and I’m always removing anything that looks like spam. That just makes sense. But I’m also getting email from companies that either paid someone to comment on some of my blogs or had guest posts put on the blog that suddenly scares them, even though it’s in the same niche, requesting that I remove their information.

    Frankly it’s a bit much. Meanwhile, I like how you categorized how Google does this process. I wonder if one of my problems is that I added my newsletter articles onto my server but they’re not linked to anything, and maybe search engines don’t like that. Something to think about one of these days.

  5. Relevant, authority is key to better rankings with google. Slow submissions get you a long way. It’s just better to go slow then to rush and spam links. Thanks for the post, keep up the good work.

  6. Hi David

    This is really very relevant information about Google’s strategy about ranking a website. While checking for back links Google also checks the authority of the website and the relevancy of the website to your site. So one should consider these aspects while creating back links to his/her site.

  7. Hello David,

    Interesting to read with this great example making me more clear about the backlinks. Google always take care about spammy websites and the websites having good online reputation. Thanks for the guide. I am always trying to escape myself from this spammy sites or less reputed.

    Have a nice day 🙂

    ~Ganesh Narayan Gupta

  8. Spammy websites= drug pushers. LOL!
    Love it! 🙂

    It’s a really interesting infographic on how to better understand Google judgment when rankings sites based on backlinks.

    I know my oldest site needs a lot of medical medication! 😉

    Thanks for sharing David.

  9. A hearty LOL on the drug pusher note David and hey, dead on man. Each backlink carries a different level of juice. Go with the trusted ones. Awesome post man, very entertaining and you drilled home the point dude.


  10. For the past week or so I’ve been looking into back linking my website. However I’m afraid of doing anything because I don’t want my website to be dropped by Google. The hardest part is finding a link building program that is white hat SEO. I have seen sites that offer 1000’s of backlinks with high PR for really cheap, but I don’t trust websites like that. You know that old saying…”if it’s too good to be true…

  11. Exactly, Jim. You have to earn the links. If you buy a “package”, you get a “package”, not the real links the search engines are looking for.