Bad Links and a Drop in Google Traffic: Is There a Connection
In May 2020, one more online meeting of webmasters with John Mueller, a Google analyst, took place. During it, one of the users drew attention to the connection between bad links and a drop in Google traffic. Let’s consider the relationship between them and Mueller’s commentary on this issue.
The Essence of the Problem
One user noticed that Google Search Console had 500+ backlinks registered to his site from two domains. Links point to each page of the resource about two or three times, but if you open the domains themselves, they turn out to be empty. There were 500 in 1-2 months, but the number of backlinks continues to grow.
In addition to strange links, the user also noted a 50% drop in traffic. He believes there is a connection between the drop in traffic and bad links. Why is this, and how can the situation be fixed? Also, he was surprised that other search consoles do not display backlinks. The user suggested that the Disavow Tool should be used for such links to inform Google that they are unnatural and, thus, improve link traffic.
The Correlation Between Referral Links and Bad Traffic: Review and Commentary by John Mueller
Where do Bad Backlinks on Google Search Console Come From?
Before investigating the correlation between links and traffic, John Mueller answered the first part of the question, which only deals with bad backlinks. He suggested that the pages only look blank to users, and that search engine bots can read them. This practice is called cloaking.
Mueller also added that it could be a technical error. In any case, the answer to the question of whether Google is bad and deliberately creates such traffic for the user’s site is no.
There is a possibility that the user saw referral spam in the Google Search Console report (spambots intentionally wind up negative traffic). The main goal is to switch users to a resource with hosted backlinks. It works like this: in analytics reports, a webmaster sees an unexpected surge in activity and opens its source to check it. The goal has been achieved.
Pages with links turn out to be empty because sometimes this winding up is done using special programs. Thus, backlinks are not placed there or anything else, just the URLs are automatically generated by the program.
The practice of referral spam was common in the early 2000s. Now it is much less frequent.
If the sudden links in GSC are not referral spam or the blank pages are empty, this could be cloaking, according to Mueller.
To check how GoogleBot sees the domain, use the Google Mobile-Friendly test. It is built into Google Search Console. The test is designed to test site optimization for mobile devices, but it also shows how Googlebot sees the page, URL, and loading errors.
How to Report a Bad Link to Google
Referral spam and cloaking are not dangerous for SEO, so reporting bad links to Google is not obligatory. But if you are worried that this is something else or want to play it safe, here is how to do it:
- To report about spam on web pages (including cloaking, hidden text, or hidden redirection), leave a request here.
- To report spam with paid links, click here.
Google does not use these requests to target violators directly but uses them to improve spam detection algorithms and protect search results. You can read more about this and find out where to report in case of phishing, malware on the website, etc. in the official guide from the Search Console Help.
How to Disavow Bad External Links
Bad external links can be disavowed through the Google Disavow Tool. This action will protect you from possible search engine sanctions and traffic drop. Read related articles Google Disavow Tool. How Do I Use the Disavow Links Tool? and Google Algorithms That Affect SEO.
Keep in mind that even if you disavow bad backlinks through the Disavow Tool, they will not disappear from the domains they are located on and will still show up in the Google Search Console report. With this tool, you tell search bots not to accept them, but you will not delete them.
Also, in most cases, search robots determine which links to pay attention to on their own. Therefore, the Disavow Tool is a supportive measure in case Google missed a bad link.
To disavow links, proceed as follows:
- Open Search Console and choose Search Traffic in the left menu. Then click on Links to Your Site.
- Click on Advanced. An overview will open with all backlinks to your site from all domains.
- Click on Download More Links for an example. It is necessary if there are many links, and you need to check each one. This way, you can get the file with all the links. It can be checked manually or loaded into the analyzer to determine if the list contains sites that fall under the Google filter.
- Copy-paste the bad links to the txt file or specify in it the domain from which the backlinks come from (if it is one and you want to disavow all links from it).
- Open Disavow Tool on Google Search Console and upload the txt file.
The link disavowing process can take several weeks after the file is uploaded. Google also warns that using these tools is risky because it can reduce traffic and worsen search results. This warning will appear before uploading the file to the Disavow Tool.
Is There a Correlation Between False Backlinks and the Drop in Traffic?
Mueller stated he saw no correlation between strange links on Google Search Console and the drop in traffic. Therefore, it is recommended to simply ignore them.
Watch the video from the online meeting for the full answer from a leading Google analyst:
Thus, the degradation of the SEO results of a user is due to other reasons. To find out what, it is necessary to investigate the matter. First of all, one should analyze how bad the traffic is and note what changes were made to the pages before the drop in traffic. At least since the beginning of April 2020, there have been changes in the search engine itself. And in May 2020, Google officially announced a large-format search algorithm update.
You can read more information in the related article UPDATE: Google May 4, 2020.