Penalty Recovery Case Study – How To Know If A Backlink Is Good Or Bad? (With Real World Link Samples)

9 min read

Anyone who already had penalty knows the struggle. After you get it there is a long way to a recovery from penalty.

You need to find all sites pointing to your site, analyze sites and in the end analyze links. After you’ve done all that you have two lists – one with the good links and other with the bad links. With that, you can hope that Google will approve your reconsideration and your site will be recovered.

You can hope only if you are sure that you did link analysis well. You are probably wondering ‘How can I be sure?’. Well, you can’t. You will know when the answer from the Google comes.

There are some things that can make it easier such as Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Once you master those guidelines you’ll think you got it, until you see some real examples. Then you’ll realize you are actually still not sure what to do.

In order to help you, we are presenting 5 cases of ‘hard to classify’ links and how we processed them.

This post is for everybody who wants to build links to their site and wants to have a clean link profile. This is not a simple task but this post will help you learn few new things.

You should know that link building and link recognition are skills that you can practice. With more projects behind you, you’ll gain experience and have common sense about it.

1. Domain authority misinterpretation

Domain authority is a number on a scale from 0 – 100 that evaluates website’s relevance. The easiest way to do it is with Open Site Explorer by Moz.  You can add an extension to your web browser and every time you visit some website you will see results instantly.

Here you can see 2 main metrics: DA and PA. DA is domain authority and more about PA (page authority) will be said later.


Domain authority is one of the most important metrics in today’s SEO world and everyone is reaching for the same goal – to get as high DA as possible. Although higher DA doesn’t necessary mean more visitors to your site, it’s generally considered that sites with higher DA have higher quality and offer more value to users. For example, some of the sites with the maximum DA are Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, WordPress and a lot more.

Example 1: High DA

Obviously, many of us would consider that if DA is good, the site is good and link coming from that site is good too.

Let’s say your link is on the site shown in the screenshot below. Domain authority is 57 so you’re assuming it’s good. But take a little bit closer look on this one. There is no navigation or content and design is simple as it can be. Content is thin and the site generally doesn’t offer much value to visitors.


Just to get some feeling how a website with that DA should look here is one site with the similar metrics. Again, the site layout is not a guarantee of quality, but usually is one of the prerequisites.


So how can such bad site have such good DA? The answer is that the metric value is referring to the site domain, while the page we were looking at was hosted on a subdomain (

By copying the link into the Moz’s Open Site Explorer we are getting results that are giving us a different picture. Domain authority really is 57, but we are not quite working with the domain here. Instead, we’re dealing with the subdomain.


Subdomains are generally considered as separate domains in terms of SEO and metric value. In the case above, we actually have a case of a fresh, one-page user generated content on a popular Web 2.0 network. Although MOZ Open Site Explorer shows DA value of the original domain, the truth is that this page/subdomain doesn’t have the credibility of a DA 57 domain.

In short words, this means that even if some domain has metrics that are surprisingly high, it doesn’t mean that the site is necessary good.

Looking strictly at metrics and ignoring all other elements of a link can be deceiving.

There are lots of sites with great metrics that are offering to create a page with user-generated content on their domain.

This kind of pages are popular because they are:

  • Easy to create and use
  • Cheap or free
  • Accessible from anywhere

Not all of that kind of pages are bad, but that’s why it’s important to do additional domain analysis. The fact is, unfortunately, that because of the reasons mentioned above, this type of sites (Web 2.0) are often used for spamming and unnatural link building purposes.

Most commonly used domains for that purposes are:


Even before looking at the link itself, we got to the conclusion that this page is bad, mostly because it’s visible that the content on the site isn’t providing any real value, but it’s build for unnatural SEO purposes only. Consequently, the link should be bad. Just to be sure look for a link.


The link is contextual (placed inside content). The content has no sense, is poorly written (spun), sentences are too long (you should always use shorter sentences to achieve better SEO score) and the link doesn’t flow naturally with the rest of the content.

This link is: BAD

Example 2: Low DA

There can also be a situation where you can have a domain that doesn’t have a very high DA but it’s still good. This is an example of a high-quality business directory.

The design is unique and simple. The page is user-friendly and there are lots of relevant information about the photographer. No signs of unnatural, low-quality content are found.

There is only one link, it’s visible and anchor text is: „Visit site“. The fact that keyword rich anchor text is not used means that the link is not over optimized.


This link is: GOOD

2. Blog comments

Blog comments are one of the easiest ways to create backlinks. This is a free, easy and fun way to do it. The only problem is that their value is (usually) not as big as from other links. The fact that people abused blog comments for unnatural linking purposes for a decade is one of the main reasons why Google developed an algorithm that is cautious with most of the blog comment links.

There are some general tips when it comes to blog commenting:

  • Find relevant sites
  • Leave constructive, informational and topic related comment
  • Use your own name
  • Use your image
  • Put a link to a useful and topic related content


Let’s review few of the cases of blog comment links in more details.

Example 1

The comment is too general. That comment can be used on any site or topic and it’s probably automatically generated. The link is unrelated to the comment, it’s not informative or useful and the keyword is used as anchor text.


There are lots of comments on this page, so it’s possible that this page allows spamming and that link is not doing any good. Also, the link contains keyword rich anchor text, which is a sign to be cautious and double check if the link is natural or not.

This link is: BAD

Example 2

Let’s take a different perspective. Here is a great example of a good comment. Firstly, it’s on a page that has good metrics. Comment is related to a topic and there are only 4 comments. Page owner replies on comments and that means the page is moderated and this kind of comments are relevant. The link is not unnaturally placed and doesn’t have keyword rich anchor text. Instead, the link is on the comment author’s name.

8 9

This link is: GOOD

3. Guest posts

One of the most common problems about guest posts that we came across is content uniqueness. It’s recommended to check each guest post. There are lots of tools that can help but our favorite is Plagiarism Checker. It’s simple but amazing, correct and fast.

This is a preview of checking one of our guest posts before it’s published. It’s obvious that is unique and as such it’s safe for publishing.


Content can be also checked after it’s published. At first, this may seem as a duplicated content.


It could be that guest post is already published somewhere, but it’s not necessary 100% duplicated. Simply click on the „Plagiarized“ and it will show you where it found results on Google. As you can see there is only 1 similar entry so the post can be considered as unique.


What we have to avoid is another possibility – that the content is actually copied in the exactly same form over and over again. This result is showing that phrase is used over and over again and many times in exactly the same content.


It’s also important to mention that duplicated content is not something bad by default, but should be avoided in most cases. A site that hosts exclusively duplicated content is usually considered as a site with no real value for visitors at all. I am mentioning „usually considered“ here as this is still not a rule. An example that proves the opposite is Google – their search engine is showing duplicated content on the search results page (excerpts from other sites), but we can safely claim that Google does offer value to their visitors anyway.


Example 1

This is an example of ‘guest post’. It’s quite short, it really isn’t creative or informative and it’s over optimized since keyword ‘Home renovation’ is used as anchor text.


This link is: BAD

Example 2

This is another example of a guest post with an irresistible title that is providing interesting and useful information. Just for comparison – this post has 850 words and the one before has 120.


The link is in the bio section. It goes naturally with the flow and it’s not over optimized.


This link is: GOOD

4. Business directories

Example 1

This business directory is just listing businesses describing them with one sentence and not providing any real information about them. It seems like this business directory doesn’t have real content and its purpose is just link exchange.


Links from directories can be considered good and bad. A link from authoritative business listing directory, especially if the directory is moderated, is a great link. On the other side, a link from the low-quality directory is considered as bad and this is actually mentioned in Google’s Guidelines (Link Schemes part), where they mention low-quality directory links as an example of unnatural links that may violate their guidelines.

This link is: BAD

Example 2

This is an example of the local business directory. It has good metrics and it’s relevant to the submitted business. There is some useful information such as the name of the business, address, contact information and location on the map.


This link is: GOOD

5. Profile

Profiles are a great way to promote your business in an easy and free way. You can connect directly with your customer, get a fast feedback and create brand awareness. Unfortunately, some people use it just to leave as many links as possible and they often do it automatically, without even knowing where those links go.

Example 1

This online coffee shop has a Twitter profile. You can see they are active, update regularly and their posts are interesting, relevant and related to their business and that is coffee.


The link is in the description part of the profile.


This link is: GOOD


Example 2

This profile was created three years ago. Since then there was no posts created and person spent 4 seconds online. It’s obvious that this profile was created just to leave a link and as such, it has no any value.

The link by itself is actually good. It’s in the contact section of the profile, and it has all characteristics of a good link. As we previously mentioned we are not analyzing just the link but the domain and website and they were the main factors to tell that this link is bad.


This link is: BAD


In order to build your site’s authority and rank well on search engines, make sure you build only good links. Sometimes you’ll probably be tempted to go the easy way and use the opportunity to leave a link to your site which is clearly against Google’s guidelines, because of their price and easiness of getting them. From our experience, this always ends up badly and you’ll get penalty sooner or later, especially if you continue with this practice on regular basis.

Google is constantly evolving and updating their algorithm in a way that they can recognize bad links faster and with higher accuracy. On top of that, spammy links also don’t bring any real and long-term value too. They are usually exactly what they are being called – spam. Our suggestion is to avoid any risks with low-quality links and, instead, focus on building links with real value that will actually make a difference.

Remember to keep track of your backlinks, there is always the possibility that someone else is putting your website’s URL on bad sites just to harm you. It’s called negative SEO and you can read more about the specifics here.

Anamarija Barun

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.


©2022 Point Visible. Point Visible is a part of Diversis Digital. IT magic done by Kudo.

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?