Getting a penalty from Google can mean lower search engine rankings, your site’s removal from its search index–even the death of your business. As Google continues to step up its war on spammy, over-optimized links, businesses must be more vigilant than ever in protecting their link profiles.

The search giant readily admits links will become devalued over time as Google finds other ways of gauging the relevance and popularity of a webpage. However, links are still very much an indicator of how high a page should rank today. Google has its hands full trying to sort out the good links from the bad and some webmasters will inevitably be caught in the crossfire.

How can you keep your link profile clean and avoid penalization in the upcoming SEO apocalypse?

First, it’s important to understand the different types of trouble you can get your site into, intentionally or completely by accident.

Websites can become devalued in Google’s eyes if the algorithm picks up a problem. In this case, you need to find the offending links and take action.

However, Google is also known to take manual action against websites with unnatural link profiles. In that case, your clean-up might also require a request for reconsideration–basically, a mea culpa to let Google know you’re sorry and have cleaned up your act.

Use these four tips to ensure your link building efforts haven’t landed you in hot water and that your link profile is clean heading into the next algorithmic updates:

1. Clean Up: Remove or Disavow Spammy Links

The Penguin algorithm update first launched in April 2012 (and has been updated several times since), to specifically target unnatural-looking link profiles and link schemes.

What makes a link look bad to Google? Unfortunately, it may not be something you were even consciously aware of doing, which is why everyone needs to review their link profile for red flags like these:

Paid links using exact match anchor text.
Links coming from comment or forum spam.
Links from guest posts on less-than-reputable websites.
Spammy directory links pointing to your site.
Keyword stuffing in inbound and outbound links.
Links from sites flagged for malware or other malicious activity, etc.

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