How to Clean Up Unnatural Links from Freehost Microsite Spam

In the past, freehost microsite spam links were commonly used to build effective links to a site. This type of linking is definitely against Google’s quality guidelines; we know that Google can see these, and given a manual review, they treat them as unnatural.

What we don’t know is whether or not the Penguin algorithm can find this kind of link and use it to lower the level of trust in which Google has in your link profile. My gut instinct from reviewing the link profiles of hundreds of sites is that the current iteration of Penguin is not terribly good at devaluing this kind of link. However, there is a good chance that when Google eventually updates the algorithm, many sites will not only see a drastic drop in rankings, but will find themselves suppressed by Penguin until they clean up and go through another refresh.

What is Freehost Microsite Spam?

There are a hundreds of webhosts, such as WordPress and Blogspot, that will allow you to create a website for free. A common SEO tactic in the past would be to create several of these free websites and then link back to your main site using keyword-rich anchor text.

Here’s a fictitious example of a Toronto Lawyer who is using this technique in order to rank well:


Each of these websites would contain one or more short articles that link back to the main site using a keyword. In some cases, the spam would be more elaborate where the freehost sites could link to each other, as well, in order to create sort of a link wheel. And in some cases, the SEO company who created these links would link to the freehost microsites from high PageRank sites that were obtained by buying up expired domains.

My goal here is not to tell you how to create freehost spam. Trust me. Google is doing all it can to catch any tricks that are helping people rank unnaturally. If your main site is one that you can’t afford to have penalized or algorithmically demoted for months and months, then you don’t want to risk trying this tactic.

But what do you do if you have this type of link and want to get rid of them?

How to Find These Links

Although Google has given me this type of link as an example of an unnatural link many times, it has also given me freehost microsite spam links unlisted by Webmaster Tools or any of the known backlink checkers. For example, for one site, we removed links like this:

But it turned out that Google was also seeing these sites, which we could not find in our compiled list of backlinks:

In this case, a former SEO company had made thousands of freehost microsites in order to build links for their client. We were able to find about 10 percent of those using Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs, Majestic and Open Site Explorer.

If you know this practice has been used in the past, here are some ways that you can find these:

  1. Ask your SEO company for a list. I’ve had some clients that have been able to contact their previous SEO company and ask if they had a list of sites that they had created. For some of these, the previous SEO company was able to provide us with a spreadsheet containing login info for each freehost. We were then able to log in to the majority of these sites and disable the microsite. 
  2. Check your Google Analytics Referral Traffic. Click on “Acquisition > All traffic > Referrals” and export as much as the data as you can. You can scour the list of referrals to your site to see whether you can find any possible freehost microsite spam. Of course, not all of these microsites will have generated clicks to your site, but some of them may have.
  3. Do some crazy spreadsheet work. This option is complicated, but it works well. The idea is to create a list of known freehost microsites, a list of possible keywords that would have been used to create these sites and then concatenate the lists to generate one big list of possible microsites that would have been created. You can then use a tool like Scrapebox to crawl each of these domains to see if they exist and whether they link to your main site.

I don’t expect many of you to use No. 3, but it’s worth trying if you know that you’ve got a massive mess of microsites and you can’t find them all.

How to Get Rid of These Links

If you’re not dealing with a manual penalty, an easy option is to simply disavow all of these on the domain level. In a previous article, I wrote about whether or not we should be removing or disavowing links for Penguin recovery or prevention. My philosophy is to remove what I can easily remove and then disavow the rest. Many of these freehost microsite spam links are ones that you can easily remove.

Many of the freehosts will have a place where you can report spam. Weebly is awesome for this because they allow you to report spam sites on their platform in bulk. Other freehosts like Blogspot and WordPress will only take one URL per form submission so it can take some time to report all of your spam sites if you have quite a few. Again, this is a good task to outsource. These sites will sometimes be removed quite quickly, but other times, unfortunately, these requests appear to get ignored.

If I am removing these links for a site with a manual penalty, I’ll take screenshots of my form submissions when reporting these sites as spam. I’ll share these with the webspam team, telling them that we couldn’t contact the site owner for these, as they are spam, but that we were indeed taking measures to remove the sites. Of course, in these situations, if I am actually able to log in to the site and remove it, I’ll do that instead of reporting them as spam.

And then, I disavow. Make sure you disavow on the domain level. If you know you have a whack of spam from one freehost, you can disavow that whole domain. For example, you can include this line in your disavow file to disavow all of your spam from any Weebly subdomain:

Why Should You Be Cleaning These Links Up Now?

This type of spam linking is very common and used to work well. I believe that Google is getting better at discounting this type of link, but I still see a lot of sites for which it appears to be working. Those site owners are often reluctant to remove those links because they may be currently helping.

But if I am correct and the next update of Penguin is able to find these links, you could be in serious trouble. One could argue that you could simply remove those links. However, if you are hit by Penguin, your rankings will be suppressed until the next Penguin update, which could take a very long time. Even then, there is no guarantee that you will recover even if you do a good cleanup.

What are your thoughts on freehost spam? Do you think Penguin will target this type of link in the future? Do you have any additional tips to help site owners deal with these? Leave a comment below.

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