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I have a couple of questions regarding SEO ranking as it pertains to spam sites linking to my site.

I have a niche website that allows people to create their own web pages for free. A couple of years ago, some spammers circumvented my (admittedly weak) security and generated tens of thousands of pages of spam content and tons of links to it from other spam sites. The content has all been deleted, but there are still many, many links to those old URLs with terms about downloading free TV shows, prescription drugs, etc.

These backlinks make up the majority, and I'm wondering if this is hurting my site. I have to guess it is, but I'm not certain.

I think part of the problem is that when the spam pages (or any page, for that matter) are deleted, I simply convert it into a redirect to my home page. This is a 302 redirect, and not a 301. I thought this was a good idea when I implemented it, but perhaps it is not.

So my questions are:

  1. Is it better to show a 404 if a page is missing, or to link to my home page? Will I lose any SEO weight by mass 404-ing the deleted pages (likely tens of thousands of pages)
  2. Would reporting or disavowing these linking pages do me any good?
  3. What is the recommended and proper way to prevent other sites from dragging down your rank (if there is one?)

Thank you.

  • Shouldn't it be 303, not 302? – bjb568 Mar 16 '15 at 23:50
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I'd convert those old (no longer in use links) to 410 status because 410 stands for document completely gone, where as 404 means document not found with the potential chance that it will be found in the future.

The terrible thing with 301 in your case is that your server will have to work twice as hard because it will have to load the special redirection page then it will have to load the home page, where as if you just issue a 410, then the loading needs to happen only one time.

SEO will be an issue if links on your good pages point to the links on the pages you previously removed.

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Is it better to show a 404 if a page is missing, or to link to my home page? Will I lose any SEO weight by mass 404-ing the deleted pages (likely tens of thousands of pages)
For this you have to evaluate wether or not the backlinks are of any worth. Considering they're made for/to spam, I'd get rid of them the fastest way possible, thus the 404 header (or 410 like Mike suggested, no experience with the latter). Yes, SEO changes will occur, but things will settle over time. You might not like it, but it's a whole lot better than your current situation.

Do not redirect them to your homepage. They are worthless links, might have a penalty on them, show the outside world you're not associated with this!
Might be handy to know, you can send a 404-header and still serve a page to the screen:

header("HTTP/1.0 404 Not Found");
echo $template_with_nice_content; // explain the page doesnt exist (anymore)

Would reporting or disavowing these linking pages do me any good?
To my knowledge this doesn't directly affect your SEO score, but at least it might help speed things up.

What is the recommended and proper way to prevent other sites from dragging down your rank (if there is one?)
By doing the things you're doing right now. You can't make them stop, but you can make sure your site responds to these situations the best possible way. Canonnical tags, proper redirects and headers, etc

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As Mike mentioned a 410 is best, but sometimes a 410 can be much harder to do. I suggest a 410 for immediate effect f you can. It is fine to have a 404 however. It takes longer, but a 404 will be treated something like a 410 by Google after a number of retries. Do not 301 redirect these spam links/pages to anywhere except to hell (hell.com is a real site- but that would not be nice). Any 301 is actually re-enforcing the fact that your site is(not was) a spam site even if it is not or does not appear to be so anymore.

If these links come from a manageable list of domain names even a large list, this may be one time I would suggest to someone disavowing links. Generally I tell people to avoid this, but in your case, it may be wise. You can use the file upload option for this- however I do give you this warning, only include the spam link sites and do not get carried away with sites that are marginal. Stick with the clear and most aggressive abusers of your site. With tens of thousands of links to your site, these will negatively effect your link quality ratio especially if you are satisfying the link with a 301 redirect. Disavowing these sites will stop the effect cold. But again, use with caution. I would not advise this for someone with hundreds of links. But tens of thousands is extreme.

I can assure you that this has effected your ability to rank in the SERPs. However, this is solvable. Just let the links 404 and disavow the worse of the worse to begin. It will take some time, but in just a couple of months, I suspect you will see a difference.

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You can try multiple method to perform better.

  1. 410 status : Completely Gone. It will be never live status
  2. Request those urls to be deindexed from Google. It is slow and painful task. Anyway I could write a script for you so you can speedup those process by a good factor of 10
  3. Generate useful content. Develop content authority and improve business segment leadership
  4. Optimize your website for SEO
  5. Make it for human,not for machines.

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