Cognitive SEO - Unnatural link detection

Cognitive SEO is a tool aiming for backlink analysis in general, but at unnatural link-detection in particular. Every SEO consultant knows that links are very important. However, where in the past every link counted, this is not the case anymore since Google released the Penguin algorithm. This was aimed at fighting links acquired in an unnatural way (buying or trading, link-schemes, etcetera). Especially if you previously worked on getting links in this manner, you might be penalized by Google. Cognitive SEO aims to detect whether the link-profile that a website has is unnatural or not. Also it can help you recover from penalties by collecting the bad links and telling Google to not count these links anymore (disavow) or manually remove them. So, how does the tool work?

Cognitive SEO setup

First, you will have to register your site. Cognitive SEO allows you to try out the tool for 14 days for free (creditcard required, make sure to cancel before the trial ends), so if you only have one or two sites, this may already be good enough for you, otherwise packages start at $99 (25 sites). Then the wizard will take you through some basic steps to allow the tool to crawl your site, like your domain, optional competitors and some basic parameters:

cognitive seo wizard

After you go through these steps, the system needs a minute to crawl your site and the links to it. After it is finished you see a detailed breakdown of the links to your sites in various graphs, like the distribution in follow versus no-follow links, country, top-10 referring countries, domains, etcetera, plus the full list of links of course. All extremely interesting, but for now, let's move forward to the unnatural links detection.

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Unnatural links detection

If you go the to Inbound Links Analyis page you see even more details, and also Unnatural Links Detection section. Initially, this one is empty, as you are requested to qualify the anchor-texts that the system detected for the links to your site. Part of the qualification is done based on the fact that links are usually created when people simply copy your URL and place it on a forum, while link builders would probably use the keywords in the anchor text. An example:

Of course 'unnatural' links often occur without any manipulation involved, but if the ratio of these links is too high, chances are very high that the links have been acquired in an unnatural way, by linkbuilders. For this reason, you first have to qualify your anchor text first, where the separation is between Brand (actual brand or URL) or Commercial (keywords). You do the classification in a keyword cloud, which usually only takes you 2-5 minutes:

anchor text distribution

You see that in the case of 73% is brand (probably because many people link by URL),  9% is commercial and 19% Other (stuff like Click here, Download, etcetera). After at least 80% is qualified as Brand or Commercial you can kick of the Unnatural link detection. Though my profile looked fine, there were a few suspicious links:

link profile cognitive seo jseo2

However, I also checked a site that I thought might be suspicious and it turned out to have a pretty risky profile. The tool mentions that this site is most likely already penalized by Google:

link profile cognitive seo

If you click the coloured area's of the graph, it brings up the Link-navigator. This allows you to easily verify the links manually and decide whether they are really invalid or not. The link-navigator allows you to navigate through this list very quickly, making the process quite efficient:

link navigator

Sites that used to be really active with inappropriate linkbuilding techniques could easily have thousands of inappropriate links. You can now confirm these links as inappropriate. Actually you mark them to be disavowed (read more about disavowing here if you don't know what it means), which basically means to send them to Google and tell them not to count these links as incoming anymore. The links that you think should be disavowed can be downloaded from the tool in the right format, like this:

# Any comments you need

In the end, you will have to go to Google webmaster Tools ( and upload this file. Note that Google warns you that this is an advanced feature that could possibly harm your site if used incorrectly. If all goes well, Google will then process the links, disvow them and hopefully restore trust in your site if it was penalized. This might take quite some time though, based on whether Google activates any (Penguin) updates or not. 

So, to summarize: if you have a site that you think could be affected by unnatural links, taking Cognitive SEO for a test-drive could be a smart thing to do.

About this site is fully built and written by Simon Kloostra, SEO Specialist and Webdesigner from the Netherlands. I have also published a book and blogs for companies like OStraining, TemplateMonster, SEMrush and others.