identify and remove bad backlinks

A comprehensive guide to finding and eliminating bad backlinks.

A bad backlink is an inbound link from irrelevant or malicious websites that can hurt your SEO. They make your website look spammy and destroy your reputation with Google and other search engines. 

You need to get rid of these backlinks before Google hits you with a penalty.

In this blog post, we will talk about bad backlinks. We will show you how you identify them, what makes them harmful, and how you make them disappear. There are 5 steps to finding and removing bad backlinks:

  1. Get a list of all backlinks to your website.
  2. Identify and filter out bad backlinks.
  3. Simply and speed up the above two steps with Semrush.
  4. Reach out to website owners to remove the backlink.
  5. Disavow the backlink.

How to find your backlinks using Google Search Console?

Google Search Console is a free tool that shows how your audience, from Google Search Pages, interacts with your website. It also enlists backlinks to your website that Google detected.

You can find them by clicking on Links in the Google Search Console Menu, and scrolling down till the Top linking sites list.

how to identify bad backlinks

Click on More and select the download format. GSC will export the complete list of your backlinks.

how to identify bad backlinks

Alright, now that you have the list, it’s time to filter out harmful backlinks. 

Most shady backlinks come from websites that look like spam, you can identify them by observing the linking page. If the page takes too long to load, has a poor layout, or low quality content, you can assume that the backlink is toxic. However, it’s safe to look for more signs of a low quality backlink.

Here are 13 tell tale signs of bad backlinks:

1. Linking Website Looks Like Spam

Does the host website have tons of ads? Blog posts full of affiliate links? If yes, there is a chance that the website is spammy. When you see content stuffed with keywords and every blog pointing back to sales pages, you must get rid of backlinks from that website. 

Quality websites take a content-first approach – they offer value to their readers.

2. Backlinks Are From Link-Farm Websites

Link farm websites boost their domain authority by linking to each other. Effectively, these websites got backlinks because of a business deal, not because they offer value. These low-quality websites are collectively known as Private Blog Networks (PBNs.)

Google knows that these websites offer nothing to readers, so even if you get a backlink from them, Google might ignore it. But with Google pressing down on poor quality bad backlinks, it’s wise to get rid of backlinks from link farms.

3. Backlinks Are From Discussion Forum

Not every discussion forum backlink is spammy. But, if your backlink profile is full of discussion forum backlinks, you must get rid of them. Instead, focus on creating top-quality content that generates natural backlinks.

4. Blog Comment Backlinks

Comment links are backlinks from the comments section of a blog post. Before the Google Penguin update, this technique worked wonders. But now, it is an ineffective method of building backlinks.

5. Press Release Backlinks

Press Release backlinks are created by crafting one press release copy and publishing it on many forums. This means the same content is published on multiple websites, backlinks from such sites can get under the black-hat category.

6. Backlinks Are From Fiverr or Similar Services

With Fiverr, you may get poor quality bad links unless you know how to qualify a Fiverr backlinking gig. These backlinks are generated using crappy content and irrelevant websites that add no value to readers or your websites.

If you got any Fiverr backlinks from guest-posting, check if the backlink is worth keeping.

7. Backlinks with over-optimized anchor texts

An anchor text that matches exactly with the blog title is over-optimized. These backlinks may not be harmful, but to make your profile look cleaner, reach out to website owners to edit the anchor text.

8. Backlinks from foreign language sites

If you see a surge in backlinks from Turkish websites, while you write in English, it is a matter of concern. These backlinks, in bulk, indicate a negative SEO attack on your website.

10. Hidden backlinks

In the early days of SEO, it was common to link agency websites from client websites. Often, these backlinks had anchor text of the same color as the webpage background. This caused backlinks to hide in plain sight. The visitors could not see them, but search engines could.

But this is a black-hat SEO method now. If you have such backlinks, you need to get rid of them fast.

11. A large number of backlinks from unrelated websites

Google prefers relevant backlinks to your website. If you own a dog grooming website, you should get backlinks from other dog grooming websites, or dog behavior websites, or dog park websites.

But if you get tons of backlinks from a Tupperware website, Google may ignore those backlinks or penalize you for them.

12. Paid Backlinks

Paid backlinks are a grey-hat SEO technique. Paid backlinking is a way to cheat the Google algorithm. As of now, Google can’t discern between paid and natural backlinks, as they can’t openly peep into your mailbox.

But the recent link spam update shows that Google is putting more focus on quality backlinks. Once they find a way to identify paid backlinks, a lot of websites are losing rankings.

13. Sitewide Footer or Sidebar Links

Another old method of building backlinks was to add a backlink in the website footer that occurs on multiple webpages. It’s obvious that not all those pages are relevant to the backlink, this makes such backlinks black-hat.

Filter Out spammy backlinks to your website.

Alright, now you know what a spammy backlink looks like. You can individually assess every backlink to your website and determine if it’s spam. But it’s a highly time consuming process, plus it’s difficult to identify every toxic backlink, so you may end up removing good backlinks and keeping bad ones!

This can be avoided if you use Semrush. In fact, you can complete the whole backlink audit using Semrush alone! 

Semrush is a powerful tool that can simplify and speed up your backlink audit process. This tool assigns a toxicity score to each backlink to your website, eliminating misjudgment in picking bad backlinks.

You need not spend any time exporting the backlink list. Semrush does that from your right on your dashboard.

Here’s how you can do a backlink audit on Semrush in 8 easy steps.

  1. Head over to Semrush and click on Try it for free and sign-up for a free account.
identify bad backlinks using semrush
  1. Once you sign-up, you can access the Semrush dashboard. Once there, click on Backlink Audit
identify bad backlinks using semrush
  1. Once you enter your domain URL, Semrush will ask you to create a project. Bear in mind, you can have only 1 project with the free account. But since we are auditing your website alone, and not your competitors’, we are okay for now.
  2. You can see your project listed on the backlink audit window as shown below.
identify bad backlinks using semrush
  1. Click on your domain name to open your dashboard.
identify bad backlinks using semrush

Semrush detected 166 referring domains compared to 59 backlinks detected by GSC. This means, Google rejected 107 domains for my website.

Also, Semrush tells me there are 8 toxic domains and 4 potentially toxic domains! This means I skipped 2 time consuming steps of downloading a list of backlinks and identifying spammy ones manually.

  1. Click on ‘8’ – the number of toxic domains to open the complete list.
identify bad backlinks using semrush
  1. Select the backlinks you want to get rid off, and select Remove or Disavow the links. We will discuss both in the next section.
  2. Confirm that all the bad backlinks have been collected in the Disavow tab and export them in txt format for the next steps.

Once you find the bad backlinks to your website, you should first reach out to website owners to have it removed. You can find their email addresses on their website. But some of them keep it hidden, in that case, you can find their contact information on a tool called

Disavowing a backlink is the process of submitting a list of backlinks to Google that you want it to ignore. If you get a manual action or foresee bad backlinks causing one, you must disavow them. And here’s how you do that.

Why not disavow bad backlinks straight away?

Disavow is a handy tool that can help you get rid of bad backlinks, so you might be wondering why to reach out to website owners at all.

Here’s the deal, as per the below tweet, Google wants you to worry about only those backlinks that you actively acquired. For example, if you paid for a guest-post from a spammy website, you want to disavow those backlinks. But such backlinks can be removed by contacting the owner.

How bad backlinks hurt website seo?

Bad backlinks destroys the trust you have with search engines. They can get your website penalized, which results in you losing rankings and organic traffic. You must find and eliminate them the right way.

Where do bad backlinks come from?

There are two main sources of bad backlinks:

  1. Negative SEO attack on your website.

Negative SEO attack is an attempt from unscrupulous individuals or businesses to sabotage your SEO efforts. When someone can’t beat you with Good SEO on their own website, they try to beat you with black hat SEO for your website. They build tons of bad backlinks, most of which Google ignores, but some slip through the cracks.

2. You own SEO efforts

SEO can get very confusing, especially for someone new to the practice. The internet is full of conflicting advice, and it’s easy to fall prey to bad advice. You could have built bad backlinks following reddit comments or other less trust-worthy sources of information.


Irrespective of how you acquired bad backlinks, you want to get rid of them before a manual action hits you.

In this blog post, we covered in detail how to find and remove bad backlinks. Happy to answer any questions you have, put them in the comments below.

Have you faced a negative SEO attack before? What was your experience?


2 thoughts on “How to identify bad backlinks and remove them?”

  1. Hey,

    I’m trying to find an absolute working strategy to remove low-quality profile backlinks. You have shared some amazing strategies, a great way to remove bad profile backlinks and I must try them. Thank you so much for sharing such a great resource. You just save my time and also my website.


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