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 show you how to identify bad backlinks, what makes them harmful, and how you make them disappear. Here’s the step-by-step process of identifying bad backlinks:
- Export the list of all backlinks listed in Google Search Console and Ahrefs
- Check if linking domains look shady or qualify as a link farm
- Looks for backlinks from forums or blog comments
- Identify press release links
- Highlight backlinks with over-optimized anchor texts
- Keep an eye out for domains that pump multiple backlinks
- Looks for these signs of a bad backlink
- Filter out spammy backlinks and move into a new spreadsheet
1. Export the list of all backlinks listed in 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 detected backlinks to your website.
You can find the list by clicking on Links in the Google Search Console Menu, and scrolling down till the Top linking sites list.
Click on More and select the download format. GSC will export the complete list of your backlinks.
Alright, now that you have the list, it’s time to filter out harmful backlinks.
2. Check if linking domains look shady or qualify as a link farm
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.
On the other hand, 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. Looks for backlinks from forums or blog comments
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.
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.
4. Identify press release links
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.
5. Highlight 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.
6. Keep an eye out for domains that give out multiple backlinks
Some domains may give multiple backlinks – one each from different category pages. Essentially, these domains create many different pages on closely related topics and link to your website. This fills your backlink profile win low-quality bad links that may impact your rankings negatively.
7. Looks for these signs of a bad backlink
1. Backlinks look like they were generated through Fiverr
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Multiple 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Slow loading pages
If the page takes too long to load, has a poor layout, or low quality content, you can assume that the backlink is low quality. A quality website has it’s technical SEO taken care of and loads within 5 seconds. You can confirm the speed using Google pagespeed insights.
8. Filter out spammy backlinks and move into a new spreadsheet
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 bad 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!
Do a backlink audit using Semrush
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.
- Head over to Semrush and click on Try it for free and sign-up for a free account.
- Once you sign-up, you can access the Semrush dashboard. Once there, click on Backlink Audit
- 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.
- You can see your project listed on the backlink audit window as shown below.
- Click on your domain name to open your dashboard.
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.
- Click on ‘8’ – the number of toxic domains to open the complete list.
- Select the backlinks you want to get rid off, and select Remove or Disavow the links. We will discuss both in the next section.
- Confirm that all the bad backlinks have been collected in the Disavow tab and export them in txt format for the next steps.
Remove bad backlinks
It’s time to get rid of bad backlinks. There are 2 ways to do that:
1. Reach out to website owners to remove the backlink.
Once you find the low quality 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 hunter.io.
2. Disavow Bad Backlink.
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 low quality 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.
Random links collected over the years aren’t necessarily harmful, we’ve seen them for a long time too and can ignore all of those weird pieces of web-graffiti from long ago. Disavow links that were really paid for (or otherwise actively unnaturally placed), don’t fret the cruft.
— 🧀 John 🧀 (@JohnMu) January 25, 2019
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.
Where do bad backlinks come from?
There are two main sources of low quality 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 low quality backlinks following reddit comments or other less trust-worthy sources of information.
What is the best way to remove low quality backlinks?
Identifying bad backlinks using an SEO tool before submitting them to Google’s disavow list is the the simplest way to get rid of low quality backlinks. Do it manually might take a long time and be prone to errors.
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 detect and remove low quality backlinks using Google and Semrush. 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?
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.
Thank you Sarah.