How To Identify Bad Backlinks and Remove Them?

Bad backlinks come in different forms. In most cases, they are spammy links that connect to your website and end up making your website look unprofessional.

Backlinks have become an important factor in website ranking. That's what 72 % of SEO experts say. A good backlink profile improves your website authority, credibility, ranking, and organic traffic. Also, it reduces your chances of being penalized by Google.

Since link building and content quality are among the important signals for a website ranking, digital marketers and SEO experts need to take firm action against bad backlinks, as they can harm a website.

How To Identify Bad Backlinks and Remove Them?

In this article, we will show you how to identify bad backlinks, what makes them harmful, and how to get rid of them.

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What Are Bad Backlinks?

In simple terms, bad links are backlinks that lower Google's opinion of your website. These links can be labeled as spammy, low quality, toxic and unnatural, and the effect is the same whether you created them or not.

This is due to Google's algorithms and the importance they place on link quality. Google has been at the forefront of backlink analysis since its inception in the 1990s. Prior to that, many search engines generated results based solely on keywords.

This meant that if a page contained the same keyword repeated hundreds of times, it was likely to rank higher than a page with quality content on the same topic. But the founders of Google thought there had to be a better way. So they developed a search engine that evaluates links and anchor text as well as keywords.

It considers backlinks as votes of confidence. In other words, the more links a website has pointing to it, the more trustworthy and respectable it is. That's why Google uses advanced algorithms to determine whether a link is good (i.e., a true vote of confidence) or bad (i.e., created with the intent to manipulate the system). 

How To Identify Bad Backlinks

Given the size of the web, the challenge of finding all the low-quality backlinks leading to your website is considerable. Fortunately, there are plenty of free and paid tools that can help you turn this monumental task into a simple one.

If you have the resources to pay for a top-notch tool, Backlink Analytics by Semrush is definitely one of the best. As of May 2021, it had 36 billion backlinks, making it the largest of all available databases.

Simply enter the domain of your choice to get a wealth of detailed information about its backlink profile: 

How To Identify Bad Backlinks and Remove Them?

In the upper right corner of the report, you will see the overall toxicity score; this measure will show the number of bad backlinks in your website profile.

Looking for a free tool instead? Moz Link Explorer and Ahrefs' Backlink Checker are fantastic and effective options, although none of these tools are backed by a database as comprehensive as Semrush's: 

How To Identify Bad Backlinks and Remove Them?

Whichever tool you choose to use, you will have taken an important step toward identifying and removing bad backlinks that tarnish your website's reputation.  

How To Remove Bad Backlinks?

If you're lucky, your website won't have any toxic backlinks pointing in its direction. But if your backlink analysis reveals the presence of bad backlinks, the next step is to get rid of them.

Note that Google claims to already be able to determine which links are to be trusted without outside intervention, but you are still free to remove bad backlinks yourself for peace of mind.

You can do this in two ways: 

- Request bad backlinks removal: If you discover that your website has backlinks on poor quality directories or a similar location, you can simply contact the website owner and request that all links to your site be removed (or at least qualified with the nofollow value).

- Disavow backlinks: If another website owner doesn't want to remove the bad backlinks in question, or if there are simply too many bad backlinks to request the removal of all of them, you can disavow the links yourself. Google offers a simple way to do this, as explained in the link above, as does Bing.

15 Bad Backlinks You Need To Avoid At All Costs

You've done your due diligence in learning what bad backlinks are, how to identify them and how to remove them. Now you can take it to the next level by discovering 15 specific types of bad backlinks you should always avoid.

1. Comment spam

It's not uncommon for people to link to their or someone else's website in the comments of blogs and articles, and it's entirely possible to do so naturally and without spam.

But when the comment sections of multiple websites are filled with keyword-stuffed links back to one site, search engines start to take notice.

For example, a non-spammy comment on an article about page speed optimization might look like this:

Great article, Jeff! I agree with your point about WordPress plugins, and I actually covered the same topic on my own blog if you want to check it out.

Conversely, a spammy comment on the same article might look like this: 

Thank you good article best WordPress plugins guide WordPress for Dummies Advanced WordPress SEO

And even if a comment doesn't look like spam, it can cause concern if it's repeated over and over in the same way.

The lesson: Only link to your website in comment sections when it makes contextual sense, don't repeat the same comments on multiple websites, and never stuff your anchor text with keywords. 

2. Forum spam

Unnatural links have also been known to appear in discussion forum comments. For example, users may add links filled with keywords in their signature.

These types of bad backlinks are almost identical to those in the comments section and can appear on any type of discussion forum, whether it's a large social network or a niche website.

The lesson: If you are active on industry discussion boards, don't put keyword-optimized links in your signature or in forum posts. 

3. Paid links that pass PageRank

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with buying or selling pay-per-click (PPC) ads that contain links that do not pass PageRank to the ad buyer.

But if you buy or sell links that do pass PageRank, you risk a penalty.

The lesson: Don't buy or sell links that pass PageRank, and always use a qualifying attribute (e.g. rel="sponsored") to tell Google that a link is paid and not organic.

4. Excessive link exchanges

Webmasters are no strangers to the "if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" concept. Practically since the dawn of the search engine, they have found ways to help each other get higher rankings.

This can be done in the form of link exchanges, i.e. agreements between webmasters to create links to each other's sites.

This practice is not bad in itself, but when it is practiced excessively, it can be considered a link scheme. In fact, excessive link exchanges go against Google's webmaster guidelines.

The lesson: be careful not to overdo it when exchanging links with other websites.

5. Excessive number of guest post links

Guest posting can be a great way to get your name out there and expand your brand's reach, but it's not the best idea if you're looking to increase link counts.

This is because Google considers excessive guest post links to be manipulative of its algorithms, especially when they contain keyword-rich anchor text.

The lesson: Don't include links with keyword-rich anchor text in guest posts on external websites. 

6. Links embedded in headers or footers

Some unscrupulous website owners may think they can fool Google's algorithms by embedding links in the headers or footers that appear on every page, but the search engine algorithms are smarter than that.

If such practices are discovered in the headers or footers of a website, Google is likely to penalize it.

The lesson: Don't include links to your website in the headers or footers of other sites.

7. Links included in contracts

Google places a premium on genuine links. Not surprisingly, it does not approve of contractual links.

For example, a site could add the inclusion of a link to its terms of service and not allow the other party to qualify the link as they wish.

The lesson: never try to force your backlink profile up by including mandatory links in contractual agreements and not allowing them to be qualified.

8. Links to press releases

For many companies, press releases are a crucial part of their marketing strategy. Google knows this, so there's nothing inherently wrong with publishing them.

But when press releases start including links that pass PageRank, Google doesn't listen. As the company's own John Mueller said in a 2018 Office Hours stream:

We try to ignore links from things like press releases because we know that companies generally issue their own press releases. So the links in them are essentially placed by themselves.

As with all types of bad backlinks, you generally don't have to worry if you have a few links leading to your website from press releases. But if your press releases are widely distributed across many sites and each one is riddled with keyword-optimized links, you need to quickly remove those links before your website ranking suffers.

The lesson: Don't issue press releases with links that pass PageRank, especially on a large scale. Instead, add the nofollow value to all press release links.

9. Links embedded in widgets

Just like links embedded in headers or footers, links embedded in widgets have no chance of fooling Google's algorithms.

For example, a site may try to get a large number of new backlinks by hiding links to itself in a useful widget designed to be used by other sites (such as a visitor counter or carousel). However, Google will at best ignore these links and at worst penalize the site responsible.

The lesson: if you create widgets intended to be used by other sites, let their quality speak for itself and resist the urge to include links to your own site. 

10. Links from private blog networks

If you're not sure what a private blog network (PBN) is, just imagine a large-scale reciprocal link exchange. In other words, a PBN is a group of websites that includes massive amounts of backlinks to each other.

As Semrush explains, PBNs often use expired domains in order to capitalize on their already established authority. Unscrupulous SEOs who engage in PBNs will also attempt to conceal their actions by:

- Switching hosting providers
- Using different registrars
- Using different domain extensions

Such tactics never work for long, and can only result in penalization and a drop in rankings.

The lesson: stay far, far away from PBNs if you want to keep your reputation and rankings intact. 

11. Links from low-quality directories

Just as phone books once helped people find plumbers or local restaurants, online directories now allow users to discover businesses and sites of all kinds. But since their inception, these directories have fallen prey to spammers who try to gain an unfair advantage in the SERPs by adding their sites to as many as possible.

Directories that are mostly filled with links from these spammers are considered low quality, as are the sites they link to. So it makes sense that Google doesn't really favor sites whose backlink profile is filled with links from low-quality directories.

The lesson: Don't try to get backlinks from low-quality directories, and prefer reputable directories like Yelp and Google My Business.

12. Links created with automated programs

Automation is fantastic for many things related to SEO, from analyzing metrics to diagnosing site performance issues. But one thing it's not good for is generating high-quality backlinks.

These links can be placed in comment sections, forums, low-quality directories, or other places, and none of them will improve your website ranking.

So, while many link generation programs exist, Google is well aware of them and refers to links created using these programs as link schemes.

The lesson: Avoid using automatic programs to generate backlinks to your website - Google will soon notice. 

13. Social bookmarking sharing links

As Sprout Social puts it, social bookmarking is "the process of tagging a website page with a browser-based tool so you can easily visit it again later." As the web has grown, massively popular communities (think Reddit and Pinterest) have been built around this practice.

But when sites over-publish their own links on bookmarking sites (especially low-quality ones), it can hurt rather than improve their rankings.

This doesn't mean you should avoid bookmarking sites, but rather that you should improve your Pinterest SEO skills instead of creating hundreds of low-quality pins that link back to your site.

The lesson: make sure your website presence on bookmarking sites is authentic and focused on engagement, not on spamming as many links as possible. 

14. Excessive links to the guestbook

Guestbooks may be a relic of the early days of the Internet, but they still exist in some form. For example, a site's homepage may have its own comments section or allow visitors to leave public comments.

Either way, Google knows that when a website has many links from such guestbooks, they are generally not genuine and do not deserve to be considered in its rankings.

The lesson: Only use guestbooks for the purpose they were designed for and certainly don't use them as a place to spam links.  

15. Links from irrelevant pages

If you know the basics of how Google's algorithms work, you also know that relevance is an important element.

However, Google doesn't just evaluate relevance when matching search results to users' queries; it also takes it into account when determining the impact of backlinks on a website ranking.

For example, if a site dedicated to legal services receives a large number of backlinks from sites selling low-quality electronics, Google will quickly realize that these links are probably not legitimate votes of confidence.

The lesson: Don't try to get backlinks from sites that are unrelated to yours.

Conclusion About Removing Bad Backlinks

Every SEO specialist wants to master the art of advanced link building to get better website ranking and more visitors, but bad backlinks from low quality sources are not the way to go.

To truly refine your SEO strategy, it is in your best interest to learn what bad backlinks are and how to eliminate them. Trust us, your rankings and website authority will thank you in the end.

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