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How to Identify Bad Backlinks (And Remove Them In 5 Easy Steps)   Identifying and Removing Bad Backlinks (5 Easy Steps)

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‘Bad’ or ‘toxic’ backlinks severely affect your domain authority, making spammy links detrimental to the website’s search engine rankings. Such backlinks undermine the efforts of most website owners and digital marketers who have produced high-quality content and rank high on the results page.

For that matter, take some time to find and remove bad backlinks connected to your site. Otherwise, all the hard work you poured into reaching a high page ranking in Google or other search engines might end up to nothing.

In this article, we need to understand why the process is critical to identify and remove bad backlinks that kill your rankings.

Quality Backlinks vs. Bad Backlinks?

Understanding what quality backlinks are and their role in improving a site’s page ranking will help provide a clear picture of why you should be wary of bad backlinks. This will also provide awareness of why you should take action the instant you find these spammy links pointing to your page or site.

Quality backlinks establish credibility and authority because the links point to a trustworthy site, and these attributes are what users would look for in a high-ranking domain. Essentially, internal and external links pointing to reputable and authoritative sites enhance the link profile of another particular low-ranking website. This strategy eventually results in better page ranking in search engines and improved user web traffic.

On the other hand, bad backlinks come from untrusted, low-quality websites. Spammy links are regarded as a black hat or negative SEO strategy because they are often used to manipulate the ranking systems on search engine results pages (SERP).

Bad backlinks do not have the same effect as a quality link on a website because Google’s current algorithm, Penguin, views these toxic links as irrelevant and spammy. Google Penguin penalises web pages that have spammy backlinks pointing to their page. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, webmasters who use bad backlinks to improve search engine rankings and increase the web traffic of their site may have their domain become non-indexed or banned.

Importance of Removing Bad Backlinks

As mentioned earlier, bad backlinks are perceived as detrimental to the page‘s reputation or site, and Google Penguin also penalises websites that breach the search engines link-building guidelines. If your website has bad links, it can drop your website’s credibility and authority,  affecting its overall ranking in search engines. 

For instance, if you are an SEO professional who creates high-quality and trustworthy content, your main objective is to achieve a first-page ranking to ensure your business success. If there are bad backlinks on your website, however, you may experience difficulty in attaining this goal. To prevent that, you should take the time for a thorough link clean up of all the bad links pointing to your site that may affect your link profile and domain authority.

Identifying Bad Backlinks

Suppose you are keen on complying with Google’s backlinking guidelines. In that case, you should first be able to identify bad backlinks, especially if you are a content creator by trade or an SEO professional. The best strategy against bad backlinks is knowing what they are and why Google hates them. Here’s how to recognise bad backlinks.

Over Optimised Anchor Texts

Anchor texts are an essential part of any link-building strategy because these links not only enhance SEO but also help pass credibility and value, especially if the linked page has high authority. These quality backlinks should come off as natural and organic, just as what every skilled content creator would do to rank high in SERP.

Some SEO specialists fill their content with anchor texts in the form of contextual links to the point where the anchor text disrupts the natural flow of the content. This is often the case in a keyword-rich anchor text because most outbound links sound contrived and unusual. In this case, not only does an over-optimised anchor text negatively affect user experience, but it also undermines the natural flow of the content, making it sound artificial and contrived.

Directory Links

Directory submissions used to be an effective SEO strategy to improve page ranking organically. Some SEO professionals invest in paid directory links because several web directories have high-quality backlinks that pass that much-needed link equity.

Nowadays, however, lots of low-quality directories contain unsafe and spammy websites that will affect your site’s search engine rankings. The possibility of getting penalised is high because Google Penguin considers link directories a black hat and a negative SEO tactic.

Links from Sketchy Websites

You can identify if the backlinks pointing to your site are high-quality backlinks or not just by visibly looking at them. What makes these links spammy is that they are often associated with unsafe and low-authority websites.

Here are examples of sketchy links:

  • Commonly used for spamming – .xyz, .buzz, .tk
  • Look-a-like URL domains – googlre[.]com, t-mogbile[.]com
  • Contain random numbers and/or letters – eqbicguiwcymxo[.]info

Sketchy websites, such as those associated with scamming, do not provide contact information or any means for users to send reviews or testimonials. Google will penalise your site if you do not take action against the dodgy links pointing to your domain.

Links from Penalised Domains

There are several ways Google can penalise site owners because of black hat SEO strategies, such as low-quality backlinks or content. In this regard, be careful not to use links from low-authority websites and penalised domains, which could hurt your link profile and authority. Practising due diligence pays a lot if you want to stay clear of websites and pages that have violated Google webmaster guidelines.

Excessive Links from Irrelevant Pages

Sitewide links and link networks are two approaches to using links from pages that have nothing to do with your content. Sitewide links are a method in which a site owner puts links in the headers and footers of the content, over-utilising the content page. On the other hand, a link network is a black hat strategy in which all the links found on two or more pages belong to the same domain.

Often, both strategies use unnatural and irrelevant links, which is a clear violation of Google’s guidelines. Google performs crackdowns on domains that use such practices because these methods are indications of SERP manipulation.

Other Spammy Backlinks that Can Get You Penalised

There are other types of spammy backlinks that website owners should take note of to avoid penalties. Google considers these as nofollow backlinks, so keep away from these toxic links as much as possible:

  • Private Blog Network and Blog Comments Links
  • Discussion Forum Links
  • Foreign Guestbook Links
  • Social Bookmark Links
  • Press Release Links

5 Steps to Remove Bad Backlinks

Website owners whose domains consistently rank high in Google’s SERP may find a low-quality backlink that can massively affect their ranking. Fortunately, there are processes which users can do to eliminate bad backlinks, and these are as follows:

1. Gather Your Website’s Backlink Data

The first step is to collect all the backlinks that point to your site from other websites. Several SEO online platforms offer software tools that enable website owners to view inbound and outbound backlinks. Among the popular tools that you can use are the following:

  • Google Search Console
  • Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  • Semrush’s Backlink Audit

The Google Search Console is a free and easy-to-use SEO-based online software. Both experienced and first-time content creators can use this software to improve search engine rankings, check vanity clicks and impressions, and view backlinks. Likewise, Ahrefs and Semrush are convenient and straightforward tools for finding bad backlinks and submitting a disavowed file to Google.

2. Identify Bad Backlinks

Before seeking out any toxic backlinks pointing to your site, you should first determine if it has been penalised. Occasionally, a Google employee would conduct a manual review and determine if your site deserves a penalty. If you have received a penalty, here are the things that you need to do:

  1. Secure a copy of the backlinks in Google Search Console.
  2. Identify the toxic backlinks by visiting each URL.
  3. Search for keyword-heavy anchor texts, as these are always sources of bad backlinks.

3. Bad Backlink Removal

In most cases, this is extremely difficult, but it is a necessary step before moving on to the next. For this step, you have to contact the site owners or webmasters of the linking sites. Look for their contact information on the website or send an email with detailed information. The main thing is to request those bad backlinks be removed without threatening them. Indicate the exact location of the backlink you want the site owners to remove. You may send another email if you don’t hear back from them after a few days.

There are a number of excellent email-finding tools that can help you find the site owner’s contact information, and one great tool is the SpyFu — backlink outreach feature. You may also like to try any other alternative email-finding tools such as Hunter.io, Finder Expert, or Snov.io. 

4. Track Upcoming Bad Backlinks & Follow-up Emails

After removing all the bad backlinks in your domain, you will be wise to take a proactive stance to prevent spammy websites from linking to your domain. In this regard, make it a habit of conducting backlink checks using SEO tools to track bad backlinks on a regular basis. 

Sending and Tracking Removal Requests Using Semrush

If you want to send removal requests, you should first remove the bad backlinks. Make sure your Microsoft or Gmail email account is connected to your Semrush account before performing the steps below:

  1. Head to the Remove tab. 
  2. Click the Add option beside the Mailbox. Once you are done, you can send over removal requests simply by clicking the Send button.
  3. Using the “Status” column bar, you can track all sent requests to webmasters and determine the request‘s current status.

Apart from monitoring the status of each request, sending follow-up emails is required in case the webmaster of the linking sites has not taken the necessary action concerning your initial request. This is important, especially if you do not want Google to penalise your website.

5. Submit a Disavow File to Google

Once you are done tracking and monitoring your link removal requests to the webmasters and are unsuccessful in certain instances, Google allows you to disavow those links that you don’t want to be associated with your website and may not be relevant. 

Using Google Search Console

When it comes to disavowing links, you can use Google Search Console (GSC). This is a great way to look at all your backlinks, and you can actually filter these by the toxicity score or spam score of the links.

Before submitting a disavow file to Google, there are some reminders that you should keep in mind, which are as follows:

  • You can only submit one list for every domain property you own, and you should be the domain owner. 
  • Make sure the list is in a text file format — UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII and ends in .txt.
  • The total URL length should not exceed 2,048 characters.
  • The total file size should be no more than 2MB, with no more than 100,000 lines, including blank lines and comment lines.
  • You can include comments by beginning a line with a number (#) sign. Google will ignore the lines that begin with this symbol.

Basically, submitting a disavow file is a simple process. Below is a quick guide on how to submit a disavow file to Google via your Search Console.

  1. Log in to your Search Console account and access your disavow links tool page.
  2. After logging in, choose your site property from the drop-down menu, as shown below. Then, click Disavow Links button.
Disavow links tool page on Google Search Console

If this is your first backlink audit executed on your site:

  1. Click the Choose File button.
  2. Find your .txt disavow file.
  3. Upload it and then hit the Submit button.


Removing bad backlinks is essential in maintaining the site’s ranking in the SERP, overall domain authority, and preventing one’s site from getting penalised. Therefore, identifying spammy links from high-quality backlinks is crucial because several types of bad backlinks can harm your ranking. 

You can perform these actions using Google Search Console. You may also use online SEO platforms, such as Ahrefs and Semrush, which are excellent alternative tools. Even though monitoring and auditing backlinks may be a time-consuming endeavour, removing bad backlinks should be an essential part of your SEO routine. This procedure becomes more of a necessity, particularly for website owners whose domains enjoy the first-page position in Google’s SERP.

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