What is the one thing that most digital marketers and website owners aspire for? They all want to take their websites to the top of search engine results. High-quality backlinks are essential to achieve that. Which means that you need to audit your backlinks and remove bad backlinks regularly.
In the past, website owners managed to achieve high search engine rankings just by getting a large number of backlinks. They got away with black hat tactics such as sponsored, toxic, and spammy backlinks. Today, websites with suspicious and unnatural backlinks get penalized and are often dragged to the bottom of search engine results.
Which means that you need to remove bad backlinks that could negatively affect your site authority and search rankings. Before we discuss how to remove bad backlinks, let us understand why this process is so critical.
Why is It Important to Remove Bad Backlinks?
Backlinks are a crucial aspect of your SEO strategy. When your website attracts several backlinks from various authoritative websites, it acts as a stamp of approval. It tells search engines that others perceive you as a trusted source of information. This, in turn, helps them decide if your website is worthy of a high ranking.
The quality of backlinks has become all the more crucial since the introduction of Google Penguin in 2012. The main purpose of Penguin is to identify and penalize websites that indulge in dubious backlink practices.
When your website has numerous bad backlinks, it puts your credibility into question. It indicates that you have resorted to unnatural or suspicious means to acquire those links.
As a result, it triggers Google’s spam filter and may get your website penalized. Your website is likely to experience a massive drop in search engine rankings and may even get banned by Google altogether. This can be detrimental to the growth of your business and makes it necessary to remove bad backlinks coming to your site.
In 2016, Google made Penguin a part of their core search algorithm. It now monitors websites in real-time to detect any possibility of spam. This has made it all the more crucial for website owners to remove bad backlinks regularly.
Before you learn how to do that, you should know the different types of bad backlinks, so you know which ones to remove.
Types of Bad Backlinks
What distinguishes bad backlinks from good ones is the quality of the linking website. In simple terms, bad backlinks can be defined as links to your website coming from suspicious, irrelevant, and/or low-authority websites. They can be grouped into different categories depending on the type of website they are coming from.
Here are the different types of bad backlinks you are likely to encounter:
Links Coming from Link Networks
A link network refers to a group of connected websites. They are usually built for the sole purpose of providing you with a large number of backlinks. They are disguised as blogs or forums but have very few backlinks pointing to any of their posts or threads.
Also, they are likely to have a huge amount of duplicate content and cross-linking among sites.
When your website receives backlinks from such link networks, search engines perceive it as a suspicious activity. Also, search engine spiders often de-index link networks and devalue the links associated with them. In fact, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines warn against the use of such link schemes.
These are links that appear on all pages of a website. Typically, they appear in the header, footer, and sidebar section of a website. For instance, websites developed on WordPress contain a link to WordPress.org in the footer section.
Image via TechCrunch
In the pre-Penguin era, this technique was extensively used by website owners to earn many backlinks quickly. However, it is now considered unnatural and can get your website penalized. It’s much better to have a single backlink from an authoritative domain than many backlinks from a low-authority one.
Links from Blog Comments
If you have ever owned a blog, you might have experienced a flood of spam in the comments section. These comments, which often contain links to other websites, are marked as nofollow to prevent Google from indexing them. When such spam comments link to your website, it affects your inbound link profile adversely.
Image via 815 SEO
Web directory submissions are an effective way to earn high-quality backlinks organically. However, this only applies to high-authority directories that are relevant to your niche. If your website has too many backlinks coming from random and low-quality directories, it is likely to get penalized.
Image via Moz
Links with Over-Optimized Anchor Texts
The anchor text associated with your backlinks plays a vital role in your overall SEO strategy. If your website receives too many backlinks that use exact match keywords, it can trigger Google’s spam filter.
Let’s say you own a watch store. If too many sites link back to your website using “designer watches” as the anchor text, Google will perceive this as unnatural. It could be treated as a sign of manipulation and will get your website penalized.
Now that we have a better understanding of the different categories of bad backlinks; let’s take a look at how you can remove them.
Steps to Remove Bad Backlinks
To remove bad backlinks, you need to do a complete backlink audit to identify the toxic ones. Doing this manually for thousands of links can be time-consuming and painstaking. Fortunately, there are a few tools that can help you filter your backlinks based on different parameters.
Now, let’s take a look at the steps you should follow to remove bad backlinks.
1. Collect Your Backlink Data
The first step is to compile a list of all of the backlinks coming to your website from different sources. You can use various tools such as SpyFu’s backlink checker for this purpose. You just have to enter the URL of your website, and click on “search.” This will pull up the data of all the Google-ranked sites* that to you, along with their domain strength.
(* Sites that are not indexed by Google will not be included. This is improve the quality of the links shown.)
Alternatively, you can use the Google Search Console for this purpose. To do this, you should first ensure that your domain is connected to Google Analytics. Next, go to Google Search Console, click on “Search Traffic” and then select “Links to Your Site.”
This will take you to the next page where you have to click on “more” from the “Who links the most” section. Finally, you have to click on “Download more sample links” to get a list of all your backlinks in CSV format.
Image via Matthew Woodward
2. Identify Bad Backlinks
This is the most crucial step to remove bad backlinks. In this, you’ll need to manually audit every backlink. Each time you check one, you should ask yourself if the link’s content is relevant to your website. If the content isn’t relevant, the backlink is probably not adding much value to your inbound link profile.
The backlink data gathered from Google Search Console doesn’t tell you anything about the toxic ones. However, the SpyFu results will show you the domain strength of the website linking to you. To remove bad backlinks, it is crucial to identify websites with lower domain strength.
You should also run a search on Google with the name of the website. If the website isn’t indexed, Google might be penalizing it, and this can affect your rankings. To search for the website on Google, you can search for “site:domainname.”
Additionally, you should check for the website’s spam score. To check this, you can use the Link Explorer. Just enter the URL of the website and you’ll be able to find the website’s spam score. A website that has a high spam score may negatively affect your SEO efforts.
Image Source: Moz Link Explorer
3. Remove Bad Backlinks
In this step, you have to get in touch with the owners or webmasters of the linking sites. The key is to request that they remove bad backlinks without threatening them. Specify the exact location of the backlink you want them to delete. You can use SpyFu’s backlink outreach feature to find the contact details of the webmasters.
Image via SpyFu
4. Track and Monitor
Sending a removal request to the webmasters of linking sites isn’t enough to remove bad backlinks. You have to track your backlinks to find out whether they have complied with your request. If a webmaster doesn’t respond within 5-10 days, you can send them a follow-up email as well.
5. Disavow The Remaining Bad Backlinks
What happens when some of the webmasters don’t respond to your request or refuse to remove bad backlinks? Fortunately, Google allows you to disavow the backlinks you don’t want to be associated with your website.
The first step is to create a list of links to disavow. You can maintain an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of this. Next, you just have to go to the Google Disavow Links tool and upload your list. This will tell Google not to consider these links when determining your website’s search engine rankings.
The inbound link profile of your website has a major impact on your search engine rankings. It is crucial to identify and remove bad backlinks to prevent your website from getting penalized.
The best practice is to schedule periodic backlink audits to spot any toxic backlinks and take necessary corrective measures. You can use tools to filter spammy and low-quality backlinks and get them removed.