Are you worried that a dodgy backlink profile might be harming your rankings? Maybe you engaged in some questionable link building methods in the past or you suspect that you might have been the victim of a negative SEO campaign by an evil competitor. Whatever the reason for your concern about cleaning up your backlink profile, many website owners can become worried, obsessed even about getting rid of those pesky low quality links.

The first thing to bear in mind before we go any further is that the following suggestions only really apply to websites who have a huge amount of bad backlinks pointing to them (I’m talking over 50% of your entire backlink profile) or if you have received a manual penalty. Why’s that you ask? Well, Google has advanced to the point that they can recognise bad links pretty well and in the vast majority of cases they now simply just ignore them and move on. That means you will likely be wasting your time fretting over removing every last spammy link to your site. Another thing to remember is that every website gathers some spammy links, it’s natural and nothing to worry about so there’s no need to obsess over having a squeaky clean backlink profile.

So, with that being said if you have noticed a drop in rankings, received a manual penalty, or suspect foul play from a nefarious competitor then read on. (You should also read on if you have been engaging in dodgy link building practices that will soon be clamped down on by Google to help future-proof your site from being cast into oblivion).

To help you learn more about bad backlinks and how to deal with them, we will focus on the following areas:

  • Why bad links can be so damaging
  • Examples of the different types of bad links
  • How to deal with bad backlinks

So, if you’re looking to clean up your backlink profile, don’t hesitate! The sooner you begin the process the sooner you will begin to see the results. Read on to find out more about dealing with bad backlinks.

SEO best practises are always changing and that’s why it’s so important that you regularly re-evaluate your link building strategy. This helps you to stay on top of any changes to Google’s algorithms or guidelines so you can keep your pages ranking well.

Why bad links can be so damaging

With Google growing smarter all the time and quality, user experience and relevance being paramount, broken, unreliable or toxic links on your websites can be penalised, even if you weren’t aware that they were bad. This leads to your pages dropping down the rankings and becoming harder to find.  Any link on your page that violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines can have a damaging effect on your SEO.

So, even if your rankings haven’t been affected yet and you haven’t received a manual penalty, if you are paying a low quality service to build shitty links or adding links on sites that are completely irrelevant to your industry and have no human traffic then it’s probably only a matter of time before an algorithm update annihilates your visibility on Google and any other search engine so you might want to get rid of these links and save yourself a lot of hassle.

It’s not only bad external links that can affect your website. Broken or low quality links on your own site can affect user experience, something which will determine whether a visitor will return to your site in the future. A negative experience can increase your bounce rate and reduce the amount of quality traffic to your  most important landing pages – and you really don’t want that! Especially if it’s an E-commerce or business-related website.

Different types of links that could be harmful

In order to be able to identify and therefore remove bad links, it pays to know a little bit more about what these are. Below, we’ll look at some of the most common types of bad links out there, so you can more accurately identify these during your auditing process.

It’s important to note that some types of links such as footer links and blog comments should not be automatically labelled as bad, but when you receive a high volume of them and from mainly low quality sites then it starts to have a negative impact. In the past, some of these links may not have affected your rankings in the way they do today, but with algorithms constantly being updated you must now be aware of the following:

  • Links from cheap link building services
  • Links form irrelevant directory submissions
  • High volume of links in blog comments on irrelevant sites
  • Over-used anchor text links
  • Links on Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

When trying to determine which backlinks are spammy you should ask who the website is made for, does it have a genuine audience and purpose and is it used by real people. If the answer to these questions is no then it’s very likely to be a spammy link that serves no purpose for your website.

Keeping these in mind, we’re now going to get down to the crux of this guide, how to go about dealing with bad links of this nature.

How to deal with bad backlinks

If you want to clean up your website and deal with any bad backlinks, you need to understand the best process for doing this, Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix, you will need to run an audit and take some time to get the links removed. If you’re unable to take on this project yourself, there are SEO professionals and link removal services out there that can do this for you. But either way, the process will remain the same no matter who is conducting the audit.

Here are the four steps you need to take to deal with bad links, looking in detail at what needs to be done and the simplest and most efficient way to get these removed and get your SEO efforts back on track.

1. Run a backlink audit

The first step requires you to do a full audit of all the backlinks to your website in order to highlight any bad or low-quality links. At this stage, there are a number of tools and techniques you can use to help you identify these links and which method you choose will depend on the types of links you’re looking for.

Some of our favourite tools to use for this include Google Search Console, Ahrefs, and DeepCrawl. Google Search Console is free to use as is Moz Link Explorer which gives you a spam score for each link pointing to your website. This should give you most of the information you need, especially if you have a relatively small website. That said, you might want to run audits on several different tools as they might be able to find additional links that the others couldn’t.

Google Search Console Screenshot

In order to start your audit, you need to open Google Search Console (or your chosen tool) and enter your website URL. From there, you’ll be able to export a list of all the backlinks to your site. You’ll be able to download all the links into a CVS format and you can also run filters to see which sources link to your site the most. Though not all tools are the same, they will operate in a  similar way so it shouldn’t be difficult to work out how to export and download all your data.

2. Determine which links need removing

So now you should have a spreadsheet containing all the links back to your website. The problem is, there could be literally hundreds if not thousands of links to your site, which means you now need to work out which ones may be harming your rankings. To do this, you’ll need to filter them to separate the good from the bad and the downright ugly!

The tools I mentioned above will have built-in features that allow you to search for or filter to reveal:

  • Backlinks that come from domains which aren’t in Google’s index and have therefore previously been penalised or banned by the search engine
  • Backlinks by page rank or domain rating to see which are low quality
  • To identify which sites that link to you have too many external links
  • Any links from adult websites which can be done by running a search for words such as adult or gambling

Ahrefs Bad Links Example

Once you’ve identified a bad backlink you can add a tag, perhaps one that says ‘remove’ so it’s easy to find all the links you need to remove later on. By running different searches and applying different filters, you can ensure you do a thorough audit of your site and remove all potentially damaging or low-quality links.

3. Request that the links be removed

I’ll be honest I wouldn’t recommend doing this, not because it wouldn’t be effective but because it’s very unlikely to work. Why? Well if you ran a spammy website that you hadn’t touched for years would you log on and search for a link in a far flung blog post or page just because a total stranger asked you nicely? Yea, I didn’t think so.

But I would be remiss not to at least make you aware that it is an option. So if you’re still determined to contact each website and ask them to remove your link then here’s how you should go about it. Tip: if you have a high percentage of exact match anchor text containing certain keywords then this can be a good approach for getting websites to change the anchor text on the link to something more generic or again remove it completely.

There are some basic rules that you should follow when reaching out and trying to get links removed:

  1. Always send a polite, personal email to the webmaster asking them to kindly remove the link for you. You can simply explain that you’re cleaning up your external links in order to support your SEO efforts.
  2. Always be clear about where the backlink is within the text so as not to confuse the person you’re reaching out to. It pays to send them a link to the page and perhaps even highlight which words in which paragraphs include your link.
  3. Don’t ever threaten them, you can always disavow the link if they won’t remove it
  4. Don’t ever pay money to have a link removed. Some sites will try to charge you to remove the link, but again, you can just disavow it in these cases.

4. Disavow bad links (as a last resort)

The final step for all those links you were unable to remove via request, is to disavow them. This is when you deny any responsibility or support for the site that has used your link, letting search engines know that you did not want nor request a link back to your website. This should be your last resort though! If you can get links removed properly by the website owner that is more effective for boosting your SEO.

Warning:  You should only use the disavow option when you are certain that the link(s) in question are violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (or you have received a manual penalty).

You’ll need to go back to the monitoring tool you were using earlier in order to do this. You’ll be able to create a new report which just includes the links that you want to disavow. You can do this by filtering out all the links you tagged as ‘remove’ and then selecting those which still need to be removed. Then with those selected you can click the disavow option and a new report will be generated.

Once you have this, you need to go to Google’s Disavow Links Tool where you’ll be able to upload the report in one go and the tool will then be able to disavow all the links contained within. But before you do this, be sure to check over the new report and make sure no links you want to keep have accidentally found their way into the report – just in case.

Google Disavow Tool

You should always engage an SEO expert to disavow links for you or to tell you whether they actually need to be disavowed in the first place. In the majority of cases it’s completely unnecessary and could end up doing more harm than good. You’ve been warned!

In summary

So there you have it, the step by step guide for auditing, identifying, removing or disavowing bad links. There’s a lot of information in this guide and it’s really important that you get clued up on the subject or engage a pro who will tell you whether you even need to worry about your links.

It’s always good though to know what kind of shape your link profile is in, especially if your traffic has seen a bit of a dip or perhaps you’ve not put much thought into your SEO efforts for a while. Now could be the perfect time to run a backlink audit. So to round up, below are some of the key things you need to take away from this post:

  • Bad links can negatively impact your rankings and user experience
  • There are a variety of tools out there that can help you to run an audit and to compile a list of all links to your website
  • Armed with this list, you need to use filtering features to determine which links are low-quality
  • You can then politely ask the web owners to remove the links (don’t bother) or disavow them
  • The process can be a bit time-consuming but if you have a genuine problem with bad links it can do wonders for boosting your rankings and ensuring that search engines see your website as a trustworthy and reputable source

Often the best solution for addressing a bad backlink profile is to focus on creating quality content (the kind that’s actually better than what’s already out there and serves a purpose to your audience) and to earn genuine links that pass real traffic to your website. Do this enough and soon you will have more quality links and crap ones, then you’ll be on to a winner. But if you are still unsure as to whether your backlink profile needs to be cleaned up then it’s a good idea to get in touch with a specialist SEO agency (like us!) to take a look.