How to Find And Remove Backlinks That Are Hurting Your Rankings

If you have an understanding of SEO and your site’s online search presence, then you’ve certainly heard the term “backlink” thrown around again and again. The word refers to an inbound hyperlink from one website to another, and although this sounds simple, getting backlinks is an extremely important (and cumbersome) aspect of SEO.

As great as a strong backlink profile can be, negative backlinks can be a huge issue. Whether the bad backlinks are sending readers to a dangerous website or a broken link, Google doesn’t view them in a good light. In other words, not all backlinks are good for SEO.

That’s why you hear so many people talking about how to remove links. There are spam backlinks checkers and other tools created for the sole purpose of finding and removing backlinks that are damaging your site’s online presence.

Today, we want to do a bit of a deep dive into what backlinks are, why they matter, and how you can make sure yours are contributing to your SEO growth, not hindering it.

Why Are Backlinks Important for SEO? 

Before you can understand why some backlinks are bad, you need to understand why (and how) positive backlinks can boost your SEO ranking so substantially.

Above all else, Google’s number one priority is to provide searchers with relevant, helpful content. When someone searches for an answer, Google wants to give them the most comprehensive result as quickly as possible.

As a result, Google loves to find websites that are of high-authority, clearly relevant to users’ searches, and known for providing high-quality content. One indication of these three qualities? Google can easily find a quality backlink that indicates others trust the website and its expertise on the respective topic.

That’s why, according to Google Search Quality Strategists, two of the most important signals for ranking websites during searches are link building and quality content.

When a website links to another, Google takes into account the linking website’s credibility. This is known as “link equity”.

When that site links to another (with a do-follow link), it passes link equity, which in turn, improves the credibility of the latter site in the eyes of Google. Getting a backlink from another website to your website is like an endorsement. Not all endorsements are equal (and Google realizes this). Relevancy is key.

Unfortunately, many website owners and content developers don’t realize just how important good, relevant backlinks are for ranking on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Recent data from Ahref’s Content Explorer Index revealed more than half of pages lack even a single backlink.

91% of Content Gets No Traffic From Google
Source: Ahref Content Explorer

Although it is not ideal to buy backlinks, keep in mind that Google values quality over quantity in terms of inbound links. If Google works to find all links on a website only to realize that most of them are irrelevant, old, or broken, then having a high number of backlinks won’t work wonders for your website ranking. 

Quality Backlinks VS Bad Backlinks: What’s the Difference?

Speaking of high-quality backlinks, let’s talk explicitly about what makes a good link versus a bad link on your website. You know that Google wants to see quality backlinks, but what exactly are those, and how are they really different from other links?

Consider this example: Say you run a culinary institute. If the chef of a respected local restaurant publically gives your organization praise, this is going to give you a boost in credibility. If someone like Gordon Ramsay or Rachel Ray publically said that your institute is the real deal, this is going to give you a HUGE boost in credibility.

On the other hand, if the sketchy owner of a local porn shop or a grimy strip club publically endorsed your culinary institute, how much credibility is that going to add? Probably not much. In fact, this might even damage your credibility!

The essence of these social rules applies just the same in link building. If a credible website with a related focus links to yours, Google is going to see this as a “quality” backlink and (ideally) improve the search ranking of your site.

Quality Backlinks 

At the end of the day, the biggest differentiating factor between a good and bad backlink is how authoritative and trustworthy the link’s origin is. If the website that is linking back to your website or blog is well-respected, relevant, and popular, the backlink will likely improve your own ranking.

How do you get these quality backlinks? There are a few tried-and-true methods you can attempt.

  • Guest posting on similar blogs with good reputations.
  • Create informative, thought leadership content that people will link back to when researching a certain topic.
  • Making guides that are easily sharable, not just on other websites, but on social media as well. 

Bad Backlinks 

If a quality backlink makes a connection with a trusted source, then a bad link does the exact opposite. These inbound links draw a tie between your website and an unrelated or sketchy source.

Bad backlinks can also come in the form of spam links. Search engines will actually penalize sites that are linked to spam websites, which means it’s essential that you work to remove links from Google search that make your website look unprofessional.

Worried that you can’t actually remove bad inbound links to your website?

Don’t be! There’s a solution to that.

According to Google, if you’ve done everything you can to remove the link and cannot get the backlink eradicated from your site, you can actually request that Google not review the link when assessing the credibility of your site. This is known as the Google Disavow Tool.

To learn how you can disavow backlinks that are hurting your site’s ranking, visit Google’s official help page. 

Types of Bad Backlinks 

We already told you that bad backlinks come from untrustworthy sources or spam, but let’s take this concept a little deeper so that you can understand what exactly makes a source a “bad” source.

Here are some of the top bad sites and spam links that will get you in trouble with Google.

  • Press Releases: These aren’t real articles, nor are they evergreen. They’re also plastered in many places all over the internet, making any links from them relatively unhelpful.
  • Private Blog Networks: This is a trick people used to rely on years ago before Google caught on. You could randomize your link footprint by placing links across PBNs. Now, Google will actually penalize you for doing this.
  • Blog Comments: In Google’s opinion, links in blog comments are spamming links. The search engine would much rather see backlinks come from real content, not a random comment on someone else’s blog post.
  • Cheap Link Services: If it seems like service is too cheap and powerful to be true, it probably is. Buying your links isn’t the way to do it – Google will see right through that. 
  • Foreign Language Sites: If your website is completely written in English, yet has a ton of inbound links from sites in Russian or German (or any other foreign language), this will likely throw up red flags in Google. 
  • Low-Quality Directory Sites: Directories don’t have the same SEO power they had in previous years. Building links on hundreds of directory sites (paid or free) isn’t going to look great in the eyes of Google. 
  • Links from Websites Chock-Full of Duplicate/Spinned Content: Google loves fresh, original content – and devalues websites that undermine this. Getting links from sites known for publishing duplicate or slightly tweaked content can do more damage than good. 
  • Links from Spammy Guest Posts: Guest posting has been a staple link building tactic for a long time. Google caught onto this and can differentiate the posts that provide genuine value from the ones written for blatant promotion. You want links that come from the former.

At the end of the day, earning your backlinks through hard work, good content, and strong connections with other experts is the best way to increase your ranking. There aren’t many shortcuts that really work anymore, and in the end, most of them will actually hurt your website more than they help. 

How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks 

Step 1: Find the Bad Backlinks

First things first: you need to determine if there are bad backlinks making an impact on your website. Luckily, you can find a Google backlinks checker that can jumpstart this investigative process for you.

Some great free backlink checker tools include:

Most of these tools are incredibly simple to use. You just type in the URL of your website, then let the digital tool help you figure out where your backlinks are coming from (and if they’re good or bad).

Heard of a “backlink audit”? This is just another way to dig up the dirt and determine if you’ve got unhealthy links leading people to and from your website. By conducting an audit, you can quickly isolate your problem areas and figure out how to eliminate them.

Once you’ve determined if you’re dealing with poor links and that they’re impacting your SEO –  it’s time to act.

Step 2: Contact The Website Where Your Bad Link Exists 

Unfortunately, there’s not a fancy link removal tool that will immediately solve all of your problems with bad backlinks. More often than not, you need to put in some elbow grease and communicate with other site developers in order to fix the issue.

For example, let’s say that you run a high-quality blog on saving money for travel, but then your latest blog post is linked to multiple times on a website that’s about scamming airlines and getting away with sketchy travel schemes. You don’t want that, but you can’t remove the link without the permission of the webmaster.

Do some research and figure out how you can contact the webmaster and respectfully request that they remove the link to your blog. This could take a little time, so be patient and wait at least two weeks or so for the problem to be resolved.

Here’s a great example of a polite email you can send to a webmaster, asking to have a link removed:

To whomever it may concern,

My name is _____ and I am the webmaster of ____. I’ve noticed that you have a link to one of my web pages on your website, and although I appreciate your support, I am politely requesting that you remove this link from your site.

Here is the location of the link I’m referring to: _________.

Please note that I would like the link to be removed, not just “no-followed.” I would also like to receive a notification once the removal has been completed.

Thank you for your time and understanding.

Make sure that your request email is coming from the same domain as your website so that the webmaster knows you’re truly associated with it. Additionally, make sure you indicate exactly where the respective link is so that they can easily remove it.

Although we wish we could say that all webmasters will respond accordingly and remove the link as you request, that’s not always the case. In that situation, you’ll be forced to take another course of action. 

Step 3: Tell Google and Disavow Links You Cannot Remove 

As we spoke of earlier, Google’s Disavow Tool is a huge benefit for site owners who have lost control over some of their bad backlinks. Although it should never be the first method of dealing with a bad backlink, since it’s more of a band-aid than a true solution, it comes in handy when you can’t get a link to go away.

Before you turn to the Google URL removal tool, determine exactly which links are bad and should be ignored by the search engine. Make a list that includes the links’ domains, then submit each individual link to Google.

Google Disvow Tool Page
Source: Google Support

Keep in mind that Google will allow you to upload an entire disavow list at once, but it will also replace any lists you’ve uploaded in the past. Make sure that the list is comprehensive and addresses all the bad links you couldn’t remove, both new and old.

Step 4: Prepare for the Future

Your work isn’t done after you have the bad links disavowed. Now, it’s time to pay closer attention to your website and prevent bad links from rearing their ugly heads again.

Look into a backlink monitor and learn to regularly check for links to your site on spammy, distrusted websites. Think of your website’s ranking on Google as its reputation. If you wouldn’t want your name appearing on a bad site, then don’t let links to your website appear on those sites in the first place. 

In Conclusion 

We’ve discussed quite a bit in this article, from using a bad backlinks checker to find links on low-quality websites to tackling backlink removal.

The biggest piece of advice you can walk away with is that Google is paying attention to your links on other websites, so you should, too. Do that and you’ll much more effectively monitor and improve your rankings on big search engines. 

Having troubles with bad backlinks or no backlinks at all? Contact our experts now!!!

  • Vishalsinh Mahida is a Content Marketing Analyst at E2M inc, a San Diego Based Digital Agency that specializes in White Label Services for Website Design & Development and eCommerce SEO. He has previously assisted top brands like Axis Bank, Fox Star, IIFL, and more in implementing several customer engagement strategies.
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