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What are toxic backlinks and how do you get rid of them?

Having a good number of backlinks (AKA when another site links to your site) is crucial to the visibility of a site. However, less is sometimes more.

Often, companies fall into the trap of securing easy backlinks – either via paid placements or through less trustworthy websites – which can eventually harm their site health. Links like this are commonly referred to as ‘toxic backlinks’ and they can cause some serious damage to any site.

What is a toxic backlink?

Backlinks are very important to SEO as they add an element of trust that will instantly be recognised by search engines; the fact that other sites see your site’s content as worthy of linking to is seen as evidence that your content is valuable. A vote of confidence if you will. 

So, what makes a backlink toxic? While having as many backlinks as possible might seem like a great idea to boost your authority, it’s important to consider quality over quantity and keep track of the sites linking back to yours. The higher their authority (which is made up of various factors, including Domain Rating and Organic Traffic), the better your chances of growing your own authority will be. The best-case scenario for your site’s authority is to have backlinks from sites with a higher domain rating, whereas sites with low authority linking back to yours might do you more harm than good.

Not only will toxic backlinks lower your score and affect your ranking, but if picked up by search engines they could also lead to penalties. Some common characteristics of a toxic/low quality backlink include:

  • Low domain rating – Domain Authority measures the probability of an entire web domain to rank in the SERPs and is calculated by evaluating multiple factors such as linking root domains and total number of links. 
  • Mirrored pages - Similar pages on multiple sites linking from the same anchor text.
  • Page layout – A low visible text to HTML ratio might be deemed as low quality.

How can toxic backlinks impact your site?

As mentioned, if a search engine picks up a toxic backlink on your site, you may incur into a penalty. This means that your page rank will be automatically decreased, also lowering the chances of your content being found in the search engine. The worst-case scenario for search engine penalties related to toxic backlinks is your site being removed from the search index altogether.

It is also worth remembering that the link analysis is completely automated (via Google’s Penguin algorithm, introduced in 2012) and no human review will take place. The algorithm has been refined over the years, improving its chances of catching and penalising bad links.

Google also has a spam team in charge of manually analysing and penalising sites with toxic backlinks and it’s estimated that they initiate over 400,000 manual actions a month.

Your site could be picked for a manual link review if:

  • A spam report is filed by a competitor
  • Penguin triggers a manual review
  • Your site is one of those monitored by Google’s spam team

Can you get rid of toxic backlinks?

Getting rid of toxic backlinks is possible though ideally should only be carried out by an SEO expert. There are four main steps to identifying and removing a toxic backlink from your site and these often require the use of professional tools:

  • The first step is to identify the toxic backlink and gather information on the site hosting it. Once you have the contact details, you can try contacting the webmaster asking them to remove the link.
  • In most cases you will hear back within a couple of weeks, however, should you not be able to get the backlink removed directly, the next step is to disavow the links and upload the file to Google. 

While it’s not always possible to know what sites are linking to yours, checking your site health regularly can help you keep your domain authority as high as possible, ultimately improving your rankings.

Our SEO team can perform a full audit of your site, giving you a clear overview of your backlinks (good and bad) and guiding you on how to have a high-performing site that will attract the right audiences and generate conversions.