Most websites are caught up in a constant arms race with their competition. The war is fought over website visitors, and the main battlefield is Google’s search engine. If your competition achieves better search result ranking, they will likely receive more visitors to their site. Consequently, the arms race comes down to who has better Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and can translate their SEO into ranking above their rivals. Unfortunately, some of your competitors might stoop to using toxic backlinks to attack your website to cause you to lose rank. In this article, we will go over how to identify and remove toxic backlinks that may be causing harm to your website.
How backlinks function
The simplest way to explain backlinks is that they are links from one website to another. Backlinks are also called inbound or incoming links. This means we use the term backlink only to refer to links coming to our site from external sources. Search engines treat backlinks as one of the most important factors when they rank websites. Therefore, you should consider Google’s recommendations on building backlinks and do everything by the book. Generally, search engines use backlinks to determine how authoritative your website is and how many visitors they will recommend you to. You could even consider backlinks to be votes or word-of-mouth you receive from other websites.
What are toxic backlinks?
Unfortunately, not all inbound links are going to be beneficial for your website. Google defines toxic links as any links meant to artificially manipulate PageRank by going against their Webmaster Guidelines. Bad, or toxic, links usually occur in two instances:
- When you have purchased low-quality links (or attempted other unapproved methods of link building)
- When someone is trying to undermine the authority of your website
Black hat practices include purposefully going against Google’s terms of service. Although some see black hat methods as a shortcut, that method of boosting SEO can actually backfire and get your website blacklisted. Instead of paying for shady, black hat link building to increase website traffic, you should stick to approved practices and employ smart ways to bring visitors to your site. Proper link building takes time, but it’s the only safe and reliable way to build your site’s authority and bring in more organic visitors. You should always avoid doing anything that goes against the terms of service of search engine providers. Sadly, that might not be enough since your competition can employ black hat practices against you. Therefore, you should also monitor the quality of links leading to your site.
How to identify toxic backlinks?
All of your SEO efforts should improve your Google ranking. If your organic traffic is dropping, the root cause probably has something to do with your backlinks. A part of your SEO approach needs to include checking for toxic backlinks. Thankfully, many online tools will let you perform an SEO audit on your website; you can check out the more popular ones like SEMRush, Ahrefs, or Monitor Backlinks. Any of these tools will let you identify toxic links and export the data.
Another free tool you can use is Google’s Search Console, which can also tell you which backlinks lead to your website. Simply check the links tab to see which the top linking sites to your pages are. From here, you can also export the list of backlinks.
Now that you have a list of links leading to your site, you can browse them to find anything suspicious. Although there are many misconceptions regarding backlinks, you should have an easy time spotting spammy and fake sites:
- The originating website looks spammy, has a strange layout, and takes forever to load.
- The link comes from a link-farm site. Some sites host no content or anything of value; they are just constructed to hold a large number of links.
- Anchor text is not SEO-friendly. Toxic backlinks can have anchor text which is unrelated to the link, or they can be hyper-optimized to exactly match the link.
- The backlinks come from forums or foreign language sites. Although they might not be toxic links, you should still remove these links. When link building, always focus on quality over quantity.
- The links are hidden, and they can’t be seen by users. The backlinks are only there to be picked up by the search engine.
Remove toxic backlinks before they harm your website
Now that you have a list of troublesome links, it’s time to get them taken down. Fortunately, there are two main ways to get the toxic backlinks removed:
- Ask the website owner. Contact the website administrator and request that the link be removed. Sadly, this method doesn’t always work, as some webmasters won’t even respond. If the website in question is someone you frequently collaborate with, you could ask them to only accept links you verify. To prove your identity, always communicate with them through an official email address.
- Disavow. Google offers you a way to distance yourself from toxic links by using the disavow tool in their Search Console. You can compile the list of bad links you want Google to ignore and then wait for them to get processed. However, be mindful that you don’t remove quality backlinks. The disavow tool should also be used if you have received a manual action against your site from Google. Manual penalties are treated very seriously, and you only have a limited time to respond and have the penalty removed.
To stay one step ahead of the competition, it’s vital to learn how to identify and remove toxic backlinks. Although it might take time to go over all of the links, it’s a relatively simple process that you will be able to handle on your own. You should always be vigilant and monitor the links leading to your website. A drop in organic traffic is cause for alarm, and you should investigate it thoroughly. If you notice anything unusual, follow our guide and remove anything that might cause harm to your site.
About Author: Eric Nance is a web designer and SEO expert working for Convert More. He loves using technology to help businesses achieve their full potential. When not sitting at his computer, Eric can be found exploring nature and hiking with his dog Bernie.