Friend or Foe? Finding and Removing Toxic Backlinks

Not all backlinks are created equal. In fact, some can even be harmful to your website, causing your SEO performance to take a hit. 

Here's the Big Idea in a Nutshell

Backlinks are one of the many key factors that can significantly affect a website’s ranking. But not all backlinks are beneficial. In fact, some can even be harmful to your website, causing your SEO performance to take a hit. These harmful links are known as toxic backlinks. 

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    Understanding the Concept of Toxic Backlinks

    So, what exactly are toxic backlinks?

    Think of it this way - they are the unwanted guests at your website's party. These are the links that come from sites that are either low quality, not trustworthy, or dubious in nature. Just like unwanted guests can spoil the atmosphere of a party, bad backlinks can harm your website's search engine optimization (SEO). They can cause your website to drop in search engine rankings, and in severe instances, could even result in the dis-indexing of your site by Google.

    But how do these poisonous links make their way to your website? More often than not, they are the product of black-hat SEO tactics, which are obviously frowned upon by Google. Backlinking techniques that involve the use of link farms, private blog networks (PBNs), and spammy comments are common culprits.

    It's crucial to understand that Google values the authenticity and quality of your backlink profile. Thus, these unscrupulous tactics can result in more harm than good. In the next sections, we'll walk you through how to identify and eliminate these unwelcome guests from your website.

    Finding Potential Toxic Backlinks on Your Website

    When it comes to detecting unwanted links to your site, a sturdy backlink analysis tool is your best friend. Fortunately, the digital age has provided us with a wide variety of these tools, both free and paid, readily available on the internet and can offer comprehensive insights into your backlink profile.  Usually they will give you an overview of the types of websites that are linked to yours, along with some measure of their quality and credibility. This makes the task of singling out any potentially harmful backlinks a lot easier. Consider these tools as your personal Sherlock Holmes, helping you unravel the mystery behind who is connecting to your website or blog

    An example of this kind of resource would be SEMRush's toxic backlink checker

    Here's another  great Toxic Backlink Checker that's free and easy to use.


    Determining Whether a Backlink is Toxic or Not

    So, you've spotted a backlink that seems a little suspicious, and you're wondering if it's toxic. Here's how you can get a definitive answer.

    Start by evaluating the website that's linked to yours. Is it relevant to your industry? If the answer is no, it could be a bad sign - although not necessarily. You'll need to look deeper to see if the site linking to you is toxic.

    So the next step would be to assess the quality of the site's content. High-quality content usually indicates a trustworthy site. Conversely, poor content, especially if it's stuffed with keywords has a bad user experience interface, riddled with too many ads or questionable ones...or just looks spammy in any way, this could be a red flag.

    Next, investigate the site's domain authority. This is a score, typically on a 100-point scale, that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. Higher scores generally mean better ranking. If the site's domain authority is low, it's another sign the backlink might be toxic.

    You can check any websites DA (domain authority) by going to this Domain Authority Checker (it's free).  It's also a good tool for your checking your own website's DA.

    Lastly, count the number of outbound links the site has. If the count is unusually high, this could mean the site is part of a link farm - a network of sites created solely for the purpose of generating backlinks. This is definitely a tell-tale sign of a toxic backlink.

    Here's a free to use Outbound External Links Checker from SiteChecker.

    Keep in mind that no single factor determines toxicity. It's the combination of these elements that paints the bigger picture. Always remember, quality over quantity. A handful of backlinks from reputable, relevant sites are far more beneficial than a truckload of links from dubious sources. Let's make sure your site's party is full of welcome guests, and not gatecrashers!

    The Importance of a Disavow File

    Let's talk about something crucial - disavowing toxic backlinks. What does that mean?

    Let's break it down.

    Picture a disavow file as a "do-not-disturb" sign that you place on certain unwanted links leading to your website. This file is essentially a list of those pesky, toxic backlinks you've identified and want Google to disregard when scanning your site's SEO profile.

    By crafting and submitting a disavow file, you're essentially protecting your website's SEO standing from the detrimental effects of toxic backlinks. You are disassociating your website with other sites of questionable nature because links form such websites can interfere your site's journey up the search engine rankings. By disavowing bad links, you're effectively eliminating these obstacles and paving the way for better SEO performance.

    But remember, use this tool with caution. Incorrect use could potentially harm your website's rankings. It's like a digital sword, so wield it wisely. Don't start disavowing links left and right; only the ones that are genuinely toxic should make it to your disavow file. Hence, be sure to conduct a thorough and careful review of your backlink profile before proceeding with the disavowal process.

    You'll need to create a comprehensive list of all the toxic backlinks you've identified, which, as we discussed earlier, involves a careful review of your backlink profile. This list should comprise the URLs or domains that you want Google to disregard. Each line of this list should contain one URL or domain. Save this list as a text file - that's your disavow file.


    Your disavow text file (.txt format) can include either URLs (direct browser paths to a specific webpage) and/or root domains ( The image shown here is an example of formatting. Obviously, these are fake entries for the sake of this article - yours would contain the actual links you want to disavow. If you are disavowing both URLS AND root domain, list the URLS first. If you are just disavowing domains, you would simply show lines of domains.

    You will notice the top line of the file is a COMMENT. If you want to add comments to your disavow file, add a line at the top which begins with a hash tag (#).  However, this is OPTIONAL.

    Some will tell you to leave notes here for Google staff to read. Don't do that. This file is read by robots - not humans.  The only reason to add optional comments is for your own reference or for future updates of the file. For example, you might want to remember when or why you chose these links to disavow.


    Using Google's Disavow Tool to Remove Toxic Backlinks

    When it comes to mitigating the impact of toxic backlinks, Google has gifted us a powerful asset - the Disavow Tool. This tool acts as a sort of skilled negotiator that you've dispatched to Google with a clear message: 'Ignore these specific backlinks while evaluating my website.' The mechanics of this operation are relatively straightforward.


    Once your file is ready, it's time to head over to the Disavow Tool. Here, you'll upload your text file and submit it. With this step, you're essentially sending out your message to Google: these specific backlinks are toxic, and I request you to discount them while assessing my website's ranking.

    There's a slight catch here, though. Google's Disavow Tool is a double-edged sword. While it can help you recover from the negative impact of toxic backlinks, if used carelessly, it can potentially harm your website's ranking. So, it's of utmost importance that you approach this process with diligence and caution. Ensure the backlinks you're disavowing are genuinely harmful to your site, not just the ones you're unsure about.

    Keep in mind that once you've submitted the disavow file, Google doesn't instantly ignore these backlinks. It takes a bit of time, typically a few weeks, to crawl your site again and apply the disavowal. So, patience is key here.

    Now, armed with this knowledge, you're ready to make effective use of Google's Disavow Tool, dodging those harmful toxic backlinks and safeguarding your SEO ranking. Remember, the world of SEO is dynamic and ever-evolving, so stay vigilant and proactive in maintaining a healthy backlink profile.

    Monitoring Your Backlink Profile Regularly

    Just as you'd regularly visit a doctor for check-ups, your website's backlink profile also needs consistent attention. Monitoring your backlink profile is like keeping a digital stethoscope to your website's SEO health.

    By keeping a close watch on your backlinks, you can identify any new ones that pop up. Regular monitoring allows you to assess their quality promptly and respond accordingly. Imagine it as a game of whack-a-mole; as soon as a potentially toxic backlink shows up, you're ready to knock it out of your profile swiftly!

    In this digital age, various tools can assist you in this process. Some of these include Ahrefs, SEMrush, and not to forget Google's own Search Console. These tools offer insights into your backlink profile, enabling you to keep track of new backlinks, their source, and their potential impact on your SEO.

    Staying on top of your backlink profile isn’t just about catching the bad guys, though. It's also about recognizing the good ones. High-quality, organic backlinks are SEO gold, and you want to ensure you're fostering those relationships. Regular monitoring allows you to identify these beneficial backlinks, appreciate their contribution to your SEO success, and potentially find more ways to collaborate with these credible sources.

    Remember, SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Regular monitoring and maintenance of your backlink profile is a long-term commitment that can pay off greatly in your SEO race. So, roll up your sleeves, keep your tools handy, and stay alert to the comings and goings in your backlink profile. In this way, you can ensure that your website is always in its prime, ready to scale the heights of search engine rankings!

    Greg has been doing business online since 1996. He first discovered the concept of Internet marketing by selling physical books through an AOL chatroom. By 1999 he was building websites for local businesses when the web was new.

    In 2001, he launched a web hosting company called Teknon Media, which ultimately became - one of the first discount hosting services on the Internet. Through that venture, he worked with and helped many of the people who would become the well known marketing gurus of today. Later, he changed the company to BlackWire Hosting and under that banner provided web hosting services for thousands of websites for over a decade.

    In 2009, he published his first book: The Snowball Factor teaching entrepreneurial principles and business mindset - while providing hosting services, web design and software to major players.

    As an author, Internet marketing consultant, media producer and web developer, he still loves to teach about anything to do with online business, content creation and digital marketing.

    Today, Greg writes about online business technology and teaches how to create profitable websites through and his YouTube channel.

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