If the issue of bad backlinks or “spammy links” isn’t currently on your radar then it’s time to take note, because they can have a detrimental impact on your website’s rankings. For this reason, we thought we’d talk you through what they are, how you can identify them and how to remove spam links too.
Link quality is one of Google’s main ranking factors and it has been working hard to fine-tune this element of its algorithm. The first big clamp-down came with Google’s Penguin update in 2012 and then with later changes to the existing Panda update. Speculations over the most recent major algorithm update, back in April, suggest it also had to do with link quality.
Google’s focus on penalising websites that have spammy links is its way of combating old, ‘black-hat’ SEO techniques. Many years ago, if you wanted to rank at the top of the search engines for your desired search term, all you had to do was pick up the phone and order a few thousands links and wham! there you were. It was literally that easy. But these links were from bad quality, nothing-websites set up for this purpose only. They were not links from real, credible companies.
This was bad news for Google as they couldn’t vouch for the validity of their search results, as pretty much anyone with a website and money to buy some links could rank well. To improve the quality of their search results, Google developed a way to identify websites that had good quality links from legitimate sources and filter out the poor quality websites by penalising the ones with spammy links. As such, learning how to remove spam links quickly became an essential part of SEO.
The main defining factor of a “bad” backlink is the quality of the website that link is coming from. These kinds of toxic links can often be identified by the following:
1. Links from websites that are set up for the sole purpose of SEO link building, known as “link farms”.
2. Links from content directories or sites that let anyone upload content, meaning they contain a load of articles that lack any kind of coherence. These are essentially link farms in disguise.
3. Sites that are generally poor quality. For example low Domain Authority, plenty of external links or lots of lazy duplicate content.
4. When you are receiving lots of links from other countries (e.g. if you are UK-based and all of your links are coming from Russia).
5. You have a huge number of links coming from one website (especially if this is a low-quality website).
6. You have a large number of links coming from one website in a short time frame (this suggests the links have been paid for).
Basically, Google will determine a link “bad”, “spammy” and therefore toxic if they suspect it to be in any way unnatural or artificial.
As mentioned, in the past lots of websites were penalised for having bad backlinks that had been bought or built by shady black hat SEOs. But even if you aren’t guilty of these tactics, spammy websites may still link to your site without your knowledge. For example, some people engage in negative-SEO against a competitor where they purposefully work on getting a Google penalty – it goes without saying; never, ever do this. Alternatively, some kind of error may have occurred and caused Google to consider a link unnatural.
The first indication that you’ve been penalised for bad backlinks is a dramatic drop in your rankings across multiple search terms and pages.
If this happens, you’ll need to review where your all your links are coming from:
1. Go to Google Search Console.
2. Under the Dashboard, select the “Search Traffic” option, then click “Links To Your Site”.
3. On the left, you’ll see “Who Links The Most”. Click “More”.
4. Next, click “Download Latest Links” to view all the links to your site Google knows about.
5. Review the links in the spreadsheet, screening for any links that may qualify as “bad”.
Some will be glaringly obvious, but others will be harder to identify. Look out for dodgy URLs containing numbers and capital letters, foreign websites, sites that are linking multiple times or situations where you have gained a number of links from a website all at once (on the same day).
6. Make a separate list of all the links you are confident are negatively impacting your website’s rankings.
If you came here wanting to know how to remove spam links the short way then you may be a little disappointed.
While there are plenty of automated tools available online, by far the best way to remove bad backlinks is to do it manually as outlined below:
1. Your first port of call should be to contact the owner of the website who is sending you a harmful backlink and ask them to remove the link. This means finding their contact details and sending an email kindly asking them to do so.
2. Often, you won’t get a response, so the next step is to disavow the links. This essentially means asking Google not to count these links in its algorithmic calculations.
3. First, you’ll need to create a text file. It’s a good idea to do this in a Google Doc first, then copy it into a .txt file encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII. This file should only contain the links you want to disavow, with one link per line.
4. Make sure you disavow on the domain level, not just a single URL, to ensure you don’t miss any. Do this by adding “domain:” in front of each domain name. E.g. if your toxic backlink is coming from spamsite.com you’ll need to write domain:spamsite.com in your text file.
5. Next, go to the Google’s Disavow Tool page.
6. Select your website and click “Disavow links”.
7. Then upload the text file you just created.
8. Google will show you a scary message that says “this is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution blah blah”. Hopefully, you are confident that these links are spam so go ahead and hit “Submit”.
Going through this process of how to remove spam links can be a long and tedious process, but it’s a highly necessary one. It may also take a while for Google to recrawl all of the links on your disavow file and add nofollow tags to these sites, so patience is required.
If you need help managing the links to your website, get in touch. We’d be more than happy to help.