Let us talk about backlinks…
When it comes to link building, most people make one link-building mistake – not differentiating between good and bad links!
While good links can thrust your SERP ranking, bad backlinks can actually get your website penalized.
Google’s senior strategist said your website ranking is a result of three things – content, links pointing to your website, and RankBrain.
However, Google Search is way too dynamic and evolves at a breakneck pace. So, the expert-suggested list has many other ranking factors, and backlinks still remain one of them, year after year!
Links pointing back to your website are called backlinks.
So, what are bad backlinks, and how to identify them to steer clear of them?
Let us explore the answers and learn about 14 types of toxic backlinks that can kill your website ranking and get it penalized!
What Are Bad Backlinks?
Bad backlinks are low-quality, spammy and unnatural backlinks that lower Google’s opinion of your website and kill your ranking. Coming from untrustworthy websites, the bad or toxic links can get your web pages penalized as well.
In simpler words:
The links that are built automatically without editorial control are bad backlinks.
Google clearly advises against such links and mentions in its Webmaster guidelines to remove as many spammy or poor-quality links from your website, as possible.
What makes some links bad or toxic?
1. Mirrored pages
When similar pages on different websites link back to your website via the same anchor text.
Google clearly identifies this as a link-building scheme.
2. Low domain trust score
When your backlinks come from domains with poor trust or bad reputation.
3. Page Layout
When the linking page has more HTML and lesser visible text, the page is considered to be of poor quality.
How Bad Links Can Impact Your Website?
There are various ways bad or shady links can affect your website, and the Google link penalty is one of them. We discuss more on this in the next section.
Now, when you get penalized, the following happens:
- Your page rank decreases
- Your SERP ranking deteriorates
- You can even be removed from the search index entirely!
1. Bad Links Stop the Crawlers for Search Engines
The crawlers are special programs that keep on scanning the entire internet over and over again, for better indexing and updated results. When they encounter a bad link, they stop further crawls from the source and your pages stop ranking or getting indexed.
2. Lower Website Traffic
It is common sense that if your web pages are not indexed or crawled, there is no way for a new audience to reach them. In such cases, no matter how amazing content you host, if your pages don’t rank, the traffic dwindles.
3. Loss of Revenue
When you lose traffic, monetizing ads doesn’t promise the same level of returns. You lose your revenue and your business might head South.
All in all, bad links that can get you penalized are your worst nightmares as a website owner and are just like the Minesweeper Bombs you need to steer clear of!
While we are talking about getting penalized for bad backlinks, it is important to discuss that there are two types of penalties. We discuss them briefly below.
Types of Google Link Penalties
As discussed above, there are two types of Google link penalties – Algorithmic and Manual.
1. Algorithmic Link Spam Penalty
When Penguin (Google’s algorithm to tackle low-quality links) finds toxic links, consistently or in high numbers, it can automatically apply the penalty, as per your link profile. This entire process is automated and there is no human intervention. Also, Google declares that Penguin is now more granular and works in a smarter way.
Google’s Penguin filter triggers algorithmic penalizing and reviewing.
And, believe us, you will not miss the fact that Penguin has hit you, because your traffic will severely decline.
2. Manual Link Spam Penalty
This happens when the spam team of Google manually penalizes the websites that have toxic backlinks. Stats report that the spam team takes more than 400,000 manual actions every single month!
Triggers for this manual review include:
- A spam report from your competitors
- You are a popular website in a competitive niche and are actively monitored by Google
- An automatic review by the crawler suggested manual review
- Pure coincidence
You know that your web pages are being manually reviewed or have been penalized when you get messages from the Google Webmasters, like the one shown below:
However, you don’t have to wait for such messages or link the traffic drops to Penguin penalties only. You can also use tools like Feinternational from time to time to check if your website has got any penalty from Google.
Types of Bad Links
There are many types of toxic backlinks that can kill your website rankings and eventually get you penalized. We have compiled a list of 15 bad links that can get you penalized.
However, before we proceed, it is important to note that having a few such links might not cause massive harm. But, if your link-building habits don’t improve or you continue using such links, then you are headed towards a penalty for sure!
1. Blog Comments
Also called comment spam, these links come from the comment section of the blogs, as the name suggests.
While it is natural to leave comments on blogs and ask the author or audience to check some similar content, repetition is a TRIGGER!
For example, a healthy or non-spammy comment looks like this:
Hello Meesha, I really enjoyed reading your views on Zero Trust Perimeter Security and as a professional in the field, I couldn’t agree more about its large-scale adoption. I am also a blogger and you can find me at abcexample.blog if you care to take a look!
Keep up the good work!
Now, let us take a look at some of the classic examples of spammy comments:
Some other types of spammy comments include:
- Repetitive phrases
- Using too many pipe characters
- Grammatically wrong comments
- Too many links placed consecutively
- Trigger words in the comments
Lesson to Learn: Even if you wish to leave some relevant links in the comment sections with genuine intent, always take account of the context. Don’t use the same language or sentence or link on multiple websites and never stuff the anchor text with keywords.
2. Low-Quality Directory Submissions
Directory submissions have always been there for link-building. They promise traction, better Google rankings, and better traffic.
However, there are targeted and relevant directories that you can use for natural link building. And, then there are low-quality directories that can do more harm than you can ever imagine.
Lesson to Learn: Refrain from submitting backlinks on low-quality directories. Stick to the reputed ones, such as Google My Business and Yelp.
3. Excessive Link Exchange Between 2-Websites/Reciprocal Link Building
The reciprocal link exchange happens in many forms:
- You obtain backlinks from private blog networks (more on this later)
- You obtain backlinks from one website that gets its backlinks from you
- You have 2 or 3 friends and the link exchange happens among all
While there is nothing wrong with casual or rare link exchange, when it happens repetitively and gets scaled up, mass amounts of backlinks are involved.
As per a study conducted by Ahrefs, around 43% of the backlinks to the top-ranking websites are reciprocal links.
However, these websites are not penalized because Google can algorithmically detect the relationships among various websites and can discern a blatant link exchange easily.
Lesson to Learn: Get a one-off reciprocal link that is sensible and a rare occurrence. Avoid leveraging them consistently and repeatedly for backlinking.
4. Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
The private blog networks place a large number of links to another website or blog. It is a network of low-quality links that black hat SEOs use to manipulate the search engine rankings.
They not only backlink to and from a private blog network but also:
- Use different hosting providers
- Use different domain extensions
- Use different themes or layouts
- Have different registrars for different domains
PBNs are a clear violation of the quality regulations of Google’s Webmaster guidelines and can lead to web page penalties.
Lesson to Learn: While PBNs built smartly can help you rank well, it is a temporary thing. Google can identify these links and then penalize or ignore your links entirely.
So, steer clear of them!
5. Discussion Forum Spam
Just like the blog comment spam, SEO professionals leave the links in the discussion forums for backlinking. The basic process and overall syntax of these forum comments are similar in nature to the comment spam.
As Google can identify bad links and penalize you for using them, you must avoid using them.
Lesson to Learn: While leaving a rare contextual reply with the link in a discussion forum comment section is not bad, making it a habit and continuous practice is just like a match to a firecracker!
6. Press Release
Press releases are a great platform for the companies to market their products, showcasing their opportunities and reaching out to the new pool of audiences. As the press releases are released by the companies themselves, Google ignores a few links mentioned in them.
However, when these press releases are widely distributed across multiple websites and have keywords as anchor texts in loads, Google is definitely not going to make a pass, says John Mueller of Google.
Lesson to Learn: Release your PRs and leverage them for healthy marketing and backlinking, without making them solely about links. Even if you wish to circulate them, avoid all types of backlinks and keyword-optimized links!
And, if you have some of them, take them down as soon as possible!
7. Non-Editorial Paid Links
Non-editorial links are self-created to trick the search engine into believing that your content is good. So, basically, you are manufacturing SEO value for your website and trying to trick Google into believing it’s as worthy as it can be.
As if it could be!
Examples of non-editorial links include guest post signatures, unmoderated comments on blogs, etc.
Now, we have another miscreant – paid links!
When the non-editorial links are bought or acquired, they turn into an even more offensive SEO approach and can lead to direct penalties.
Some examples of non-editorial paid links include:
- Template linking
- Directory links
- Article distribution
Lesson to Learn: The non-editorial paid links might work for a little while, or might not even take off, but they are surely a poison in the long run. They can ruin your website reputation and are certainly not a healthy link-building practice.
8. Links From Foreign Language Sites
If you are located in the US, Google expects to see most of your backlinks coming from the US websites, and in the English language. Any mass backlinking coming from some Arab country website with spam content in Arabic is not going to look good for your backlink profile and might trigger link review.
Now, there are two sides to this coin – if the foreign language website backlinking to yours has a good reputation, and is of high quality, then it’s fine. But, as the number of links increases and the website reputation goes down, or it is purely spam, you are in for penalties!
Lesson to Learn: If you are coming up with a link-building strategy for the sustainable growth of your website, you must avoid leveraging low quality foreign language website backlinks.
9. Links From Websites Not Related to Your Industry/ Links From Irrelevant Articles
Every SEO professional, irrespective of his expertise and experience, knows that backlinks from irrelevant or unrelated sources are not typically counted as high-quality backlinks. The crawlers and indexing algorithms of Google not only evaluate the relevance of the backlink source but also considers the “degree of relevance” while deciding its value.
However, these links possess some value when they have contextual importance. For example, a school blog linking your training software would be considered a good link though industry is completely different.
But, if you are operating in the fashion merchandising industry and your backlinks are coming from a religious or spiritual website, it is a stern eyebrow-raiser!
So, the gist is – Avoid forceful link insertion without any relevant context.
Lesson to learn: Take industry relevance into consideration during link building.
10. Links From Spammy or Hacked Sites
Some things in the SEO profession work just like the real world – bad neighbors and bad influence is frowned upon!
So, avoid leveraging spammy or low-quality websites, such as adult content and sensational content websites for backlinks.
Some other names in the “bad influence” category are:
- Link farm websites
- Hacked websites
And, dear reader, if you are using hacked websites for backlinking, not only you will be outright penalized, but you are most probably breaking or playing with the law!
Lesson to learn: Websites of web pages with poor reputations are going to get you penalized and hacked websites can land you in legal trouble! So, don’t include them in your backlink chain.
11. Sitewide Links
The sitewide links feature on multiple or all pages of a website. While natural and relevant sitewide links are not under the scanner, the post-Penguin update digital world has made one thing clear – you must try to avoid them.
This is because most SEO professionals use them in the wrong manner and there is no way to understand what is the “right way” as per Google’s algorithms. Things complicate when the backlinks are in hundreds, or even thousands, and matter gets out of hand when people “buy” the sitewide links.
They are not only going to set the triggers for manual reviews but can lead to outright penalties as well.
Lesson to learn: Sitewide links are a complication that you must avoid in case you are planning to be online for a long time. One review with a negative result, and your rankings can rocket down!
12. Hidden Text or Links
In the words of Google Search Central, hidden text and links are a clear-cut attempt at manipulating Google’s search rankings and are downright deceptive. They violate the Webmaster guidelines and come with consequences.
Different ways SEO professionals hide text and links:
- Locating text behind an image
- Using white background for white text
- Setting font-size “Zero”
- Using miniature characters for hyperlinking
- Using CSS for text off-screen
Lesson to learn: Never hide your text or link for backlinking. If you have to use it for the technological constraints, go through Google's guidelines and then proceed.
13. Affiliate Links
The affiliate links are not as such considered culprits by Google’s link review policies, because they are a common way to monetize the website traffic. However, it strictly asks to qualify these links by explicitly mentioning them as “sponsored”. This is mandatory for both – the manually-created links as well as the dynamically-created links.
As per the Google Search Central, if websites fail to qualify the links as mentioned above, manual or algorithmic link reviews might be initiated. Now, both of them view the links in different manners and might land you in trouble.
Hence, it is important to avoid such links as much as possible.
Lesson to learn: Affiliate links might be a signal that your links are not natural or genuine. So, it is wise to avoid taking actions that might spur consequences!
14. Guest Posts
Guest posting is one of the great ways to spread the word around, be it your brand or brand offerings. It enhances your reach among the masses and widens your horizons in terms of sales, lead capturing, and brand positioning as well.
But, if you wish to leverage it as a rank-boosting practice, you might be in trouble!
Google finds excessive guest post backlinks to be deceptive and manipulative towards its algorithms. The situation becomes even murkier when you use keyword-optimized anchor texts.
Lesson to learn: Never include anchor texts on keywords in any of your guest posts, and leverage guest posts in a fair way to boost your reach and marketing.
Bonus Tip – Broken External Links From Your Website
As important as it is to avoid having links from low-quality websites, it is critical to flush broken external links from your website as well. Broken links take you to pages that no longer exist or domains that have expired. They leave your visitors frustrated and deteriorate the browsing experience as well.
Also, Google assumes that you don’t care about your users, visitors, and the overall website experience. This can spur a degradation of your website ranking and also affects the traffic negatively.
Hence, keep on checking the websites broken links regularly using a free chrome extension.
One of the best ways is to do a regular internal audit. The SEO audits do a deep check of your website links and also help you identify any hidden or impending issues. Thus you can avoid getting reviewed and subsequently penalized.
Lesson to learn: Keep on doing regular and thorough checks on the external links from your website as well. Flush or remove the links that no longer work or remove the hyperlink to avoid taking your visitors to dangling references.
Some of the best practices for outbound links include using these links for:
- Citing an example or sources of data
- Backing up any fact or claim you make
- Offering credits
- Citing references for unique ideas
You must avoid the following sources for outbound links:
- Websites with low domain authority or poor ranking
- Web pages with excessive advertisements
- Web pages that are actually shady link generators
- Hacked websites
Finally, your anchor text must clearly convey an idea about the content it is going to open.
For example, take a look at the following screenshot:
Now that we know what type of links we must avoid, let us move on to the action course!
How to Identify & Remove Bad or Toxic Backlinks?
To identify bad links you have to:
- Understand why some links are toxic or bad
- Do an SEO audit for your website, or use a tool that can identify all the bad backlinks to your web pages
Once you have identified these bad links, you have to follow a set process outlined in the following image:
So, the entire process amounts to:
- Identifying the links
- Reporting the links to the Webmaster of the website where the link is present and ask for removal
- Wait for the Webmaster email or in case you don’t get it, disavow toxic backlinks proactively
Build Links That Pave Your Way Towards Sustainable Growth
Genuine and high-quality link building is a time and effort-consuming process. However, it pays you well in terms of audience, website rankings, visitor experience, and website reputation.
Because of its slow pace and limitations, most SEO professionals want to take the shortcuts that might be via shady backlinks and might land your website into trouble.
For the best results, we recommend opting for the expert SEO solution providers, like Linkoholics that help you get safe and clean backlinks from websites with high domain authorities and via manual outreach.