Bad Backlinks to Disavow and Avoid: A Detailed Guide



Backlinks that can have a negative effect on your search rankings should be avoided and possibly disavowed if your site incurs a Google Penalty. This is an extensive guide covering how you should identify bad backlinks and take action to protect your site from the wrath of Google and other search engines.

What Are Backlinks?

A backlink is simply a link that appears on another website that points back to your site.  When a visitor clicks on the link, the individual is directed to your website.  Duh. However, SEO purposes links are like votes of authority for your website and they help improve your search engine rankings.

When you find other sites that have interesting or relevant content for your visitors, you can create a backlink to that other site to provide your readers with additional information.  To encourage other webmasters to link back to you and provide your site with a backlink, you need to create interesting content and publish it on your website.

It is these natural editorial links that offer relevancy and trust signals to Google that will ultimately make your site more authoritative and rank higher in the SERPs.

Bad Backlinks

However, not all backlinks are valuable.  Some links will have a positive effect and others can have a negative impact on your search engine rankings.  The factor that determines whether a backlink is good or bad is often where that link is located.  There are some disreputable SEO firms that create huge quantities of links for their clients by using places such as content farms, blog comments and forums.  The sites used generally do not provide visitors with useful information but instead contain spam.

Google frowns on this kind of behavior, and low quality sites are considered to be bad neighborhoods.  It is very important that your site not be affiliated with bad neighborhoods.  This kind of association can have a negative impact on your website in the form of a Google Penalty or Manual Action.

Links Continue to Influence Rankings, Both Positively and Negatively

Backlinks definitely influence a website’s search engine rankings.  This is one of the main reasons why Google is destroying link networks and strictly enforcing their guidelines.  To obtain top search engine rankings in the past, all you had to do is simply comment on other blogs and submit your website to a handful of directories.

In recent years, however, there have been dramatic changes to how webpages are ranked by the search engines.  In fact, there are now many types of backlinks that can hurt your rankings instead of helping.  There has been question as to whether or not links will continue to be a large factor in Google’s algorithm as Google makes changes and sends penalty notifications to webmasters.

Many webmasters are receiving messages that state that their websites have unnatural links that are pointing to them.These messages are actually becoming very common and are known as Google Penalties.  The search engines are attempting to take action towards webmasters who manipulate the rankings withspammy backlinks to mitigate webspam.

Many webmasters are having a very hard time figuring out what types of backlinks are having a negative impact on their search engine rankings.  However, there are several kinds of backlinks that we can identify that can potentially hurt a website’s search engine rankings. If you find that you have these types of links in your link profile and think you may have a penalty then you may want to look into a Google Penalty recovery service or a guide to removing Google Penalties yourself.

If you aren’t sure whether or not you have these links in your link profile then here is some info on the different types of bad links to lookout for and ways to keep an eye out for them.

Low-Quality Directory Links

The internet is full of offers from so-called SEO companies that offer you their directory submission services. Almost always, those directories are low-quality, thus not doing your website any favor if they linked to it. In order for using this link acquiring technique effectively, you have to learn to tell the good from the bad.

DMOZ, Yahoo and Best of Web are highly regarded by search engines. The reason is that they are moderated by cautious people who wouldn’t let a low-quality site pass and get listed. If directories are not moderated properly, your site will have low-quality neighbors, thus decreasing the value of the directory itself and of all sites listed in there.

It was a smart move from search engines to diminish the value of links from low quality web directories. Too many SEOs and business owners abused these directories and ranked bad quality websites highly in the SERPs, even for competitive keywords.

If you wish to stay away from bad web directories, you can check out the SEOMOZ list of directories that are banned or penalized by Google. The list also shows high PR directories that are not banned by Google. This list is continuously updated, so it’s good to keep an eye on it every now and then.

Do-Followed Paid Links

There is actually nothing wrong with purchasing links for your website.  In fact, companies by the thousands purchase links on websites because it is an excellent way to advertise their business and reach more potential customers.  Many companies earn a good ROI through buying links on different websites.

However, what the search engines would like webmasters to do is use the no-follow tag with all paid links.  This results in the links not passing ranking power.

Webmasters should avoid using do-follow paid links.  Research does show that purchased links can increase a website’s search engine rankings.  However, they can cause ranking penalties as well.  These penalties can have a severely negative impact on a site’s rankings in the search engines.

Non-relevant Links

Another type of link that webmasters should avoid acquiring is non-relevant links to their site.  Google’s Penguin update actually changed how important different rankings are.

What it basically did is decrease the power that irrelevant links have and greatly increased how important relevant links are.  Link relevance is now more crucial ever since the Penguin update came out.  It makes perfect sense that a hotel website would have links from other hotel websites and other related sites.

If your website isn’t currently being hurt by having a lot of irrelevant backlinks, chances are good it will have a negative effect in the future.  Quite simply, you should avoid acquiring backlinks from sites that are unrelated to yours.

Dead And Broken Links

It is very natural for a number of a site’s links to get broken over time.  Having a few broken links is not going to cause a lot of damage to your rankings.  However, when a site loses a high percentage of backlinks, this can have a negative effect on the site’s search engine rankings.  Both internal and external broken links can have a negative effect on rankings, so you should track both of these types of links.

Link Networks

Over the past several years, there has been a huge increase in the number of link networks across the Internet and a huge increase in slaps by Google. A link network is a collection of web properties that have been set up and are used solely for building backlinks.  There are both private and public link networks.

Recently, the search engines have gone after some of the biggest link networks on the Internet.  These link networks can consist of hundreds, or even thousands, of free-hosted blogs or networks made with expired domains.  These link networks can pass on very strong ranking power.

This is why the search engines are aggressively attacking these networks.  However, although link networks can provide very potent ranking power, they also are very risky as well.  The search engines have taken a very strict stance against both private and pubic link networks.  Therefore, any websites that get caught using these networks are definitely in danger of being penalized.

The worst penalty would be that a website could get de-indexed and not appear in the search index at all, representing a complete loss of rankings and search engine traffic.  Therefore, webmasters should avoid using any kind of link network for obtaining backlinks.

High Quantity, Low Quality, Backlink Services


It isn’t uncommon to seek out a professional linkbuilder to improve your website’s link profile. However, it is important to stay away from backlink services that may build low quality links to your website, incurring a Google Penalty for your website. Lookout for inexpensive link packages of high quantities of links (see above packages as an example).This is generally a service performed by software posting spun gibberish for content onto untrusted websites that then link to your site. Get ready for a Google penalty if you purchase these links.

If you find that you need help with link building then look for a reputable white hat backlink service that has gotten good results for clients while avoiding Google Penalties. Generally a reputable linkbuilder offers lower quantities of links in their plans but they write high quality content and publish it on recognizable authority websites.

Keyword-Rich Backlinks

Anchor text refers to the words used in the link pointing back to a website.  Anchor text has been manipulated by many webmasters for years because it is used by all the major search engines to understand what websites are all about.

Webmasters used to be able to use the same anchor text in their backlinks over and over again.  The webpage that these backlinks were pointing back to would get very high search engine rankings for the terms used in the anchor text.  However, this has definitely changed.  One of the things the Google Penguin update addressed was devaluing anchor-rich backlinks.

The Penguin update has resulted in websites with lots of anchor-rich backlinks being penalized, and this has negatively impacted their search engine rankings.  These days, it is important for webmasters to avoid acquiring too many backlinks that are keyword rich, as this can definitely have a negative impact on the site’s search engine rankings.

Link Exchanges

Link exchanges were very popular among SEOs a few years ago, even before blogs became very popular. Unfortunately, they were also abused by many; therefore search engines dramatically discounted their value. Even worse, such links may even harm your website, so you should be extremely cautious in case you do want to employ link exchange as an SEO tactics.

As with many other things, if link exchange is done in moderation, it can be good for a website. Problems appear when people overdo it, because then it raises a red flag with Google and other search engines, thus inviting penalties that are very hard to get rid of afterwards.

A link exchange means that site A links to site B, while site B links to site A in exchange. It is also possible to do three way link exchanges, but you need to have more than one site to be able to do it. Even so, you should still use it sparingly; otherwise you risk to get penalized.

Forum and Blog Commenting with Keywords

Commenting on blogs for getting backlinks is a common practice today. Commenting is good, as long as you really care about the articles you want to comment on and you wish to express your option about various facts.

The difference appears when you use mass commenting software to create million profiles on forums and blogs and then leave comments full of spammy links back to your web properties. It’s already known that using the same anchor text over and over again will most probably lead to a search engine penalty, so such practices are bad for your website and you should stay away from them. However, if you do use your real name and not keyword-rich anchors when you comment and if your comments add value to the blog or forum where you post them, they will serve your blog or website by adding a plus of authority to it.

This list of toxic backlinks could go on and on for longer, as there are multiple types of links that can have a negative impact on your search engine rankings. Please find below a more detailed list of toxic links that could harm your website, and how to keep a lookout for them.


Linkbuilding Tips

Follow These Tips and Use Common Sense While Building Links

Generally speaking you should use common sense when deciding whether or not to acquire a link from Site A to Site B. Below are some tips to help you navigate the web for backlinking opportunities and for help making link decisions. Treat all of the below situations with maximum care and don’t submit your site to any place on the web if you spot anything that resembles the following:

  • Never submit your site to websites or directories that are not relevant for your topics in any way.
  • If links are inside frames, you should not submit your site, because they will steal traffic from you.
  • Never submit your blog to blog networks and limit your blogroll to only a handful of sites.
  • If somebody offers you a sitewide link, ask them to mark it with the no-follow attribute, so that it doesn’t pass PR, otherwise it may get your site penalized.
  • Free linking allowed – you should not add your website on such lists of links that pass PR, when there’s no control on who else appears there.
  • Avoid link farms at all costs, because they are easily spotted by Google and all sites that are found there will be penalized.
  • Avoid bad neighborhoods such as gambling or porn websites, never link to any of them and never allow them to link to you.
  • Three way linking schemes will also get you penalized or even banned from search engines, so avoid becoming part of any such scheme.
  • If the site that wants to link to you has other mirror sites, you should not allow it to give you the link, because it may be harmful.
  • Don’t submit your site to web directories that aren’t moderated, because you may find yourself in a bad neighborhood, since there’s no control on what else is there on the same page with you.
  • Don’t submit to directories that are on interior pages of a web domain, without being linked to from the home page. Most probably these directories and their internal pages won’t be found by search engines, so it would be just a wasted effort from your side.
  • Never submit to sites that have coding errors, load very slowly or are full of pop-ups and flashing banner ads pointing to dodgy websites.
  • Avoid submitting your site to directories that don’t have some contact information displayed. You may need to remove that link later, if it proves toxic, so you’ll be in trouble if there’s nobody to help you get rid of it.

So there you have it, all of the bad backlinks out there that you should avoid. If you find that these links point to your website then you may want to investigate the potential of a Google Penalty that your website may have incurred. Google penalties, or manual actions, from unnatural or spammy links can negatively impact your search engine rankings but can always be resolved if you take the time to identify the bad links and remove or disavow them. Once resolved your search rankings should recover and your organic traffic should come right back.

Focus on building high quality links and use common sense when deciding whether or not to build a link to avoid building any of these bad backlinks to your website.

About The Author: Keller Tiemann began his Austin based startups, Volume SEO and Volume Designs in 2013. When he isn’t designing stellar websites, or increasing their traffic, he enjoys tennis, running, and socializing with friends and family. Especially if a refreshing IPA or some tequila is around.

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