If you monitor your website’s backlink profile on a regular basis, it usually becomes apparent at some point that you have undesirable links that are pointing to your website.
Before Google’s Penguin algorithm went live in 2012, whoever had the most backlinks won. This spurred the cheap link building offers from companies that are able to build thousands of links in a day. As irony has it, backlink removal services have become extremely popular since 2012 also! That is because buying cheap/bad links often gives your site a short term gains, but will provide long term pains.
Websites attract bad backlinks for various reasons. These include Google Analytics Ghost SPAM, Cheap link building and SEO services, or negative SEO that’s perpetrated from a competitor, or enemy.
Although Google’s webspam team deny it, at Evolocity, we believe that whether you have been penalized by Google or not, removing low quality risky backlinks is crucial. You shouldn’t have backlinks in your link profile that are high risk or those that you would feel uncomfortable explaining to your customers.
There are three main reasons to invest in a backlink removal service. These are listed in order of importance:
- If you’ve been hit with a Google manual web spam penalty. In this case, Google will inform you of a penalty via the Google Search Console that your site has an “unnatural” link profile. This is a big problem, as your site won’t display in the Google Search Engine, until you resolve the issue. This is obviously the most urgent reason to clean up your backlinks.
- Algorithmic penalty. As Google rolls out new algorithms almost daily, over time you may be affected by poor quality links. This is likely to become evident if your ranks drop significantly at a time when there’s a known Google algorithm change. Many tools, such as Moz and SEMRush will map your rankings against known Google Algorithms.
- Preventative maintenance. Often, you have sites linking to your website that you are generally uncomfortable about. These links should be investigated further to avoid a future algorithmic or manual penalty.
To start, it’s imperative that you perform a full backlink audit against your website. You simply need to identify the low quality links that are suspected to be hurting your rankings. This includes any irrelevant links that are pointing to your website. Such links may be coming from gambling sites, adult sites, sites in a different language, or a different country.
Sometimes bad backlinks are easy to see. This is not usually the case, unfortunately. More often than not, you’ll need to check the source website to see why the link could be construed as bad. At Evolocity, we use several metrics including Majestic’s Topical Trust Flow, URL Profiler’s Unnatural link analysis, SEMRush Toxic score, SEO Spyglass’ penalty risk, as well as the raw link data that comes from Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
If you’ve recently dropped rankings for no apparent reason, then it’s highly likely that it’s time for a link audit!
Categories of poor links:
Links from a website that is only set to provide SEO links– eg, SEO directories or Private Blog Networks. The sole purpose of these sites is to generate outgoing links. There may be hundreds or thousands of links coming from these domains. From our experience, these generally aren’t an issue unless they are obviously paid links, or you need to pay to remove the links.
Blog Comment links– Blog comment links are of low quality. A few here and there are ok, but they should not make up the bulk of your link landscape.
Links with over optimized anchor texts– If the anchor text is over-optimised, it looks unnatural and you’re likely to receive a google algorithmic penalty.
Things to consider BEFORE removing backlinks:
- Detecting bad backlinks is notoriously difficult. Even the most expensive SEO tools have difficulty identifying truly toxic links.
- Even those links that come from dubious sources, usually provide some link value. Anyone whose site has been hacked by creating thousands of pages enjoys the increase in domain authority! Be careful to ensure you’re not removing useful links.
- Hiring a link removal company doesn’t guarantee success. These services are expensive and may not make any better decisions regarding which links to remove than you will.
- Although Google suggests contacting the site owner first to ask them to remove the toxic links, many webmasters make this task arduous. Webmasters often ask for a removal fee or refuse to remove the links.
- If you are penalized, removing the offending link rarely removes Googles penalty. You’ll need to also disavow the link.
Step 1- Backlink Analysis
Actually, this is a really important task in general. You should review backlinks at least each month, to know where you are at. There are several tools out there that are useful for this task.
How to identify low quality links
In reality, you can perform this task from Google Search Console. This is ok if you have a handful of suspect links, but in reality, it’s just additional time wasted performing this task manually. For this task, I’ll use SEO Spyglass, but you can use any tool that can analyse your backlinks effectively.
Start a new project:
Enter the URL to analyse. When the analysis is complete, click the backlinks link:
The screen below is then displayed. You can add additional fields by right-clicking on the top banner. I find penalty risk, Inlink and Domain Inlink rank the most useful. As with all SEO tools, you can’t rely on the data 100%. You should verify the links manually to ensure they truly are toxic and need to be removed.
As you can see, the top row was flagged by SEO Spyglass as a relatively high penalty risk. After further manual analysis, it’s definitely a SEO link network.
- Identify the backlink you want to remove
- Find the contact information on the website to contact the webmaster. If there’s nothing present, use whois to find out who owns the website.
- Email the webmaster/owner with clear information about the location of the link you wish to remove. If no response, wait for 5 to 10 days and email again.
- If no response or payment is requested to remove the link, Disavow the links in Google Search Console.
- Another option is to remove the pages, rather than the links. If you have low quality pages that are linked by toxic links, you can 404 the page to remove it instead.
This link removal process can be time consuming and frustrating! You may have hundreds, or thousands of low quality backlinks which, in reality will be impossible to remove. Some sites request a fee for removal, and others simply refuse, or don’t respond to your requests. It’s best to aim for a 20% success rate in manual link removal.
Disavowing links you can’t remove
Google has a great explanation on how to use their disavow tool here, so I won’t cover it again. The only thing I’ll say is that the disavow file is cumulative. It needs to include the previous disavow entries also. The disavowing process takes time (weeks), as Google depends on your “crawl budget” to crawl your website. Before you disavow backlinks, it’s important to prove to Google that you’ve done your best to clean up these backlinks yourself.
As a final note, traffic will decline when you disavow or remove links. There will likely have been visitors coming to your pages via the bad links. Whether a link is removed, or you instruct Google not to count it (By disavowing it), it appears to trigger a re-calculation in Google’s ranking algorithm and it’s likely you will drop rankings, at least temporarily.
On a final note, don’t be too eager to remove links. Often links aren’t pretty, but still help you to rank. In most cases, it’s not having enough good quality links, rather than having a few poor quality links (which Google usually ignores) that cause you to rank poorly.
Whether you’ve been hit with a Google manual webspam penalty, or are trying to avoid an algorithmic penalty; It’s important to monitor your backlinks on a regular basis. You want to clean up those links that you’re not proud of and links that come from bad sources on a regular basis.