Link Detox: How To Find And Remove Toxic Links From Your Website
Link building is an important cornerstone of SEO.
It's an absolute must for any business that aims to improve its organic search rankings in order to maximize online visibility.
Backlinks are still considered one of the most important ranking signals in SEO and it's something that actually correlates with the top ranking pages online much more than other ranking factors.
But amassing high-quality backlinks for your site has to do with a lot more than just building links.
This is something you need to understand if you want your site to experience the best results in the long term. There comes a time when you need to get rid of links that have gone ‘bad’ in order to keep your site ranking high.
In this article, we're going to look at some of the steps you need to take to detox your links so you can get the best results on your website.
But first, we need to understand exactly what kind of link is defined by Google as ‘bad’.
What is a Bad Link?
Google deems a bad link to be one that is of poor quality.
It’s characterized by several things including the following:
Domain authority or DA refers to the metric authorized by Moz which gives the search engines a good indication of the credibility and trustworthiness of a website.
It uses a combination of factors like external links as well as linking roots domains and then gives an overall score. This score determines the likelihood for the site to be ranked high in the SERPs or to be considered authoritative.
The consequence of this is that websites that have a low domain authority such as low-quality blogs or directories appear spammy or untrustworthy as far as Google and other search engines are concerned.
This means that if your site gets a link from one of those low-quality websites, the flow of link juice you get from their referral page to yours may negatively impact your website.
Google takes a firm stance on sites that buy or sell links.
It sees those kinds of link schemes as an attempt to manipulate the page rank. Doing this is in violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
If you are found guilty of buying or selling links, this can result in some pretty high penalties.
Often times the websites that sell links tend to have a lot more external links than they do internal ones and this raises a red flag for Google.
Link exchanges and non-editorial links or situations where cross-linking is obviously being used for the sake of the link, are unnatural and considered bad as far as Google is concerned.
Keyword-rich or over-optimized anchor text is also another link quality factor.
When Google sees blatant attempts to manipulate links by using anchor text that is keyword driven, it considers this to be black hat SEO tactics and the offending websites will be penalized.
Although you may get away with doing this once or twice if it's totally relevant, if you want to keep Google happy then the best thing to do is to use your brand name, your website URL, or even variations of both options as your anchor text, particularly when guest posting.
Another factor that's very important is the relevance of a link.
For instance, you could get a link from a website with a DA of 80 but if the website or the content on the page that you linking to don’t relate to your page then Google may see this as linking for the sake of getting a link and punish your rankings.
Keep in mind that the whole concept of linking is to try to make your users’ journey as smooth and easy as possible.
So links that are irrelevant or out of context don't provide real value to your users and therefore aren't considered to be good quality backlinks.
How to Find Bad Links and Detox Them
Now that we know what is considered a bad link, it's time to move on to the part where we learn how to remove them.
The first step to flushing away the toxic links on your website is to learn how to find them in the most effective way.
But Don’t Worry:
Finding your toxic links isn't going to be as hard as you think.
There are a lot of great tools online that you can use to conduct full back-link audits for your website. Some of them are free and some are paid.
Just keep in mind that with this type of software you generally get what you pay for so if you really want to do things right, you might want to consider a paid tool.
Each of the tools mentioned above works in pretty much the same way. All you need to do is to enter your domain URL and you will be supplied with a load of useful data concerning your profile.
For instance, if you use the software from SEMRush, their backlink audit tool gives you the following data:
Referring domains (this includes new, broken, and lost domains)
Types of Anchor Text
Follow versus No Follow Links
Overall Toxic Links Score
Once you have a list of the backlinks on your site, you will need to fish out all the backlinks that could potentially cause issues.
Look for the Ones that have Low Domain Authority
As previously mentioned DA or domain authority plays a big part when it comes to Google's evaluation of a website and the type of link juice you get from it.
As a general rule, any site that has the DA of below 30 probably isn't worth getting links from.
If you want to get quality backlinks that will boost your rankings, ideally you need to look at sites that have a domain authority of 35 or more. This is something that a lot of marketing experts agree on.
Recent Moz updates have made changes to the domain authority of referring domains.
If you've been keeping an eye on your links, then you might have noticed this already. Moz has come up with an improved algorithm to better identify how credible a particular website is.
It takes into account the total number of links going out from the site, the quality of web traffic, and how involved the site is with link manipulation.
So you may have earned backlinks that have a DA of 50 or 60 at the time, but you might find that the revised score is now below 10, so this is definitely something worth checking.
It's also a great idea for you to crosscheck other metrics such as Trust Flow and Page Authority. You can use tools like Majestic's Site Explorer for this.
This will help you form a clear overall analysis of your website.
Look for Keyword-Rich Anchor Text
Most of the online backlink audit tools provide you with the anchor text that is used for each backlink to your site. For instance, SEMRush categorizes the anchors using branded, money, organic, and compound anchor text.
Compound anchor text includes the website’s brand name used in conjunction with a keyword or phrase.
This could be, for instance, ‘company X roofers’. But since these are considered manipulative by Google, it's best to avoid them.
Money anchors of those texts that are a match for common keywords that your site is trying to rank for.
For instance, if company X (a New York-based roofing company) links to another website using anchor text such as ‘New York roofers’ or ‘New York roofing company’, then Google will assume that it's an attempt to try and manipulate the link in an unnatural way – to cheat the system, so to speak.
This is actually a very common black hat SEO tactic.
But it's such a shame to waste potentially valuable links simply based on the anchor text. One thing you can do is try to contact the webmaster of those backlink sources and request that they change that specific anchor text to something else that is a lot more natural sounding, such as ‘visit our website’.
Alternatively, you can use a simple branded term like ‘company X’.
When you do it this way, Google cannot punish your site and you will receive the full value of that particular link.
Look for Links That Come From a Potentially Toxic Website
A lot of the online tools for rooting out bad links will also give you a rating or score which displays how toxic your referring domains are. This typically indicates whether or not the websites are likely to give you bad link juice.
Again using our SEMRush backlink audit tool example, the websites are analyzed using over 30 toxic factors such as:
Spam in communities
…And many more
The website is then given a toxic score which is a metric measured on a scale of one to 100 indicating the harmfulness of that particular backlink.
As a general rule, anything over 45 is considered a bad link and you should add it to your detox list or disavow list.
Toxic Score Metric
Any website with a high toxic score usually has a low domain authority and a high external link density.
These are definitely not sites that you want to be associated with if you want to create and maintain a balanced, healthy link profile for your own website.
Flushing Away Toxic Links
After compiling your list of unnatural or harmful backlinks and exporting it, you can then delete them from your system using the disavow tool from Google.
You submit a text file that contains the list of bad links and by doing so you're telling Google to ignore these websites which means that they cannot impact to your site negatively in the search engine rankings.
Disavow Links in Google Search Console
An alternative is to request to have the links removed altogether. If you don't already have it, Google will supply you with the webmasters’ contact information so you can get this done.
Time to Kick Start Your New Website
Now that you've detoxed and your site is filled with good links only, you need to have a plan to start linking in a healthier and more natural way. A healthy robust backlink profile is the secret to a successful SEO strategy that will yield amazing results for your online business.
Once you know exactly where and how to get those quality backlinks, you spend a lot less time keeping tabs on your profile. Instead, you'll be able to channel your efforts toward more positive SEO link building.
Apart from random links or the odd spamming link that you mysteriously get from unknown sources (such as through scraped or duplicated content), you're responsible for all the links you build on your site.
This means that if you notice your backlink profile is becoming unhealthy, then you know it's time to start rethinking the link building strategy you’re currently using.
Just keep in mind that quality will always hold more value than quantity when it comes to links.
And, moving forward, this needs to be your link-building philosophy if you want to stay on Google's good side and get higher rankings in the SERPs.
So it's time to get rid of all those bad links and start filling your website with the good stuff which is so much better for your overall search engine optimization efforts.
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Thanks and happy hunting!
Updated: Originally published April 15th 2019