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How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks That Kill Your Rankings

How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks That Kill Your Rankings

Let’s play word association! What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “penguin”?

If you are thinking of a cute bird that does not fly, then there is nothing wrong with it, congratulations. But if you immediately thought of link schemes, spammy backlinks, and Google penalties, then your tastes are very … unique. Which means you are working on SEO! Feel free to be a little proud.

However, I have found that even if people can distinguish a penguin from Penguin, they often cannot prevent spammy backlinks from damaging their sites. That’s because we are inclined to think that every new backlink is good.

Unfortunately this is not the case. This is why I want to talk about bad backlinks, how they can hurt your rankings, and what you can do to prevent them from doing so.

Why Would I Care About Spam Backlinks, Anyway?

I know what you’re thinking. Every time we get a new backlink, we are taking a small step towards a better search position. The more the better. The backlinks must be great, right?

Incorrect. Well, at least not quite correct.

Here’s the thing. Some backlinks are so unpleasant that they can cast a shadow over your backlink profile that you have been building for so long. This shadow could eventually lead to a Google penalty.

Not all backlinks are the same. On the back of SEO, there is something called backlink spam, which is basically a link to your page placed on a useless and irrelevant website with random, poorly tuned anchor text.

Not good for your image, right? That’s what Google thinks about it too.

How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks That Kill Your Rankings

These bad backlinks usually come from cheap Fiverr programs, Scrapebox comment spam, or a link network.

In many cases, if you find that many Chinese (.cn) or Russian (.ru) domains are suddenly linked to your site, this can (and probably will be) a good indicator of low-quality backlinks.

Quantity is important here. Certainly there are already some spammy backlinks to your site. But if there are too many, it will appear that you are trying to use dubious SEO tactics to manipulate your rankings.

As a result, Google can take action against you. This is exactly why they created the Google Penguin algorithm. If you fight bad links and at the same time make the internet a better place, you can destroy your site along the way.

Where Do These Spam Backlinks Even Come From?

Google took action. They began to ban “link schemes” and stated once again that “any link intended to manipulate the PageRank or ranking of a website in Google search results can be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”

This basically means that if you spam links, Google can remove it from the search query. Imagine how bad it would be.

You may wonder why this should be important to you if you are not dealing with questionable SEO tactics and have certainly never bought a single backlink in your life. Well, this is due to negative SEO as spam backlinks are among the most popular negative SEO tactics.

In case you didn’t know, negative SEO is what your competitors can do to hurt your rankings. And as daunting as it may sound, you won’t find out who is attacking you. All you can do is defend yourself.

How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks That Kill Your Rankings

The term is the opposite of “positive SEO” – a set of steps taken to properly optimize your site and rank high.

For example, your competitors may hack your site (worst case scenario) or submit false reports about your site to Google. Or they can create a lot of low quality links to your site and eventually get penalized.

In any case, if you are the victim of a negative SEO attack, it is really important to identify yourself from the beginning and act against it. Thankfully, getting rid of bad backlinks is easy, if you know the trick.

What Do I Do If My Website Does Have Spam Backlinks?

First, take a deep breath and relax. After what you’ve just read, you probably want to check your backlinks right away and report them to Google, just to be safe.

But relax. As long as you aren’t involved in blatant link manipulation, Google won’t punish you for some spammy backlinks.

All you need to do is check your backlink profile from time to time and clean it of those crafty spam bastards.

The whole process of fighting spammy backlinks comes down to three simple steps:

  • Detect all the spam backlinks that your site has;
  • Compile a list of all toxic domains (in .txt format);
  • Reject them from Google with the help of the Google Disavow tool (or just report these backlinks to Google and it will ignore them).

Now let’s drill down these three steps in details.

How Do I Detect Spam Backlinks That My Website Has?

As always, there is a tricky part. The best way to find toxic backlinks is to manually review them. But how do you go about finding fraudulent backlinks and auditing your website on your own?

Well, the easiest way, and the one I’m recommending, is to use specialized SEO tools.

If you think these toolkits are very specific tools that only professionals need, think again. Tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz or Majestic are useful to periodically check the status of your website. And there is no better way to combat spammy backlinks.

I will explain the process in Ahrefs, but it is more or less similar among all SEO toolkits.


Today many of these SEO tools are trying to find an automated solution that will accurately identify bad links right away.

For example, SEMrush came with their backlink auditing tool that tells you if your domain is at risk of being penalized.

However, there is no tool that can be as accurate as manual review. At least at this point.

It should be noted that finding bad backlinks is about 90% of all work. When you’re done, all you have to do is upload your toxic domain list to Google and celebrate the victory.

There are two best working methods for finding spammy backlinks:

  • Method 1. Detect low-quality sites that link to you.
  • Method # 2. Identifying spammy anchor texts.


Before proceeding with the description of each of these methods, create a .txt file so that you can launch all the suspicious links that you find. When all is said and done, it will submit this file to Google.

How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks That Kill Your Rankings

Now, are you ready to cut these bad ribbon links? Let’s do that!

Method 1. Detect Low-quality Websites That Link To You

In the simplest terms, a low-quality backlink usually originates from a low-quality website. It seems natural, doesn’t it?

Therefore, all we have to do is find these useless sites. Different tools use their own metrics to measure how strong and reliable a given domain is.

Moz uses Domain Authority, SEMrush has its Domain Score, and so on. In Ahrefs, it’s called Domain Rating (or just DR).

Here’s how to discover this “fly in the ointment”:

Place your domain in Ahrefs Site Explorer. Then, look for the option called “Backlink Profile” in the menu on the left. What you will need for a subsequent audit is the “Referring Domains” report, which will show you the list of all the sites linked to you.

How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks That Kill Your Rankings

The next step would be to sort the list of referring sites by their quality, from the lowest Domain Rating (RD) to the highest. To do this, simply click on the corresponding column.

Now, don’t be too quick to remove all backlinks from low DR sites. You have to investigate each suspicious domain in more detail. Look for common spam indicators, such as domains that look like spam, many foreign domains (specifically Chinese (.cn), or Russian (.ru)), sites that obviously do not belong in your niche, etc.

After detecting this suspicious domain, click the number in the “Backlinks” column to get more details about each backlink that comes from it. It’s the last step in making sure that a particular backlink is actually in your anchor text. If it looks suspicious, inconsistent, or doesn’t match your niche, it’s a stronger and more reliable sign of a spam backlink.

How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks That Kill Your Rankings

You can also click on the suspicious link to verify that the content on that page is of poor quality and then be ready to disavow your dangerous finding from Google.

Method #2. Identify Spammy Anchor Texts

Another way to find spammy backlinks is to examine the anchor texts immediately.

Look, if it detects a lot of the same irrelevant anchors that don’t really reflect the content on your page, it’s an alert. Certainly these links are spam and can lead Google to penalize your site.

In other words, it is not good that your video game blog is linked to a dozen sites with the anchor text “adult videos”.

Again, good old SEO tools will come in handy for this task. Most of them offer this feature as a separate report in their tools so that you can check the anchor texts quickly and with no hassle.

In Ahrefs Site Explorer, the required report is called “Anchors” and can be found in the menu on the left.

To find bad backlinks, click the Details button next to the identified suspicious anchor text and you will receive a list of spam referring domains.

How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks That Kill Your Rankings

How Do I Disavow Bad Backlinks From Google?

At this point, we are in a good place. You have the list of dangerous backlinks/domains at your fingertips, so most of the dirty work is done.

What’s left is to tell Google that you don’t want these toxic backlinks and disavow them from Google Search Console (this is where the .txt file you’re creating comes in).


With the help of SEO tools, you can automatically create a rejection file in .txt format. All you need to do is mark the suspicious domains and export the dashboard list. Usually there is a separate button for this.

To start this party, you will need to log into the Google account associated with your domain and go to theDisavow Tool.

Its interface is as simple as possible: just upload the disavow file and click the button. Also, remember that you can reject each separate backlink or the entire link domain, depending on your preferences.

How to Identify and Remove Bad Backlinks That Kill Your Rankings

You don’t have to worry now as Google will notice changes very quickly and these links will no longer hurt your SEO.

Final Thought

Spammed backlinks are often more annoying than harmful, but there is a real chance that they will destroy your site’s reputation on Google. That is why it is important to never give them the opportunity to do that.

Make checking your backlink profile a healthy habit. It’s also a great idea to dive into it if you notice a sudden spike or drop in traffic that you can’t explain.

Invest in a good set of SEO tools for your choice if you really want to keep your site safe and healthy. This regular check can not only save you from spam overload, but it also gives you great content ideas or outreach opportunities.

And if you find a backlink you don’t want on a site that isn’t actually spam, don’t be too quick to report it to Google. Still, it is recommended to contact the site owners and kindly ask them to remove the unwanted links. After all, we are humans, not penguins.

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