3. Off Page Optimisation
Article #3.18

Toxic links and their Cure

The after-Penguin effect!

Source: Google Penguin

Google’s Penguin Update has clearly shaken the very foundation of SEO. Various strategies that webmasters had adopted to rank their websites, took a complete 360o  turn with the rolling out of this update. Prior to this, links were the key to rankings. But, on 24th April 2012, when Google’s Penguin 1.0 update started to steal the show, a painful reality dawned on every online marketer; Inbound links could negatively affect our rankings too!
Wondering why did Google take such step? Well, with so many websites selling links for money, webmasters flooding their sites with links irrespective to whether those links hold any significance to their product/content/service, inaccurate search results with compromised quality, did it have any other option? Hence, the update; it aimed at penalizing all the webmasters who were making their website a link dump.
So, that quite changed the scenario from building links to cleaning up your link profile.  
Initially, the worst a bad/toxic link could do was make no difference in your site’s ranking at all. But, well now if you ask, it could get you penalized. Terrified, much? Do not worry. The first thing you need to do is stop panicking. The second thing? Well, read the article, find your solutions, clean up your link profile and relax.


Tracking Backlinks - The best way to escape Google’s Penguin penalty!

As I mentioned above, you need to stop panicking (though, I know it’s easy to say, than implement) 
Before beginning with taking any further action, you first need to understand, how your backlink profile actually looks like. How? 

  • Simply, get a Webmaster Tool Account.
  • Then, go ahead verify it and click on Search tools>Links to your site>More
  • Click “Download Latest Link” under “Who Links Most”
  • The spreadsheet view of your inbound links is there, in front of you.

Now, one thing you need to be know here is that this list will only show you the links which have already been crawled and indexed by them.

What are toxic backlinks and why is it the need of the hour to remove them? 

Source: Negative SEO
Toxic links are basically any links which causes your PageRank and search rankings to drop. Irrespective of whether those links are to your site or outgoing links from your site, it will be considered toxic, if Google feels that it’s unnatural (irrelevant and useless) and is just an attempt to increase your rankings.
Also, links which aren’t editorially placed or are vouched by webmasters on pages are considered as toxic links.

Why is it important to remove them?

Backlinks are considered as a very important element at Google. If it discovers that any of your links are not in sync with your content or are not adding any value for your users and are just an attempt to increase your Pagerank or drive traffic, it is likely to classify those links as toxic and take necessary action against it. Consequences, you may ask? Here they are:

  • Your website might be subjected to an algorithmic or manual penalty based on the ratio of your quality links to toxic links.
  • It reduces the PageRank of your site.
  • It may give you a drastic and negative change to your SERPs rankings.
  • It can even lead to the exclusion of your entire website from Google’s index.

How do I know if I have toxic backlinks?

Yes, it’s very common to wonder about the same question, how am I supposed to know if I have toxic backlinks. Well, you can find out in several ways:

  • You would know simply because you created them

If you yourself have been involved in some suspicious web activity like paying for links for the sole purpose of content spamming, then you are very much aware that you have acquired toxic backlinks in website.

  • You would have gotten a Warning from Google

Even if you would have not created these spammy backlinks for your self, it’s still possible that you might have toxic backlinks in your backlink profile, probably created by scammers or a questionable SEO company that you had hired sometime back. So, in case if you are genuinely unaware of these kind of links existing on your website, you would soon receive a warning notification from Google.

  • You would experience a sudden drop in the traffic to your website

If the organic traffic that you have been receiving, has seen a drop in the recent times, it’s quite possible that these toxic backlinks are the cause behind it.

  • You undergo a check of your backlinks

If you probably are too worried about the drop in your rankings or are too much obsessed with the Penguin 2.0 update, you can you pull out a list of backlinks on your website and check them for toxic links.

Do I have toxic backlinks or not? Too confused to decide it?

Now, once you have a complete knowledge and understanding about the backlinks on your website, manually analyze all of them, to know as to where they are coming from. 
Well, if you want to avoid this manual and lengthy process, visit RankWatch, enter your domain and go for the “Link Centre” feature which along with listing your toxic, suspicious and neutral links, also specifies what are the reason behind the same. When you click on “Show all”, you can see your entire link profile along with RankWatch toxic score.

You would only want to have links coming from high quality, high valued and relevant websites and immediately get rid of the links which are coming from spammy and low quality websites like below:

  • Spammy sites like porn sites, game sites, gambling sites, payday loan sites etc.: Do you really think backlinks coming from the above mentioned sites would be relevant to you? (well, ofcourse it would be, only if your website is one of the above kinds). Supposedly you are an advertising agency, and you have a backlink coming from a gambling site. Is it making any sense? You need to be very careful with such links and remove them immediately as soon as you come across them.
  • Websites which are not yet indexed by Google: On crawling the web, Google indexes and includes those websites in its database which are considered legitimate and relevant. So, if any website is not indexed by Google, that particular website is obviously not worth in the eyes of Google. It’s better not to link with such sites, as these can get you penalized.
  • Sites with very little traffic: This is common sense. There might be two reasons for this. The first one being, that the site has a very poor SERPs ranking (Google again, does not consider this site to be worthy enough to make it rank). Second, the users might not consider it worth. So, either ways, these kind of sites are not the ones, you should be linked with.
  • Links coming from sites which have link networks: Some websites have suspiciously large number of external links. These are probably the websites which buy links in bulk. These websites are in some ways, spammy websites. Linking to such sites can result in a penalty by Google.
  • Websites which show a virus or malware warning on entering them: Some websites (on entering them) request a malware installation. These kind of websites are categorized separately by Google, as they can sense something fishy or suspicious activity going on in there. Linking to such websites can negatively affect your rankings.
  • Links coming from a website which is not ranking on any keyword: Here again, if the website is not ranking on any of it’s keywords, it is not considered worth in the eyes of Google. And, what is irrelevant for Google, it is safe to stay away from the same.
  • Link coming from a website whose Domain age >2 years but, Domain PR <1: The growth of domain age and its PR should always increase in the same direction. If a website has been indexed by Google since 2 years, but its PR is still 1, Google does not consider it as a decent authoritative website. Linking to such websites will not result in any favourable transfer of link juice.
  • Links coming from a website with MOZ Rank <1 and Alexa rank >5 lakh: Moz Rank is a value given by seoMoz, ranging between 0.00 (no value) to 9.99 (high value) on the basis of backlinks and linking website quality. A website with Moz Rank <1 will definitely be a very low authority website. Similarly, Alexa rank is a ranking given on the basis of traffic or number of visitors to your website. An alexa, greater than 5 lakhs is definitely not a good one.

What next? The Cleanup process!

Let’s start off with the cleanup process. Once you know, how many of your links are toxic and where they are coming from, you can easily start with cleaning them. Here are the ways you can use to do the same:

  • Delete them yourself

This is the most simplest of all. Well, only if you own the sites from where the backlinks are coming from. Go ahead and delete them yourself.

  • Humbly request to remove the links

There are more chances that the place from where the toxic backlinks are coming are not owned by you. Here is the main hard work. You would have to personally contact (maybe, via e-mails etc) the webmasters and request them to remove the links. Mind you, you can also be required to reach out to them several times in order to get your work done, i.e get rid of the toxic backlinks. Be sure to pin point each and every link that want to get removed from your website and I would suggest you to document the same, just in case you need to show them to Google later.
Never ever threaten or order the other website owner to remove their links pointing to your website. Always, reach out to them politely after explaining the entire situation. The only exception to the above sentence should be where you detect these links to be coming from spammy sites. It is then, where you can threaten them disavow their links with Google. 

  • Using Google’s Disavow Tool

If all your efforts to getting rid of the toxic backlinks on your website, are proving to be unsuccessful or if you are not hearing from the webmasters even after several attempts of reaching out to them and requesting them to take down the links, you can use the Google Disavow tool. But I would again mention, proceed with this tool only after trying all ways and means to remove those backlinks. When you aren’t left with any other go option, go ahead and use this tool. Google’s Disavow tool is a way to tell Google, not to take the specified links into consideration while determining the Pagerank or the search engine rankings of a particular site. 
Now, to get started, you need to create a proper disavow file in the required format, listing all the URLs and domains that you want Google not to consider along with your documented removal efforts. Take care of the following things while working on the format:

  • Make sure you use (.txt) as a file format 
  • Instead of disavowing just the link, disavow the entire domain.
  • Disavowing domains require “domain:” to be placed at the beginning of the URL. E.g., “Domain:website.com”. Therefore do not use “http://” or “www:

Now, that your disavow file is created, it’s time to submit the same to Google.

  • Log in to your Google Webmaster’s Account (create one if you don’t have it already).
  • Click on the Disavow Tool.
  • Select your site and click on “Disavow Links” 
  • Upload the disavow that you had created and hit on “Submit”

Now, this process could take from a few weeks to some months to be processed from Google’s end. So, you need to be patient.
Again, this is not a total cure to all your SEO problems but it sure is a relief to cleaning up your backlink profile.

After cleaning up, what do I do?

Once you are done with cleaning up all the toxic backlinks pointing to your site, you need to file a reconsideration request with Google. This has to be polite and detailed, stating that you admit the mistakes you have committed, explaining the steps that you took to correct the same and promising to use nothing, but best practices for link building and SEO. 
This will take somewhere around 2-3 weeks to get processed. If Google is satisfied with the request, they restore your site to the original place. If they aren’t satisfied with the same, a denying notification is received. In such cases, repeat the steps above.


While doing a backlink audit, analyzing toxic backlinks and removing them can be a lengthy and tedious process, it is worth doing if you really want to see your website perform well in the search results. Google is always concerned about a positive user experience and White Hat SEO. If you are building spammy links, then you are playing with both its concern, whose consequences can turn out to be really fatal for you as well as for your website. So, it’s better to go ahead with building high quality content and natural backlinks to build the trust of both Google and users. 

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