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How to detect whether a website is affected by backlink spam

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Let’s face it; not all backlinks are created with the same intention behind it. While high-quality backlinks are valuable, even vital for your search engine ranking, low-quality backlinks can affect your visibility on Google and lower your page authority. Knowing the difference between a high and low-quality backlink is essential for maximizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the online reputation of your business.

To understand the importance behind link building and how to make sure your website is free of backlink spam, the following article will lead you from the basics to the removal process.

Why should you care about your online reputation?

Would you do business with a company Google doesn’t trust? Exactly, we wouldn’t either. In fact, if Google doesn’t trust it, chances are you won’t even be able to find the company in the vastness of the internet. If you want to be successful online, you have to play by the rules and – like it or not – Google makes most of them.

The search engine is paying closer attention than ever to accurate rankings because their reputation as a service provider is also on the line. In many cases, backlink spam is not just annoying but can be very harmful and, in the long run, destroy your website’s reputation.

As a rule of thumb: High-quality backlinks will reward your site with greater domain authority and higher search visibility, while low-quality backlinks can damage your reputation with Google and compromise your visibility in searches.

Link building basics

Backlinks have always been a strong ranking signal for search engines. Unfortunately, the myth that each time you get a new backlink, your website is making a step towards a better search ranking position is not true at all. If you are engaged in link building, you already know that getting penalized for backlink spam is one of your biggest problems.

On the other hand, if you are just starting out now and want to make sure your search engine ranking doesn’t get harmed, you have to keep an eye on the links that are pointing to your site.

Google looks at those links and uses the result to determine how well the site will rank. It decides whether your link is built with the intention to increase the value of a website or with the sole intention of increasing the search engine ranking.

Why is backlink spam such a big problem?

Not everybody will welcome your business’s success with open arms. With success comes envy and your competition can easily harm your rankings with negative SEO. Spam backlinks are among the most wide-known techniques to attack companies online without leaving a trace. They can be easily created on behalf of someone else without your knowledge or consent.

Your website can be hacked, or haters can send fake reports to Google as well as build low-quality links that lead to your site to ultimately get it penalized. Therefore, it is extremely important to spot backlink spam early on and take measures against it right away. 

In 2002, Google stated that “any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”

There you have it; Google is very clear about the fact that they don’t tolerate page ranking manipulation or any form of link schemes. That being said, you have to be very careful about what links are pointing to your site. The low-quality links that have been addressed with the Penguin 2.0 update, an algorithm that fights against bad links can be found on

  • sites with obvious content like porn or gambling,
  • link farms/networks and sites with an unusually large number of external links,
  • sites with a virus or malware warning,
  • new and low-traffic domains,
  • sites that are not indexed by Google are irrelevant,
  • Page Rank (PR) 0 or n/a site (no domain authority), or
  • sites with a virus or malware warning.

Chances are, Google will not punish you for a few spammy backlinks. One or two bad links won’t impact your domain authority immediately, but as they increase, it is affecting your ranking and the website traffic negatively.

Luckily, identifying bad backlinks has become much easier over the years. If you’re serious about keeping your website safe and healthy, an SEO toolset might be a good investment. Professionals believe that there is still no tool that can be as precise as a manual review, though. 

Which backlinks are bad? 

Let’s first determine what a good backlink looks like before we start to hunt down the bad ones. We welcome backlinks from high-authority, reputable sites that are not just relevant sources for your website users, but were also built without the intention of rank manipulation.

Links like that are intended to improve a user’s experience and don’t always point to the intro page of your website. They are used sporadically and refer to specific pages as an important source of information while being framed in some explanatory text.

A bad backlink can be explained as a link from an irrelevant, low-quality page that is pointing to your own website. A link from a disreputable or poorly made site will cause a negative impact, even worse if the source was specifically designed to manipulate page rank. If Google decides that the link’s only purpose is to generate traffic artificially, it will likely earn you a penalty.

Other indicators are the structure of the link and the frequency at which you point backlinks to your page. If it is posted by itself without supporting the content or any explanation, it will be seen as spam. The same applies if your site gets multiple backlinks in a very short period of time. That is especially harmful to your credibility if the page the link is coming from has no relation with your industry or the topic of your website. 

How can you get rid of spammy backlinks?

If you are concerned about your backlink profile or simply want to take a look at your current link building efforts, you have multiple ways to analyze your backlinks. The good news is, finding bad backlinks is the majority of all the work.

There are many methods you can find out if your site has toxic backlinks. In a nutshell, you have to go through each of your backlinks and want to keep links from high-quality sites as well as get rid of links from low-quality sites. 

The best way is to review them manually and then to write a link removal request to the webmaster of the site the link comes from explaining the reason for your request. If they don’t accept your request or you cannot get a hold of the responsible person, you can use the Disavow Tool within the Google Search Console.

Like mentioned earlier, the easiest way to detect and remove toxic backlinks is by using specialized SEO tools, like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, or Majestic. They all follow a similar process and do the work for you. 

Another drastic, but the effective fix is to delete the page the links are pointing towards because Google Webmaster Forum says Google doesn’t count a 404 page. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make your website very user or search engine friendly.

If nothing else helps in the end, starting off with a clean slate and a new website is always an option, especially if you haven’t invested a lot into the growth of your site. You should consider registering a new gTLD with the help of an experienced provider like 101domain. 


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