A backlink is a link from one website to another. Backlinks are considered votes of confidence, so having backlinks from reputable websites can improve your site’s search rankings. However, not all backlinks are created equal. Bad backlinks can actually harm your search performance.

What are bad backlinks?

What makes a backlink “bad”?

Here are some qualities that characterize bad backlinks:

    Irrelevant – The linking site is unrelated to your niche or content. Search engines want backlinks to be meaningful.

    Unnatural – Backlinks should occur organically. “Paid” backlinks or bulk links are often penalized.

    Low-Quality – Spammy, old, duplicate content does not help search value.

    Risks Penalties – Some links violate Google’s rules and risk penalties if discovered.

    Spam Tactics – Aggressive outreach for links via mass emails or automated software can seem spammy.

Common types of bad backlinks

While any irrelevant or excessive links can be problematic, here are some typical types of bad backlinks to avoid:

Pay-Per-Click Networks

Buying bulk backlinks from link networks or platforms often raises red flags. These paid links appear manipulative to search engines. While some PPC ads are permissible when disclosed, buying backlinks en masse should be avoided.

Article Spinning Sites

Automatically generating similar articles or “spinning” existing content to create duplicate pages with similar backlinks should be avoided. The low-quality spun content and links have little value for users or search.

Irrelevant Directories

Having a bulk number of directory-style links from sites unrelated to the niche and content does not help with search rankings and credibility. For example, a dentistry site should not have dozens of links from general web directories. Relevancy is key.

Excessive Reciprocal Linking

While reciprocal links between complementary sites can make sense, having an excessive number can appear manipulative. Trading bulk links or participating in “link schemes” is often penalized. Let links arise organically.

Paid Links Without nofollow Tag

In some cases, paid links are permissible but only if designated with a nofollow link attribute. This tells search engines to ignore the link juice. Paid links without nofollow risk penalties. Use ethically and add tags.

Automated Outreach/Platforms

Services offering automated or bulk outreach for backlinks are also risky. Mass outreach is often perceived as spam by site owners and risks penalties if links are built unnaturally. Focus on building relationships the right way.

Strategies to avoid bad backlinks

The best way to avoid getting bad backlinks is through prevention. Here are some key strategies:

    Guest Post Carefully – Manually identify relevant sites accepting contributor posts and create custom content fitting their brand. Avoid automating outreach.

    Select Link Partners Wisely – Find complementary sites naturally where editorial links make sense for users. Avoid buying links randomly.

    Disavow Irrelevant Links – If bad links do occur, use Google’s disavow tool to remove their influence.

    Monitor New Links – Use search console and analytics to identify sketchy new links. Quickly investigate and disavow these.

    Produce Quality Content – Focus energy on creating content so compelling that sites voluntarily want to link to it. Earn links organically.

Effects of bad backlinks

While low-quality links might seem harmless, here are some potential consequences:

Google Penalties

Violating Google’s quality guidelines risks penalties if large volumes of unnatural links get built. Manual or algorithmic penalties directly lower search visibility.

Ranking Declines

As the proportion of low-quality links rises on a site, positive links get “watered down” resulting in ranking declines over time. Too many bad links drown out real signals.

Negative SEO Attacks

Rogue competitors can intentionally build bad links to your site in attempts to trigger penalties and cause ranking drops – a black hat tactic known as “negative SEO”.

Security Issues

In some cases, comment spam links contain malware and vulnerabilities or are built from hijacked domains. These can impact site security beyond just SEO if clicked.

Common questions about bad backlinks

  1. How do I identify bad backlinks to my site?
    Check inbound links reporting in Google Search Console and analytics platforms. Sort by domain authority/trust flow metrics to identify low-quality domains. Review context of links and avoid sites with paid posts, bulk links, etc.

  2. Should I use Google’s disavow tool?
    Disavow cautiously for clearly manipulative/toxic links risks penalties if used without guidance. Start by investigating links in Google Search Console and removing obviously questionable ones. Seek expert SEO help before mass disavowing unknown links.

  3. Can I remove bad backlinks on other sites?
    You cannot directly remove links from third-party sites. Site owners choose what they link to. Avoid tactics perceived as manipulative by asking sites directly to remove links using Google’s best practices as context.

  4. How many bad backlinks before rankings drop?
    There is no absolute threshold. But as low-quality links accumulate over time, positive rankings signals get diluted. Monitor link quality, not just quantity using analytics.

  5. Should I report bad backlinks to Google?
    Only report clear, intentional spam/manipulation attempts to Google Search Console for investigation. Unnatural link networks penalty sites enabling them should be reported.

    Key Takeaways

    Bad backlinks such as irrelevant, manipulative, or excessive links can negatively impact search performance and risk penalties.

    Avoid building links using bulk automated tactics or purchasing links randomly. Focus on earning links naturally from relevant sites.

    Monitor analytics for low-quality new links. Disavow or remove clearly spammy links cautiously. Seek expert guidance before mass disavowing.

    Creating compelling, useful content that sites voluntarily want to link remains the safest approach long-term for maintaining positive visibility.


Not all backlinks help with search marketing and performance – low-quality and irrelevant links can actually dilute rankings over time. Avoid manually building or buying bulk links from unrelated sites or using automated tactics. The best practice is allowing links to occur organically from sites voluntarily finding your content valuable to recommend. Produce trustworthy and compelling content so genuine backlinks arise naturally. Monitor inbound links routinely and disavow true spam links cautiously upon expert review. While bad backlinks can negatively impact search visibility when excessive, focusing efforts on creating content so useful that other sites are inspired to link remains the ideal long-term approach.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are some examples of bad backlinks?
A: Typical bad backlinks include bulk directory links, paid links, excessive reciprocal links, automated outreach links, spun content, etc. Any links perceived as manipulative/spammy should be avoided.

Q: How can I lose bad backlinks?
A: You cannot directly remove links. But you can correctly nofollow sponsored links, ask site owners to remove irrelevant links and disavow truly toxic links using Google’s tool.

Q: Do I need to disavow bad backlinks?
A: Not necessarily immediately. First monitor new links and investigate any spammy ones detected. Before mass disavowing, seek expert guidance to avoid unintended harm from overly aggressive removal.

Q: Can too many backlinks hurt my rankings?
A: Yes, having an unnaturally large, fast accumulation of links often raises red flags. Excessive low-quality links also dilute positive link signals over time. Moderation and relevancy is key.

Q: Should I buy backlinks for SEO?
A: No. Buying links risks penalties if discovered and provides no long-term value. The best approach is earning links naturally through compelling content.

Q: How do I detect toxic backlinks?
A: Routinely monitor links per analytics tools. Review relevance, link velocity/projections and flags for low-quality domains. Seek expert audits before assuming toxicity and risks of mass disavowing.

Q: What is Google’s disavow tool?
A: A tool to tell Google not to count specific backlinks. Use cautiously under guidance for clearly manipulative links only. All other links are best left alone unless provably toxic.

Q: Do reciprocal links help with SEO?
A: In moderation between closely aligned sites, editorially given reciprocal links can help. But excessive bulk reciprocal linking will likely trigger spam flags.

Q: Can I use software to build backlinks?
A: No. Automated backlink building software often uses techniques violating guidelines. All links should arise organically from genuine interest/relevance.

Q: Is buying expired domains for backlinks OK?
A: Generally not recommended as perceptions often view this as a shortcut technique. Focus efforts on creating compelling content and earning links the right way.

Q: How many links per month raises flags?
A: There are no absolute thresholds, but unnaturally rapid accumulation often draws scrutiny. Strive for steady moderation from trustworthy sites.

Q: Can I request old links be removed?
A: For clearly manipulative links, you may politely request removal. But be cautious about asking to prune any natural links as that can seem odd and raise questions.

Q: Will a manual penalty ever expire?
A: Permanent manual penalties typically will not expire or reverse without taking explicit correction actions confirmed by Google. Require professional guidance.

Q: Should press releases include backlinks?
A: Keep links in legitimate press releases natural and relevant without over-optimization. Avoid publishing solely for backlink creation versus newsworthiness.

Q: How do I know if competitor backlinks are bad?
A: Routine analytics checks help spot potential patterns of concern, but avoid assumptions. Focus efforts on your site’s quality versus fixation on competitors.

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July 2024


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