In the realm of digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) serves as one of the most impactful long-term strategies that any business owner can employ to boost their enterprise’s online presence.
A quick Google search on the relevant statistics and data will all tell you one thing about people being online, that whether you’re a consumer or not, the internet will find something that tickles your fancy.
A debateable statement, but not entirely false, precisely considering why things such as toxic backlinks exist.
But first, what are backlinks?
As an online business owner, I’m pretty sure you’ve come across the term “digital marketing” here and there. Services like social media management, content marketing, pay-per-click advertising, and SEO are a few of the more usual examples of digital marketing strategies that most agencies offer. And backlinks play an important part in SEO.
Backlinks, also referred to as inbound links, are basically like references. It’s a link on a page in your website that goes to another site’s page. To improve your business’ website’s SEO and rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) like Google, you’ll eventually want to have link building in your SEO strategy. That being said, you might be thinking, “For what reason will I ever need backlinks?”
As a way to signal a resource material, a backlink is perceived as a vote of confidence on the authoritativeness of a website or webpage. Given the various content topics, industries, and niches available online, a website can’t be an authority figure on everything, but it can certainly rank for being an expert on certain spheres of interest through link building.
For example; a popular film review blog that enjoys high volumes of organic traffic is discussing the Avengers: End Game (2019) and somewhere along the blog’s content, it has a backlink that goes to a page on your business’ website, which happens to be a movie theater.
And since the page is from a film review blog from a reputable brand with high domain and page authority, your movie theater business website will benefit from this positive vote of confidence. The more backlinks you have, the likelier that Google recognizes your website as relevant, thus helping improve your SEO.
Back in 1998—when Titanic became the first film to ever gross a billion US dollars in sales—Google had already introduced this link building system in its algorithm, but its earliest iterations were largely dependent on the quantity of backlinks. This resulted into a ton of poorly done backlinks that were eventually seen as spammy.
These days, the battle is tilted to focus on the quality of a backlink. How useful, relevant, trustworthy, or authoritative is the website or page referencing yours? As the saying goes, “All backlinks are not created equally.”
Negative SEO: Toxic backlinks and what makes them “bad”
Yoast.com writes about the process of finding and cleaning up your bad backlinks, and to help you better understand the methodology, it is just as necessary to know what makes a backlink “bad.” Essentially, the reasons that make up a bad backlink include:
- A website with a poor domain trust score
- The proliferation of duplicate content with similarly structured backlinks done through link building schemes
- Unappealing page layout for users
In practice, these reasons manifest through the following strategies and can negatively impact your SEO:
- Link building networks that primarily serve to mass produce backlinks.
- Backlinks in the comments section of forums are an age-old practice of spamming for links that target quantity through keyword stuffing and other similar techniques.
- “Overoptimized” anchor texts tend to generate suspicion for having exact match keywords linking to money pages, and can be perceived as paid links, which is a search no-no.
- Lazily made links in footers and side-wide content are signals of poor-quality backlinks that can eventually penalize your website as a form of negative SEO.
- Unnatural links such as content catered to a specific region outside your place of business can be seen as baseless and out of place, especially without any context, and can alert Google about your website potentially practicing poor link building practices.
As an eCommerce or online business owner, it’s important that you’re aware of how toxic backlinks can adversely affect your entire operations—especially when your business model is completely reliant on your website’s accessibility.
When ignored, your website might be penalized by Google and removed from the SERP, so you’ll want to get rid of these bad backlinks before you lose all your previous efforts in building the online presence of your business.
How to get rid of bad backlinks?
There are four general steps in the removal of the bad backlinks sullying the reputation of your website.
- Knowing why backlinks are perceived as toxic, spammy, or poorly done
- Using a tool to scrape the web for all backlinks pointing to your website
- Requesting the removal of the backlink
- Submitting a “disavow” file to Google
That being said, Google is also taking the necessary steps to ignore these bad backlinks, especially since most website owners like you have no control over the creation of these backlinks.
However, it cannot be discounted that there are online businesses and SEO providers that utilize these spammy link building strategies to boost their online presence.
#1. Understanding how these backlinks are considered toxic or bad
Understanding how these backlinks are considered toxic or bad involves avoiding connections from websites generally seen as irrelevant, such as:
- Penalized websites or domains
- Link building farms and directories
- Content from unregulated industries such as pornography, gambling, uncontrolled substances like drugs, etc.
- Websites in foreign languages
- A large volume of backlinks from unrelated niches
- A large volume of backlinks with anchor texts in exact match keyword phrasing
Google sees these types of links as coordinated efforts to quickly ascend through search rankings by hacking the algorithm, which will result into penalties once caught.
#2. There are useful tools that can identify these backlinks
The Moz Link Explorer, for instance, can help you find these toxic backlinks by evaluating the following:
- Trust metrics
- Anchor text structures
- Low authority scores
By providing all the pertinent data on the quality of the backlinks pointing to your website, you get to evaluate which links are harmless and which ones are toxic. This allows you to identify the level of priority and urgency in taking action.
#3. Removing the backlink by writing to the webmaster
Removing the backlink by writing to the webmaster can be a challenge, if not a struggle, but it is necessary to at least attempt this step as a Google requirement. When this step fails and you have not received any positive response or action, contact the hosting company of the website by using Digital.com’s WHOIS tool.
#4. Submitting a “Disavow Links” file to Google
Submitting a “Disavow Links” file to Google is probably going to be your likely solution to successfully removing these bad backlinks. Google’s Disavow Links Tool lets you inform Google which backlinks to ignore by simply uploading a text file.
Google treats this file as a “very strong suggestion” to recrawl and re-index these pages, so it can take a while. That being said, you will need to carefully consider the backlinks you want to disavow, as you won’t want your website to suffer any decrease in rankings due to the loss of actually good backlinks.
And should you get manually penalized for a toxic backlink, you can write to Google and request for a review to reconsider the penalty.
Some SEO specialists are not above these dirty tricks
Naturally, the competition for online supremacy among brands push a handful of digital marketers and SEO providers towards black hat techniques.
An awareness of how link building works and using this awareness to ruin your top-ranking competitors is underhanded, and while negative SEO is no longer as harmful as it used to be, it can still do significant damage to a website’s organic rankings.
These black hat strategies can include:
- Building spammy and toxic backlinks to your website
- Removing your high-authority backlinks
- Hacking your website
How impactful can these toxic backlinks be?
Save for the actual infrastructure and location, having an online business still bears a lot of resemblance to having a physical store. Your business exists in its own space, which takes the form of digital real estate, and this space requires its own form of care and maintenance as well.
Negative SEO techniques such as spammy and toxic backlinks are like graffiti and vandalism—they’re unauthorized actions that serve to destroy your online reputation.
Having your website penalized for bad backlinks can result into penalties from Google that effectively reduces your page rank, thus removing any opportunity that you can get from search. Through the Penguin algorithm, Google gets to review and target websites with suspicious backlinks that often a result of bad link building strategies.
Once caught with a toxic link, a corresponding penalty is applied to your website based on your link profile.
So, is optimizing your online business with link building a good idea?
The definitive answer to this is yes. Link building is an important ranking factor as a part of off-page SEO, which influences and impacts your website’s spot in many SERPs. Google perceives the volume of high-quality backlinks as a positive social signal that your business website is authoritative and truly valuable to a user.
So, it helps to keep in mind that the higher the volume of quality backlinks you have, the more effective your SEO strategy is. After all, how can your business reign in the digital realm when your consumers can’t even find you?
About the Author!
Bernard San Juan III comes from a successful career in online companies, where he played a critical role in building & managing workforce groups. He has redesigned Truelogic’s IT infrastructure to improve order processing and logistics. His skills include managing performance, managing costs and training. He also manages overall sales, customer satisfaction, graphic design, copywriting, and training with first line supervisors.