Toxic Backlinks: What Are They And Best Practices to Avoid

Ankit Thakkar is a Group Head here, at Infidigit. He is associated with us for the last 6 years. He takes care of more than 40+ client deliveries, manages a team of more than 60 people and also takes care for product delivery at Infidigit. With his SEO strategies, he has won more than 10 awards in the SEO space. Ankit has always loved taking up new challenges and is focused on managing tasks efficiently and effectively. Helpful and Hardworking are a few of his skills that we love. When not working, he loves reading books, listening to music and watching series. In

Toxic Backlinks: What Are They And Best Practices to Avoid

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    What are Toxic Backlinks?

    It is a well known fact that not all sites are equal. Some get too much traffic, while some barely get any visitors. 

    If you fall in the latter category, you obviously must be concerned about your site’s visibility. You must be trying to figure out why, despite the well-researched and keyword-rich content on your site, it is still difficult to find. 

    Maybe it’s time to look for potentially toxic links. Toxic backlinks refer to links that are either of poor quality, or are meant to manipulate search engine rankings. 

    Google considers such links to be a violation of its webmaster standards. As a search engine optimisation (SEO) strategist, you must focus on the quality of links instead of their quantity to avoid ranking downgrades or penalties.

     Here are some examples of toxic links.

    • Links originating from sites developed only to build links.
    • Links received from irrelevant content or websites.
    • Links from subjects and sites unrelated to your industry.
    • Links acquired from sites that are not indexed by search engines
    • Links that are forcefully inserted in the comments section of the blog. 
    • Links that you can find on almost every single page of the website.

    What makes a link toxic?

    1. Low domain authority sites:

    Quality links are those which you get from an authoritative site. But, if you receive links from sites with a domain score of 40 or less, such links will be considered toxic because such sites are often developed solely to influence rankings and are considered untrustworthy.

    2. Mirror pages:

    Mirror websites are clones of websites or pages that have the same content but different URLs. Be cautious if you receive links from several websites with identical pages and anchor text. Search engines consider these links to be toxic and your ranking will suffer as a result.

    3. Layout

    Page segmentation also impacts your link building process. The links might be toxic if you are getting them from a page without a proper header, footer, or column design. When the proportion of displayed text to HTML on a Web page is low, it is considered a bad layout.

    How can toxic backlinks affect your SEO?

    1. Manual action for unnatural links

    Google has a dedicated team that keeps an eye on spammy links. Google will take manual action if your website receives too many toxic links. To avoid such action, make sure that your site meets the standards set by the Google webmaster. Some of the common reasons due to which Google takes manual action against a website are outlined here.

    • Manual action triggers if competitors continuously report spam against a site.
    • Manual intervention is likely if an algorithm discovers any irregularity on a site.
    • Several niches are infamous for spammy links. A site in this category runs a high risk of facing manual action.

    Manual action has a long-term impact on your site or Web pages. You will see a preview of impacted Web pages if manual action is taken against you. The action can be performed either against your entire site or for a specific section of it. 

    The main downside of manual action is that it has an impact on search engine rankings and visibility. Your page will not be visible to viewers unless the action is reversed, regardless of how visual or keyword-rich the material on the page is. Moreover, if the page/site has previously been ranked, thanks to the manual action, it will all be for nought.

    You will need to take several measures to request Google to reverse the penalty. For example, you will need to identify all the spammy links and remove them as soon as possible. 

    2. Algorithmic penalty

    Available sources indicate that Google ranks websites using about 200 factors. The link-building approach is one of them. If your website contains an excessive number of unnatural links, it will likely be penalised automatically. Unlike a manual review, an automated review uses crawlers to gather data on available websites. These details are then saved in Google’s algorithm. It then determines the sites’ flaws to penalise them and lower their rankings.

    When Google imposes an algorithm penalty on your site, you will not receive any notification. Overcoming such a penalty necessitates additional effort. However, it is important to remember that links are not the only thing that invite this type of penalty. Google and other search engines make a lot of modifications to their ranking algorithms. While a handful of changes could be major, the others are minor. 

    Keeping track of the minor changes is a difficult task. But, if you do not comply with these updated norms, your site will be penalised. Similar to manual action, your page or site will not appear in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) until the penalty is lifted. You may need to go back to the SEO basics to get out of this scenario. Here’s what you can do to avoid algorithm penalties.

    • Identify the toxic backlinks in SEO and make an attempt to eliminate them.
    • Publish new informative content with the most relevant keywords.
    • Turn to an organic link building approach. 
    • Figure out irrelevant and thin content and optimise it to make it more SEO and user friendly.

    3. Ignorance of links by Google

    It is essential to establish the sources from where you are acquiring links and the practice you use while developing a link building strategy. Search engines are unconcerned if you stick to an organic approach to link building. But not did you know that search engines also don’t penalise you for using tactics that violate their guidelines? Yes, it is true. You will not be penalised unless and until you are not in serious breach of Google’s guidelines. For example, if you buy links at a low level, Google will overlook them. Similarly, if you receive one or two links from spam websites or use exact match anchor text at a low level, Google will disregard them.

    For Google, the severity and volume are the most important factors. As a result, you must be clear about what constitutes a major infringement. If possible, stick to the organic practice of link building.

    Toxic Link Building Practices to Avoid in 2022 

    1. Links that use exact match anchor text

    Anchor text is a link building technique that allows you to navigate from one destination to the next by clicking the text. Anchor texts are used to create hyperlinks between pages or to download files. However, Google’s recent Penguin update will penalise your site for using too many anchor texts. It gives the impression to the Google algorithm that you are attempting to manipulate the ranking. The appearance of an exact match anchor text is not always natural. Moreover, such types of text also don’t get sufficient clicks. So, it is better to minimise the use of this SEO tactic in 2022 to get more traffic and conversions.

    2. Paid links

    Paid links are link-building strategies that can quickly help you rank. But what if other businesses don’t have the financial means to invest in a paid link? Isn’t it unjust to downgrade their ranking? Remember, organic link building always has an advantage over sponsored links. When Google finds the unnatural links, it will start sending you a warning notification. So, if you have enough SEO budget, you can employ a different link-building strategy. For example, you may opt for a guest blogging strategy to generate more organic links. 

    3. Private blog network

    A private blog network (PBN) refers to a large network of websites noted for aggressively linking out to other websites. Such websites are a collection of many unrelated websites pointing/linking to a single site. The link network of these websites is of low quality. 

    A private blog network usually relies on expired domains. SEOs purchase such domains and convert them into websites. These domains are sometimes regarded as authoritative by search engines because they are relatively old and have earned a fair quantity of links in the past. When you receive a link from an authoritative site, your ranking tends to improve. This is how black Hat SEO strategists use PBN to deceive Google.

    • They perform hosting through various hosting providers.
    • They choose different registrars for domain registration.
    • They use a different layout, themes, and domain extensions.

    PBNs are infamous for violating the standards of Google webmaster. As such, Google considers these link-building strategies to be a form of ranking manipulation. So, if you are still utilising this method in 2022, stop doing it immediately. Sites that participate in a PBN are subject to a manual action by Google. 

    If Google discovers that you are using this approach, your rankings will be immediately degraded. Furthermore, if a site is involved in this link-building approach, it is tough for them to recover. Therefore, instead of following the PBN approach, create high-quality content to drive links and traffic. 

    4. Links from spun content

    Spun articles are created by spinning an existing article to develop a new one with identical content. Such articles are developed by rephrasing the paragraphs, replacing words with their synonyms, and more. However, article spinning leads to several negative consequences. It raises the bounce rate, causes your website or Web page to be deindexed, and more. 

    Furthermore, Google’s Penguin update penalises your website, and it will no longer appear in the SERP. As an SEO specialist, you might consider article refurbishment instead of article spinning. You may update the article with fresh information, keywords, and even links to improve its ranking.

    5. Links from spam blog comments

    Another link building strategy to avoid this year is comment spam. You may have noticed some irrelevant messages and links in the blog’s comment section. Those comments are often automated and are used to manipulate rankings. This method is implemented in such a way that it remains unnoticed by the moderator, allowing SEOs to generate more links in the comment section.

    If you are unaware of this approach, then here’s a common example so you comprehend this better. If you are into SEO, you must have used a WordPress site. While using this site, have you ever noticed approval notifications? If yes, you must have also noticed that such comments have no relation to your content or industry. Such comments are usually regarded as spam. 

    And if you don’t want to ruin your ranking on SERP. Or, if you don’t want to get severely penalised by search engines, never indulge in this toxic link building strategy.

    6. Submissions of links to low-quality directory

    Submission of links to a directory is one of the most common SEO practices. Done right, it can help you improve your ranking on SERP. It also assists in page indexation and traffic and can help improve link authority. But all this will happen if you submit your link to a proper directory. When implementing this link building strategy in your marketing campaign, here is the list of things that you must always consider.

    • Avoid submitting mirror sites to the directory as it can lower your ranking.
    • Avoid submitting URLs with identical content.
    • Focus on quality instead of quantity. 
    • Avoid using the same anchor text and description for the same link.
    • Keep track of the approval status.

    Keep in mind that a directory is a vital component of SEO. It will be considered a violation of Google rules if you use a low-quality directory or do not follow the preceding pointers. Directories of poor quality do not target any niche, place, or community> They are just intended for manipulation.

    7. Reciprocal link building

    Reciprocal links come into play when two distinct websites exchange links to boost their domain authority and SEO strategy. However, if this link-building method is implemented on a large scale, there is a high probability that irrelevant pages will generate links. The situation will lead to numerous unnatural links to your site.

    8. Unnatural outbound links

    If you feel that only a toxic inbound link will result in a penalty, do reconsider your thoughts. If you link out to other websites in an unnatural manner, the search engine will penalise your position. As a result, you should refrain from accepting money in exchange for links. 

    How to discover toxic backlinks?

    If you want to rank higher on search engines, you must keep an eye on toxic links. Your SEO strategy should comprise regular site audits and report generation. When conducting a site audit, you must keep an eye out for the sources of your links. You must determine whether the source is reliable or from a low-quality domain site. In addition to that, take the time to learn about link profiles and assess your total toxic score. You can also make a whitelist of domains with modest toxic scores. Once you identify such poor links, create a strategy to remove them.

    How to remove toxic links?

    1. Use the Disavow tool

    If nothing else seems to be working in your favour, try using the Disavow tool. This tool will undoubtedly help you cope with spam issues. Using Google Search Console, you can import a list of links that you want search engines to overlook. 

    However, before you jump to this tool, first analyse your link profile thoroughly. Once you get to know about the various spam links and your profile’s toxic score, you can disavow these links. The process of disavowing links takes some time. But, after you have completed it, you can anticipate your ranking to grow over time.

    2. Contact the site owner

    Another sure-fire technique to get rid of toxic backlinks is to contact the owner of the site you got the spam link from. Isn’t it simple and clear? Not really. It is more complex than it sounds. This method is easy to employ if you have received a toxic link from a handful of websites. However, it can be tough to track down each site owner and contact them individually when the list is long.

    And then, what if the site owner refuses to take down the link? What if you are unable to locate the owner? In such cases, you can turn to Google directly for help. 


    If you use unethical link-building strategies, you will never be able to rank on search engines. You should also keep note of the websites that link back to yours. Obtaining a large number of links from low-domain or spam websites will result in a penalty. As such, try everything you can to get rid of the toxic backlinks from your website.

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    Toxic Backlinks: What Are They And Best Practices to Avoid