Why Toxic Backlinks Will Hurt Your Website’s SEO

Backlinks remain one of the most important ranking factors for SEO in 2023. Getting quality websites to link back to your content can directly influence how Google views your site’s authority and relevance.

However, not all backlinks are created equal. So-called “toxic backlinks” from low-quality, irrelevant, or downright spammy sites can hurt your search rankings and website reputation.

why toxic backlinks will hurt your website's seo

Backlinks are incoming hyperlinks that lead to your website from external sites. Also known as inbound links or inbound hyperlinks, backlinks point to the pages on your website from other websites.

picture showing the types of website backlinks

Backlinks serve several important purposes for SEO:

  • Backlinks help search engines like Google determine the popularity and authority of a webpage or website. Pages with more backlinks from other authoritative sites are deemed more trustworthy sources of information.
  • Backlinks aid search engine crawlers in discovering new web pages. Crawlers follow backlinks to find new content to index. More backlinks result in better indexation.
  • The anchor text used in backlinks (the text that makes up the hyperlink) helps search engines understand what a particular page is about. Anchor text backlinks boost relevance for target keywords.
  • Backlinks pass link equity or ranking power from old, established sites to new pages. Getting backlinks from reputable domains helps boost overall domain authority.
  • High-quality backlinks from industry websites demonstrate expertise and trustworthiness, signalling to search engines that a site provides value.

In summary, backlinks are votes of confidence in a website’s value and content quality. They are essential for SEO visibility and ranking well in search results. The more quality backlinks a site accumulates, the better it generally ranks.

While most SEO advice focuses on acquiring backlinks, not all links are good for your site. A growing issue facing websites today are “toxic backlinks” – also sometimes referred to as “bad links” or “negative SEO links.”

Unlike high-quality backlinks from reputable websites in your industry, toxic backlinks come from low-quality, spammy, or completely irrelevant sites. These toxic links can actually damage your site’s search engine rankings and credibility rather than help it.

Google’s algorithms can detect patterns of manipulative linking from low-quality sites and may penalize your site as a result. Just a few spammy backlinks likely won’t trigger a penalty on their own, but a consistent profile of toxic backlinks can hurt your site’s standing and get your domain devalued or even deindexed from search results entirely.

That’s why identifying and removing these risky backlinks is so important for protecting your website’s integrity and performance in SEO.

Not all backlinks are created equal. While most webmasters focus their efforts on acquiring links from reputable websites, low-quality and irrelevant backlinking sources can do more harm than good.

Cheap Backlinks for sale on one of the largest freelance sites.
Cheap Backlinks for sale on one of the largest freelance sites.

Unfortunately, some common link-building tactics can inadvertently introduce toxic backlinks into your profile. Below we have created a list of potential sources of toxic backlinks.

Spammy Article Directories

Many low-quality article directories exist solely to generate mass quantities of backlinks. They add little value, and links from these sources are easily detected and devalued by search engines. Examples include directory submissions to sites like ArticlesBase, SelfGrowth, or EzineArticles.

Low-Quality Guest Posts

Getting guest post links should not be done indiscriminately. Bargain basement guest posts on spammy, unrelated sites can introduce toxic backlinks. Prioritize high-authority publications relevant to your industry.

Avoid participating in artificial link networks or farms, which are focused solely on trading links rather than organic editorial connections. These only contain links for the sake of linking.

Not all paid links are bad, but the worst are irrelevant sites selling placements just to siphon off rankings or people buying links blindly through platforms like Fiverr. Target only authoritative sites closely related to your niche.

Many automated tools claim to build links at scale, but they typically use unnatural methods like spamming, scraping, or link exchanges. The resulting backlinks are easy for Google to detect and filter out.

Google and other search engines have grown increasingly sophisticated at detecting and filtering out manipulative link-building practices.

Snippet from google that states: Any links that are intended to manipulate rankings in Google Search results may be considered link spam. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.

While some links from less reputable sites may initially seem harmless, a consistent toxic backlink profile can set off red flags and prompt penalties from Google. There are several reasons why low-quality and irrelevant backlinks can actively hurt your SEO performance:

Google penalizes unnatural linking patterns

If Google detects a website is using manipulative linking tactics like link exchanges or paid links from low-quality sites, it may manually penalize the site by demoting its rankings or even deindexing its pages.

A few high-quality editorial links from reputable sites can be very beneficial. But if you accumulate a large number of toxic backlinks, it drowns out the value of those good links.

Backlinks should come from sites in your niche that are closely related to your content’s topic. Irrelevant links from way outside your industry do nothing for your site’s topical authority and keyword rankings.

Google views sites linking to you as “votes” for your authority and credibility. Too many votes from spammy or questionable sites drag down your overall site’s reputation and trustworthiness.

Linking to risky sites reflects poorly

Not only the source of links, but the sites you link out to matter. If you link out to phishing, malware, or blackhat sites, it can harm your own domain’s integrity.

Lots of low-quality links can distort data in Search Console, making it harder to identify issues and evaluate what links are actually driving value.

Here are some signs that may indicate your website has toxic or low-quality backlinks that are hurting your SEO:

  • A sudden drop in rankings and traffic from search results for no apparent reason
  • Manual actions or penalties from Google like a demotion or deindexing of your pages
  • Unnaturally high or uneven anchor text ratios in your backlink profile
  • Irrelevant links from sites you don’t recognize
  • Traffic from referrers you never heard of
  • Strange spikes or dips in your referral traffic
  • Your competitors suddenly outpacing you with lots of new links
  • Warnings in Search Console about “unnatural links” or “thin content”
  • Relevance issues flagged for top pages
  • High number of links from low-quality domains

Any sudden, unexplained changes in rankings, traffic, or metrics could indicate toxic links. Regularly monitoring your link profile’s quality, sources, and anchor text ratios is key for identifying issues early before they escalate.

If you spot any suspicious signs, take action to investigate and disavow any harmful links.

Disavowing backlinks to your website is an easy process. All you need to do is upload a .txt file that contains all of the toxic backlinks that you would like to disavow. See below screenshot from Google Search Console:

screenshot of Google's disavow tool.

Here are some additional tips for removing toxic or low-quality backlinks that may be hurting your site’s SEO:

  • Use Google Search Console to identify spammy backlinks and disavow them. This tells Google not to associate those links with your site.
  • Reach out to low-quality sites linking to you and politely ask for the links to be removed. Offer to remove their link in return.
  • Create high-quality content and build new links to eventually drown out and outpace the low-quality links.
  • Hire a professional SEO company to conduct a detailed backlink audit and clean up bad links.
  • Submit a reconsideration request to Google with evidence you’ve removed toxic links if your site has been penalized.
  • Redirect poor-quality links to irrelevant pages rather than directly to your homepage or important content.
  • Update old poor content that may be attracting bad links and replace it with useful new pages.
  • Monitor your new links more closely and align with sites reflecting your brand.

With some diligence, toxic links can be mitigated or removed entirely. The key is being proactive about auditing and cleaning up your backlink profile regularly.

Not all backlinks help SEO. Toxic links from low-quality sites can hurt rankings. Google penalizes toxic link-building patterns. Toxic links dilute good links, damage authority, and distort data.

Regularly monitor and disavow harmful links. Focus on high-quality editorial links over manipulation. Identify and remove toxic links early before major damage.

Avoiding bad links is as crucial as acquiring good ones for sustainable SEO success. Maintain a clean, natural link profile to build credibility.

If you are struggling with your website’s SEO performance, feel free to have a look at our affordable and result-driven SEO Pricing packages.

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