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Clean Up Your Backlink Profile: A Guide to Disavowing Spammy Links

Connor Wilkins
Connor Wilkins

CMO, Direction.com

How to identify and disavow spammy links
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A temporary boost from an influx of manipulative, artificial links is quickly outweighed by lasting detrimental effects – like demotions, exclusions, or full removal from search results.

What Are Spammy Links?

Spammy links refer to artificial or manipulative links that are intended to influence search engine rankings, rather than arise organically. In SEO, there are a few key characteristics of spammy links:

  • They are created with the sole intent of boosting a site’s search rankings, not to provide value to users. For example, links embedded solely to target certain keywords, rather than because the content is useful.
  • They often come from low-quality sites, automated programs, or networks of connected sites rather than credible sources that a site would organically earn links from.
  • Anchor text in spammy links is often very targeted, repetitive, and unnatural. The goal is to boost keywords rather than match natural language.
  • The rate and velocity from which spammy links are created is unlikely to happen organically. They are often built or deployed rapidly and at scale.

Essentially spammy links try to cheat or manipulate the search rankings process. They bypass the need for sites to earn credible links through the quality and usefulness of their content. As a violation of search engine guidelines, these artificial links carry significant risks of penalty if detected. The search engines want links to occur naturally based on merit.

Where do Spammy Links Come From?

Spammy links derive from several common questionable or prohibited link building tactics, including:

Automated Link Building Software and Services

To rapidly generate links at scale, some services scrape and spam websites en masse without permission. Many automatically or randomly post comments, forum profiles or blog posts with embedded links. The resulting sudden influx of links appears highly suspicious. Sites often get caught and banned for such overt spamming.

Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

A Private Blog Network (PBN) refers to a group of fake blogs and sites that secretly connect to each other. A company manages the network with the sole intent of manipulating PageRank flow amongst their own properties. By funneling authority and signals internally first, the network creator hopes to boost certain sites enough to then influence external search rankings.

Low-Quality Article Directories

There exist many content farm sites that accept and display articles in exchange for backlinks. The author provides an article stuffed with targeted keywords and links pointing back to their site. In return they receive a new backlink from each site it publishes on. However, such directories are essentially link schemes with recycled or auto-generated content just to host more links. The value for actual readers ranges from minimal to nonexistent.

All such approaches violate guidelines against artificial link building tactics. From scraped spamming to integrated networks to content farms, the links exist only to exploit rankings algorithms rather than offer any useful service to visitors. As such search engines will aggressively demote or ban them if detected.

Identifying Common Types of Low-Quality Links

You’re up against a myriad of potential threats in the form of low-quality links, also known as toxic backlinks. It’s time to become acquainted with the potentially harmful low-quality links, also referred to as poisonous backlinks, that could hurt your site’s SEO performance.

  1. Link Networks & Spam Sites: These are typically associated with content of inferior quality or dubious credibility, often created solely to manipulate Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
  2. Footer Links: These are hyperlinks located in the footer of a webpage. Google often disregards these links since they don’t usually provide any value to the user.
  3. Blogrolls & Link Blocks: Blogrolls are groups of links displayed on blog sites, used to showcase links to other websites.
  4. Site-wide Links: These hyperlinks appear on every page of a website, linking to a specific page within the same site rather than to another website.
  5. Blog Comments: These are responses in a blog post’s comment section that contain links to a website or webpage.
  6. Forum Profile Links & Signatures: These allow forum members to identify their posts with a link to their profile and/or a personal signature.
  7. Web Directory Links: Low-quality web directories are not well-maintained and lack quality content. They often harbor spammy links and can lead users to malware-infected content.
  8. PR Release Links: These are backlinks embedded in online content used to promote a company or product.
  9. Links from Unrelated Sites: Backlinks from unrelated sites can negatively impact your ranking as they are seen as attempts to manipulate SERPs.
  10. Paid link schemes: Avoid falling into the trap. Websites often pay for inbound links hoping to artificially boost their search engine rankings. But remember, this is a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and it could lead you down a path towards penalties that hurt your SEO efforts.

How Do Spammy Links Affect SEO?

Spam links undermine the organic signals of relevance, expertise and trust that search rankings are meant to surface based on unbiased links accrued over time. That’s why they necessitate penalties and countermeasures when discovered.

Search engines use links as one of the key factors in determining how to rank websites. Links essentially act as votes of confidence – if many reputable sites link back to a page, it’s a good sign that its content is useful, accurate and valuable to reference.

However, search engines are aware that website owners can artificially generate links through spam tactics to try to manipulate those “votes.” These spammy links often come from low-credibility sites, irrelevant pages, or networks of connected sites.

Rather than acting as honest signals of quality, spammy links are created solely in hopes of taking advantage of the search rankings process. This undermines what links are meant to measure – the trustworthiness of sites earning them organically from real publishers.

That’s why search engines will deeply discount or even penalize sites caught engaging in link spamming. It violates the integrity of their ranking system.

Only genuine links coming naturally from relevant sites should influence rankings. If a site has to rely on spam links, then it likely lacks the quality or credibility from real publishers to succeed on merit alone.

Should I Remove Spammy Backlinks?

Yes, you should remove or disavow any spammy backlinks pointing to your website. Here’s why:

  1. They can negatively impact your search engine rankings. Spammy links violate search engine guidelines and could trigger penalties by algorithms designed to stop manipulative link building tactics. Removing them helps preserve your site’s standing.
  2. They hurt your domain’s trust and authority. Low-quality and irrelevant links make a website appear less credible overall to search engines assessing confidence and reliability to show content in results. Cleansing them prevents “pollution” of authentic signals.
  3. It shifts focus to content quality, not shortcuts. Chasing link schemes wastes energy better spent improving site content and user experience – the foundation of long-term success and natural backlink accrual. Eliminate them to refocus time and resources properly.
  4. The value provided is link-based, not reader-based. Any temporary boost spam links provide quickly fades and must be continually replayed as new ones are penalized over time. Legitimate links earned through strong content last and compound reader service.

Removing toxic links should be seen as an investment in your site’s lasting growth and authority. It enables search visibility to unfold organically over time based purely on the usefulness and quality of content provided to visitors.

That is the wise path to sustainable search dominance.

How do I Disavow Toxic Links?

While prevention is ideal, most sites accumulating many inbound links over time will inevitably accrue some percentage of spammy backlinks from overzealous marketing efforts, outdated tactics, or questionable sources. The threat comes when search engines assess a site and count these artificial links as endorsements in determining rankings and authority.

Fortunately, Google provides a “Disavow” tool that enables manually telling its algorithm not to consider specific links pointing to your domain. By uploading a list of backlinks classified as spam, site owners can essentially neutralize them, preventing their manipulative effects from skewing search perception and results placement for their site.

The disavow process is relatively straightforward, though it does require spending time analyzing your backlink profile to identify suspicious or clearly artificial links earned through questionable means.

Step 1: Identify Spammy Links

Use the following tools to identify spammy links:

  • Google Search Console – Check inbound links report for unnatural anchor text patterns or unrelated sites.
  • Ahrefs – Run full backlink audit checking metrics like referrer domains, anchor text ratios, etc.
  • SEMrush – Backlink analysis by top pages, anchors, domains, country sources.

What to Look For:

  • Sudden influx of links from unrelated sites in a short time period
  • Links originating from the same IP range/server network
  • Sites linking with nearly identical anchor text phrases
  • Many links from sites with very low domain authority or trust metrics
  • Pages deep on sites linking out compared to credible placements
  • Redirect chains hiding true link source before pointing to your site
  • Linking sites that copy content from other properties

Essentially – look for odd patterns that suggest links were built en masse specifically to point rather than earned organically. Follow the trail to understand motivations and credibility of new unknown sites linking in volume.

Any signals of networks created just to link out or schemes to post articles on many properties fast should warrant disavowal. 

Step 2: Verify Suspicious Links

Once suspicious backlinks are flagged through analysis of link metrics and patterns, the next step is to verify their legitimacy – or rather lack thereof.

A few techniques to validate spammy links:

  • Check Whois Records: Perform a Whois search for the domain registration details on questionable linking sites. Look for oddities like recent and/or private registration dates, obscuring true ownership. This common tactic hides low-quality sites used just for linking.
  • Compare Against Blocklists: Cross reference domains and IPs against blocklists documenting known toxic networks with consistent histories of spam tactics or paid links mechanisms. Services like Blocklist.io compile aggregated lists of properties confirmed as participanting in shady SEO schemes.
  • Assess Site Content: Does the linking page offer any unique, quality content? Often toxic sites contain thin, scraped or stolen content to support user-generated links and articles. Even sites in same niche can demonstrate little expertise depth or community value.
  • Contact Webmasters: You can optionally try emailing webmasters of questionable sites to inquire about their linking rationale, inform them of violations to your site’s linking policies if undisclosed paid posts, or request removal based on quality grounds around thin affiliate content, etc.

The goal is confirming which subsets of links arise from networks created specifically to manipulate search rankings rather than stand on their own merit as resources. By documenting a consistent trail of obscured registrations, blocked entities and scraped content pages, you verify shady intent.

Step 3: Disavow Toxic Links

Once you’ve identified and verified toxic backlinks pointing to your site based on analysis of metrics and registration/content patterns, the next vital step is formally disavowing these links through Google.

Specifically, you will want to:

  • Login to Google Search Console, and navigate to the Disavow Links tool under Traffic > Links > Disavow.
  • Upload a .txt file containing a list of backlink domains or specific URLs you classified as spam and want Google to ignore when assessing your site’s trust and authority.
  • The file should follow a format with one backlink per line. You can choose to list domain-level links or specific page-level links depending on granularity of disavowal desired.
  • Reprocess the disavow file if edits are made, as changes will not automatically apply after initial upload. Disavowed links remain flagged until you remove them through an updated file.
  • You can upload additional disavow files periodically as more toxic links get identified through ongoing link audits and brand monitoring. Disavowal should be seen as an ongoing maintenance process.

Proper use of Google Disavow is a crucial way for site owners to take control over bad links pointing their way rather than feel powerless waiting for a penalty. By flagging invalid or manipulative links, you contain their damage potential so your site’s core authority stems from quality content rather than shortcuts.

Step 4: Execute a Cleanup Campaign

Disavowing toxic links is an important way to formally signal Google not to count them. However, undertaking additional cleanup efforts represents a proactive stance to break their underlying connectivity and stop compounding manipulation overall.

Some techniques include:

  • 301 Redirect links: For links hosted on your own properties redirecting out to spam sites, install 301 redirects pointing them either back to your homepage or unrelated pages. This breaks the flow of linkage equity to distrusted domains.
  • Implement nofollow: Where able, update site templates to add nofollow attribute for particular categories like blog comments or user-generated content links you cannot manually police. This tells search engines not to follow and waste crawl budget on dubious links.
  • DMCA Usage Guidelines: Publish DMCA takedown guidelines on your website’s page for clarity on usage terms, prohibiting spammy guest posts and scraped content. Reference policies when requesting removal.
  • Reach Out to Site Owners: Email owners of questionable sites asking for link removal based on violations of policies prohibiting paid posts, outdated content, etc which enables cleanup requests.

The goal is to actively dismantle the tangled web of manipulation benefiting spam sites through enforcing internal controls, external requests and ultimately reduction of linkage flow overall. Starve them of unfair SEO gains.

Sustainable Success Means Playing the Long Game

At the end of the day, spammy links represent a short-sighted tactic with only fleeting benefits that inevitably brings far greater harm. The temporary high of an rankings boost quickly gives way to the hangover of long-term consequences.

That’s why the insights covered throughout this guide point to a singular theme – achieving sustainable search visibility through patient, ethical strategies centered on benefiting site visitors. There are no legitimate shortcuts. But the good news is real, lasting gains fully within reach for sites investing in audience needs ahead of rankings schemes.

Specifically:

  • Spammy links often spike site traffic, but at the ultimate expense of authority and domain reputation. Recovery can be lengthy after penalties are enacted.
  • Efforts focused purely on producing high-quality, useful content for readers earns more and better backlinks naturally over time as subject expertise becomes recognized.
  • For sites hit by historical bad links, use the Google Disavow tool to clean up past transgressions – then renew focus to content and outreach.

Trust is hard earned but easily lost. The pursuit of sustainable search visibility keeps the site’s best interest equal to the user’s interest. That is the mindset that permeates ethical linking building strategies built to last. All other shortcuts prove short-sighted distractions from the credible presence search engines aim to surface.

To learn more about creating website authority through ethical SEO, get in touch with our team for a free SEO consultation.

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