Earning backlinks has long been and still is one of the most potent components of search engine optimisation or SEO.
If done properly, it can produce strong trust signals and boost your rankings by telling Google and other search engines that your content is valuable. It also assures your target audience that you are a trusted source of relevant information. However, earning backlinks is a long and exhausting process that would require much of your time, energy, and marketing resources.
On the other end of the spectrum are toxic backlinks – part of a scheme that tries to take shortcuts and beat the system. You should do your best to avoid this approach as it can hurt your website in many ways. But before we get to this, let us take a closer look at what makes a backlink toxic.
Toxic Backlinks Defined
In a perfect world, each backlink you get is a vote of confidence that will make your website more authoritative. So whether you are a business owner or a marketer, your goal is to get as many of it as you can.
However, in reality, things do not always work this way. Some links come from low-authority websites or spammy pages that are more focused on quantity instead of quality. These links are called toxic backlinks. They can hurt your search ranking over time and maybe even earn you stiff penalties from search engines.
There are several ways that you can get toxic backlinks. It can be a result of a previous backlinking attempt gone wrong, it can happen organically, or it can be done intentionally by unscrupulous competitors.
With so many opportunities for a toxic backlink to find its way into your website, you should always be on the lookout. And with the countless search algorithm updates that pop up from time to time, potentially changing the rules of the game, you should be doubly vigilant.
For now, some of the common signs that you need to watch out for are low trust scores of the linked pages, whether they appear to be mirrored pages linking from the same anchor text, and if the text to HTML ratio is low.
Why Toxic Backlinks Are Bad for Your Site
In principle, toxic backlinks do not offer any value – they could not help your target audience and they do not add authority to your website.
Equally important is they can’t deliver any practical advantages. Search engines have been cracking down on manipulative link-building tactics, and search algorithms are becoming more sophisticated and increasingly capable of rooting out low-quality backlinks. Google has even added manpower to their efforts so they can manually penalise errant websites.
All of these developments have significant implications on your overall marketing strategy. First, toxic backlinks can end up wasting your time, energy, and other resources – assets that should have been put to better use in other value-adding activities.
Even worse, Google’s Penguin could be triggered by the unnatural links to your website, prompting the webspam algorithm to penalise you or at least not award you any ranking benefits. You will know it when this happens because your online visibility will suddenly decline, causing a marked decrease in organic traffic to your site.
Finally, toxic backlinks can compel the search engine webspam team to take manual action against your site. While this does not happen often, it is still possible, especially if you have been caught implementing toxic backlinks a few times. Manual action could also be taken if your competitors file a spam report against you.
How to Check Your Site for Toxic Backlinks
To find out if you have been hit by a manual action penalty, go to your Google Search Console and check out Security and Manual Actions > Manual Actions.
If your website has a manual action, you should see a general description of the problem, a link that you can click if you want to learn more, and another button that will allow you to request a review from the webspam team. A green checkmark will appear under the manual actions report if you are in the clear.
If you want to keep the link, you can ask for a review by following some simple steps. However, the reconsideration process could take some time.
In many cases, you won’t get a response until after 30 days, so you should be proactive. Otherwise, your whole website will be affected and you will see your search rankings drop dramatically.
If you do not want to keep the link, you could try getting in touch with the linking site’s administrator and request for the link to be removed. You could also use the Disavow Links tool, but this is often the last resort.
With algorithm-related or Penguin link penalties, you will experience a similar decline in organic traffic. It is page-specific, so you might see this happen for certain keywords only. However, it is possible for bigger parts of your website to lose online visibility.
Same with manual action penalties, recovery from Penguin penalties could take some time. Your best course of action is to avoid toxic backlinks altogether and strengthen your overall SEO strategy to avoid getting penalised in the first place.
How to Avoid Toxic Backlinks
To make sure that toxic backlinks do not creep into your website and wreck your rankings, perform a backlink audit periodically. There are many SEO site audit tools that you can use to spot low-quality backlinks that can be considered toxic. You can also use these tools to look for any inconsistencies in your backlink profile before they cause problems.
Additionally, you should invest all the time and energy needed for an effective link-building strategy. Do not take any shortcuts or try to cheat the system, as the system has all the tools and capabilities to push back.
As much as possible, work closely with a reputable digital marketing team to come up with an effective SEO strategy that will separate you from the pack and put you ahead of the curve come 2022.