A Comprehensive Guide to Backlink Removal

How to Sanitize and Cleanup Your Backlink Profile
Published on 
May 27, 2024
Updated on 
May 27, 2024
Posted in 

As a website owner, SEO, or marketer, you understand the critical role backlinks play in enhancing your site's visibility and authority. 

However, not all backlinks are created equal. In fact, some can be downright harmful to your site's health and performance. In this guide, we'll walk you through the steps to identify, find, and effectively remove bad backlinks from your website.

Types of Link Spam You Want to Avoid

Before diving into the removal process, let's clarify what constitutes a bad backlink. Bad backlinks are essentially links that can harm your site's search engine rankings rather than boost them. Here are some categories of bad backlinks you want to steer clear of:

  • Links from penalized domains: These are links coming from websites that have been penalized by search engines for violating their guidelines.
  • Links from link directories and link farms: These are low-quality directories or networks created solely for link building purposes.
  • Links from 'bad neighborhoods': Websites related to adult content, pharmaceuticals, online gambling, or other dubious industries.
  • Links from foreign language sites: Links from websites in languages unrelated to your target audience or content.
  • A large number of links from unrelated websites: Links from websites that have no relevance to your niche or industry.
  • A large number of exact-match anchor text links: Links with anchor text that exactly matches your target keywords, often used in a manipulative manner.

Understanding these categories is crucial as it helps you identify and assess the quality of your backlink profile effectively.

Let’s briefly go into some examples of how a site might end up acquiring or accidentally building links to each of the above types.

Links from Penalized Domains

Acquiring links from penalized domains can happen when a website engages in black hat SEO tactics such as buying links or participating in link schemes.

Often, webmasters may link to penalized domains unknowingly, especially if they haven't checked the status of the linking site recently or if the penalization occurred after the link was created.

Links from Link Directories and Link Farms

Websites might end up with links from low-quality directories or link farms if they previously hired SEO agencies promising quick results through link building strategies. This could happen without the site owners fully understanding the quality and reputation of the directories they were listed in.

Links from 'Bad Neighborhoods'

Links from 'bad neighborhoods' often occur when a website's content overlaps with topics related to adult content, pharmaceuticals, online gambling, or other dubious industries. Such links may be acquired inadvertently if the site's content or keywords attract links from websites in these industries.

Links from Foreign Language Sites

Receiving links from foreign language sites may occur if a website's content gets translated or repurposed without proper attribution. Additionally, websites targeting international audiences may inadvertently attract links from foreign language sites due to their global reach.

A Large Number of Links from Unrelated Websites

Websites may accumulate links from unrelated sources if they participated in outdated link exchange programs or accepted guest posts without vetting the quality and relevance of the content and linking sites. 

Directories, forums, or community websites might link to a site without relevance simply because the site is listed or mentioned in a directory or forum thread.

A Large Number of Exact-Match Anchor Text Links

Historically, SEO practitioners extensively used exact-match anchor text links to manipulate search engine rankings. Websites may accumulate such links unintentionally through collaborations with external partners or affiliates who use exact-match anchor text without understanding its potential negative impact on SEO.

Understanding how these types of links can be acquired or inadvertently built is crucial for website owners to identify and address potential issues in their backlink profiles effectively.

Find Where Those Toxic Links Are Coming From

Now that you know what to look out for, the next step is to identify where these toxic links are coming from. Fortunately, there are several tools available to help you with this process. Tools such as Ahrefs, Moz, SEMRush, and Monitor Backlinks are invaluable resources for analyzing your backlink profile.

Each tool offers different metrics and insights into your backlinks, allowing you to pinpoint toxic links more accurately. Metrics like domain authority, spam score, and anchor text distribution are particularly useful in identifying problematic backlinks.

Once you've collected the necessary data, you can export it for further analysis and sorting. This step is crucial as it allows you to focus your efforts on the most harmful links first.

Request Removal from Website


With a list of toxic links in hand, the next step is to request removal from the websites hosting those links. This is a sensitive procss that can be quite challenging and high stakes, but it's essential for safeguarding your site's reputation and rankings.

One of the main challenges is finding the contact information of webmasters or site owners. To overcome this hurdle, you can use WHOIS Domain Lookup to track down website owners' contact details. Additionally, reaching out to hosting companies for assistance in link removal can also yield positive results.

It's important to approach this process with professionalism and courtesy. Clearly explain why you're requesting the link's removal and provide any relevant information to support your request. Also bear in mind that while some webmasters may comply willingly, others may require more persuasion or follow-up.

Some might not even both replying to you at all.

Create and Submit a Disavow File to Google

In cases where removal requests are unsuccessful, or when you're dealing with a large number of toxic links, the Disavow Links tool offered by Google becomes invaluable. This tool allows you to inform Google that you don't want certain links to be taken into account when assessing your site's rankings.

To create a disavow file, simply compile a list of URLs or domains you wish to disavow and upload it to Google's Disavow Links tool. It's essential to use this tool cautiously, as indiscriminate disavowal can potentially harm your site's rankings.

After submitting the disavow file, allow some time for Google to process the request and reevaluate your site's backlink profile. Be sure to monitor your site's rankings and performance closely to assess the impact of the disavowal.

In cases where removal requests are unsuccessful or when dealing with a large number of toxic links, the Disavow Links tool offered by Google becomes invaluable. This tool allows you to inform Google that you don't want certain links to be taken into account when assessing your site's rankings.

When to Use the Disavow Tool

It's crucial to understand when it's appropriate to use the Disavow tool. You should consider using it when:

  • You've made extensive efforts to remove toxic backlinks manually but have been unsuccessful.
  • Your site has been hit with a manual action penalty from Google due to unnatural or spammy backlinks.
  • You've inherited a website with a history of black hat SEO practices and want to clean up its backlink profile.

Common Mistakes to Avoid


While the Disavow tool can be a powerful asset, it's essential to use it cautiously to avoid unintended consequences. Common mistakes to avoid include:

  • Disavowing high-quality backlinks: Be meticulous in your analysis to ensure you're only disavowing toxic or harmful backlinks. Disavowing legitimate, authoritative backlinks is one of the common link building mistakes and can negatively impact your site's SEO performance.
  • Using the tool indiscriminately: Avoid using the Disavow tool as a shortcut to address all backlink-related issues. It should be reserved for addressing specific instances of toxic backlinks that you've been unable to remove through other means.
  • Failing to monitor the impact: After submitting a disavow file, it's crucial to monitor the impact on your site's search engine rankings closely. Failure to do so may result in missed opportunities to address potential issues or unintended consequences of the disavowal.

Tips for Monitoring the Impact


To effectively monitor the impact of disavowed links on search engine rankings, consider the following tips:

  • Use Google Search Console: Monitor changes in your site's performance through Google Search Console. Pay close attention to fluctuations in search rankings, organic traffic, and impressions.
  • Analyze Backlink Profiles: Regularly analyze your site's backlink profile to identify new toxic links that may emerge over time. Tools such as Ahrefs and SEMRush can help you track changes and identify potential threats.
  • Track and audit your site's backlink profile to ensure ongoing compliance with Google's guidelines. Address any new toxic links promptly to mitigate potential negative impacts on SEO performance.

By using the Disavow tool judiciously and monitoring its impact on your site's search engine rankings, you can effectively manage and mitigate the effects of toxic backlinks, safeguarding your site's reputation and improving its SEO performance over time.

Hire a link removal expert?

When it comes time to actually remove links, entrusting the task to a skilled professional can streamline the process and ensure optimal results. 

Consider services such as LinkDelete, LinkResearchTools, and Remove'em to efficiently manage and eradicate harmful backlinks from your website.

If it’s your first time and you don’t really know what you’re doing and want to avoid accidentally hurting your website, it might end up saving you a lot of heartache to trust the pros here. 

Wrapping up

In conclusion, removing bad backlinks from your website is a critical aspect of maintaining a healthy and competitive online presence.

By following these steps and leveraging the right tools, you can effectively identify, find, and remove toxic links, thereby safeguarding your site's reputation and improving its search engine rankings.

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

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