Nurturing a healthy backlink profile is one of the most fundamental aspects of SEO. Backlinks tell search engines which websites are related and provide a more accurate ranking system. In the early days, the link-building tactic was exploited by website owners using black hat tactics to populate the web with backlinks, which led Google to introduce the Penguin update in 2012. Now, Google awards website owners for gaining healthy backlinks from authoritative URLs in the same niche. The update introduced the ability to disavow backlinks, a fancy term telling search engines to ignore backlinks. There is a simple process for identifying spammy links, but the disavow tool should be used cautiously; we discuss this further below.
What Are Spammy Backlinks?
Spammy backlinks are links pointing to your domain from spammy websites. You will usually find that these links come from blogging sites with guest posters, link farms, or low domain authority sites. Although domain authority is a factor in spammy links, you can’t rely on it solely because a website in your niche may just be new. You can usually spot spammy backlinks by looking at the origin country; if it’s different from your target country, you should investigate further.
Search engines understand that spammy backlinks happen, so letting a handful sit there isn’t going to lower your score. However, if you attract too many spammy links, Google has two methods of penalizing website owners:
- Algorithmic link spam penalty. Thanks to the Penguin update, the Google algorithm can detect spammy backlinks. If your backlink profile is deemed unhealthy, your website will be penalized. Google will not notify you of algorithmic penalties, but you will see a sharp decrease in traffic.
- Manual link penalty. This type of penalty occurs after Google manually reviews a website’s backlinking profile. Your website will be manually reviewed if your niche is full of competitors that utilize black hat link-building techniques out of pure chance or after an algorithm red flag. You will be notified through the Google Search Console when you’ve been penalized manually.
Luckily, there are ways to manage your backlink profile that will help you avoid being penalized by Google.
We’ve already mentioned that spammy backlinks come from spammy websites, but what does this look like? Below, we will tell you the most common sources of spammy backlinks:
- Paid linking and link exchanges. Since the Penguin update, you need to put a lot of work in and trust strangers to engage in paid link building. Paid links are easy for Google to spot, and they will activate heavy sanctions for perpetrators.
- Forum linking. Forum sites have no absolute control over the quality of content posted by users, which is why Google doesn’t index them.
- Low-quality guest posting. Guest posting is a fantastic method of increasing traffic, but too much can lead to spammy links. You should avoid guest posting on blog networks, web 2.0 blogs, and article websites. Only guest posts on high authority domains within your specific niche.
- Comment spam. Comment areas are an excellent method of generating feedback, but you can end up with thousands of spammy links if left unmoderated. If you use WordPress, use a plugin like Akismet to do the job for you.
- Too many non-niche-related backlinks. Non-niche websites aren’t necessarily spammy in themselves, but if you get too many of these backlinks, you will soon be penalized.
There are countless spammy links, and it can be overwhelming, but identifying them is an easy task. First, you need to use an SEO tool like SEMrush, which will analyze your domain name and display your backlink profile. You will see every website linking to your own, and you can filter the list depending on your desired metric.
For identifying spammy links, a good place to start is finding those with a low domain rating (DR). Remember, you don’t need to disavow all low DR domains because they may be new relevant websites. You can narrow your search down even further by finding sites with a foreign URL or those not within your niche. You can manually investigate spammy links by observing the anchor text or heading to the website itself.
Disavowing links is easy, but it should only be done in extreme cases. When the disavow tool is used incorrectly, it will have a detrimental impact on your site’s performance. Therefore, you should try other methods of getting rid of spammy links:
- Try contacting the site owner. If you can find the website owner’s contact details, you should send them an email asking them to remove the link. You likely won’t receive a reply, but Google requires you to do this before you send in a disavow request.
- Contact the hosting provider. The hosting provider may be more forthcoming, so reach out if you don’t hear anything from the website owner. You can find a URL’s host by heading to Whoishostingthis.com.
After you’ve exhausted these avenues, you can put in a disavow request through the Google Search Console, where you can upload a text file listing the sites you wish to disavow. Each website in your list needs to be written in the following format: “domain: example.com.” You need to start a new line for each website. After submitting your list, you will likely be waiting a few weeks for any actions to take place. If you upload a list by accident, you can simply head to the disavow links tool page and “Cancel Disavows.”
Backlinking is a healthy means of increasing your SEO ranking, but if your profile is strewn with spammy links, Google will assume your website is spam. Regular backlink profile analysis is the only way to avoid being penalized by Google. Luckily, this can be done in a matter of minutes using a tool like SEMrush. Remember, you should only disavow links after you’ve tried alternative methods of removing the backlink.