What are backlinks?

Backlinks are connections from other websites in the internet, ‘linking’ to a page in your website. Google’s very early algorithms calculated your website’s SEO performance in terms of the number and quality of backlinks it had.

What are toxic backlinks?

Google’s very early algorithms calculated your website’s SEO performance in terms of the number and quality of backlinks it had. Back then the SEO industry exploded into creating synthesised backlinks to improve Google ranking.

Google recognised that this was an abuse of their algorithms, and during the period 2012-2016 created then fine-tuned the Penguin subsystem. This closely examined backlinks into a website to ensure they were ‘natural’.

If Penguin detects a critical mass of links it assesses as ‘toxic’, it would neutralise that website’s organic performance.  Argh!

Where do toxic backlinks come from ?

There are a variety of toxic backlink sources, so here’s just a couple of examples:

Directory Sites 

Dodgy ‘directory sites’ that build their own database collection by ‘crawling’ through the internet adding websites into their own index then poorly forming the link formatting.

Badly formatted links

There are also arguably ‘good links’ from sponsors etc who have good intentions but add technically incorrect backlinks which end up being classified as toxic.

Links with a keyword in the text

If the link is associated with a text like this here is my link and the text is a desirable keyword for the website it is very likely to be treated as toxic.

Links from Advertising

Links from advertising also attract the ‘toxic’ label if not carefully engineered.

How do I prevent toxic backlinks

As toxic links come from external parties, there’s nothing you can do to prevent them. You can monitor your backlinks, then take action to avoid any risk of compromising your website’s SEO performance.

How do I find out if my site has toxic backlinks?

My preferred tool to examine and process toxic backlinks is SEMRush’s Backlink Audit Tool. It enables:

  • Backlink monitoring
    Monitors your backlink status
  • Backlink toxicity calculation
    Reviews detected backlinks and interprets their toxicity, then sends alert emails.

This site is at risk of a toxic backlink penalty

How to remove toxic backlinks

This is the process to request Google disassociate the toxic backlinks you’ve identified from your website’s backlink profile. Essentially, it involves creating a disavow file and uploading it to Google

The process is as follows:

Import backlinks from Google
This is really important because the links Google finds are the ones that may lead to an SEO penalty. The tool connects to your Google Search Console account to import these backlinks.

Review Backlink Report

SEMRush’s Backlink Audit Overview page and review the OverallToxicity Score for your website.

Select Domains or URLS for disavow

  1. Review the sites with backlinks with a toxicity score of 50 or more.
    Flag if you need to disavow a link or the entire domain.
  2. Move these to the Disavow queue

Export the disavow file

Create a disavow file that merges any existing disavow entries in the Google Search Console, with your new disavow links and domains.

Upload the new disavow file

Upload the disavow file to: https://search.google.com/search-console/disavow-links

Confirm you’ve completed this activity in SEMRush’s Backlink Audit Tool