In May, 2013, Google launched the Penguin 2.0 update and suddenly sites all across the Internet dropped in Page Rank. Not surprisingly, porn and gaming sites were among the sites that suffered the most, but they were not the only ones. Many legitimate companies saw their websites suddenly drop in search engine visibility as well. Toxic backlinks, which had previously had little effect on websites’ Page Rank, began to harm many websites in a noticeable way.
“Backlinks” are basically incoming links. When website A links to website B, it creates a backlink for website B. Backlinks are important because the more reputable backlinks a website has, the higher the site will rank in Google searches and the more likely searchers are to find it.
Not all links are created equal, however. Some backlinks pass on positive ranking juice, others pass on negative ranking juice and still others are ignored by Google altogether. Toxic backlinks are backlinks that harm a website’s search engine optimization (SEO), or the ability to rank well in a Google search. Paid links, links received from link schemes, link wheels and blog networks, and links from porn, gaming or payday loans sites are all considered toxic.
Toxic backlinks reduce the Page Rank of the sites they link to so website owners want as few of them as possible. If Google notices that a site has a fair number of toxic backlinks, it likely will reduce the site’s Page Rank. If Google notices that a site has a very large number of toxic backlinks, it likely will exclude the site from its database altogether.
There are several ways you can find out if your site has toxic backlinks. Here are four common ways.
If you created the toxic backlinks yourself through suspicious web activity such as paying for links or content spamming, then you already know the links exist.
It is possible that you didn’t create the toxic backlinks yourself. They may have been created by a scammer or a questionable SEO company you hired in the past. If you are genuinely unaware of the toxic backlinks, you may not find about them until you receive a warning message from Google.
If your organic traffic levels suddenly dropped, particularly around May 22, 2013 when Penguin 2.0 took effect, toxic backlinks are likely the cause.
If you are nervous about the latest Penguin 2.0 update like many other website owners are, you may want to pull up a list of your backlinks just to check for any suspicious links. You may or may not find any, but it never hurts to make sure.
Google recommends that the first and only place you should look to find a list of your website’s backlinks is in your site’s Google Webmaster Tools. To do this, log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and select traffic, then links to your site, then more. Here you will find a sampling of the backlinks to your blog. However, if you wanted a complete list, you will need to pay a backlink checking service such as Ahrefs, SEOmoz or Majestic SEO.
Take a look at each of your links to see where they are coming from. You will want to keep links that come from high-quality sites and get rid of links that come from low-quality or spammy sites. If your links come from any of the following types of sites, they are most likely toxic links and need to be removed.
You will also need to remove all paid links and some site-wide links, such as those that show up in website footers and blogrolls. Not all links that come from sites such as these are toxic, however. It is important that you go through each of your backlinks manually so that you can be sure to delete all the negative ones while maintaining all of the positive ones.
Once you determine that your site does have toxic backlinks that are currently affecting your Page Rank or that could affect it in the future, you will want to act immediately to clean up your links. Here are four steps you should take.
1. Delete Them Yourself
If you own the sites that the toxic backlinks are on, delete them yourself.
2. Contact the Site Owners
More than likely, your toxic backlinks will be on sites that you do not own, however. You will need to make a good faith effort to contact the site owners and ask that your links be removed. You may have to contact them several times. Be sure to tell the website owners which links you want taken down specifically, and document your efforts so you can show them to Google later, if you need to.
3. Disavow Toxic Backlinks
Once you have done your best to get your toxic backlinks removed, use Google’s disavow tool for the rest. This tool asks Google to not take the links into consideration when determining Page Rank for your site. This tool should only be used by advanced webmasters who have made every effort to have their many toxic backlinks removed, however. The majority of website owners should not need it.
4. Delete Your Website
If your website is new, it has little traffic and you have far more toxic backlinks than you can reasonably take care of, you may wish to simply delete your website and start over.
Once you have cleaned up your website’s backlinks, you will want to file a reconsideration request with Google. In this request, you should admit your mistake, outline the steps you took to correct the problem and promise to use only best practices in the future. Be sure your request is polite and detailed. Once your request has been submitted, expect to wait between two to three weeks for a response.
While performing a backlink audit can be arduous and time consuming for websites that have a large number of toxic backlinks, it is worth the effort for website owners who want their websites to do well. Google seeks to reward websites that have high quality content and that gather positive backlinks naturally. Removing toxic backlinks is one essential steps website owners must take if they hope to rank well.