You’ve worked hard to build up your website. You’ve invested time and money developing content, creating the best link structure you can, optimizing your website for search engines and building quality back links to your website.
The problem comes when you notice that there’s low quality and toxic links pointing back to your website. They’re the kind that come from websites that you don’t want your own website associated with. They may even dabble in illegal activity or plagiarize content while linking back to you, which could further get your website and you in trouble.
The Problem Posed by Toxic Links
There are countless ways to produce new links back to your website. That makes getting links relatively easy, which is what makes it even easier to spam vulnerable websites for links.
The thought that leads websites to gather dangerous links willingly is that while they may be low quality, they’re available in large amounts. This would be a viable strategy if search engines didn’t have measures put in place to penalize this kind of behavior.
The fact that these types of links can be penalized is what makes them a risky proposition for your website. It also gives your competition a way to directly harm your website.
The good news concerning toxic links is that you do have certain implements at your disposal to keep them from haring your website. It may seem like you have no control over them, but there’s a number of ways that you can remove and render them harmless.
Method One: Don’t Do Anything
Some of the toxic links pointing to your website will be transient. They may only last a few days before the links pointing to your website disappear forever.
This gives you the option to do absolutely nothing, but it’s nowhere near the best choice for your website.
There are two reasons doing nothing about toxic links is bad:
Search engines like Google will consider those links to your website and may penalize you for them until they crawl the pages where those links were hosted and recalculate your search engine ranking position. This can take anywhere from a few days to a months.
The link may not disappear. Whoever runs the website with the bad link pointing to your website can keep that link there as long as they are willing to do so. You’re only at their mercy if you choose to do nothing.
Method Two: 404 the Page
One of he quickest ways to make toxic links ineffective is to 404 the page that they point to. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re deleting the page, just that you don’t have it located using the same URL and you don’t have a redirect in place.
While 404ing your pages gives you a large measure of control over who links to your pages, there’s two drawbacks with this method.
You lose every link to that page you’ve built up, regardless of if those links are good or bad.
Search engines don’t like to see 404 errors. You may incur warnings with tools like Google Webmaster and hidden penalties if you have too many pages with error response codes.
Method Three: Negate the Bad Links with Good Links
Good links are much harder to obtain than bad links. You need to build good content, negotiate with webmasters and work to earn good links.
That’s what makes them more valuable than the types of links that you can get penalized for. You can negate some of the harm that toxic links to your site cause by building a large amount of strong links back to your website using a varied SEO strategy that incorporates things like guest posting, web 2.0 creation and social bookmarking.
The drawback of this method is that it won’t alleviate the harm that toxic links might be causing your website to suffer. It can, however, provide a significant boost when those toxic links do inevitably expire or when you disavow them.
Method Four: Politely Request the Links be Removed
If the toxic links are hosted on a website that seems at least somewhat legitimate, then there’s a good chance that you can contact the webmaster and those links may get removed.
There’s a few drawbacks to this method, but it’s likely more useful to you than the two previous ways to remove bad links. The main disadvantages are:
It can take a lot of time to find contact details and even more time to write a polite letter or email request.
The webmaster you want to contact may not always speak the same language as you.
The webmaster may never see your request. Contact emails often get flooded with spam, contact details used with a domain registrar can be iffy and some webmasters simply don’t care.
Writing a contact request does hold its share of advantages. You can prevent further link spam on a website by notifying the webmaster that things like comment spam may be occurring. You may even develop a positive relationship with the other website that allows you to create positive links through items like guest posts.
Tips for Making Your Link Removal Request Effective
You have to realize that you’re likely contacting a real, live person. They may be less informed of the toxic links pointing to your website than you are, so it’s important to go slow, be detailed and to make every attempt to be courteous and polite.
Here are some tips for make your link removal requests more effective:
Never demand or threaten the webmaster to remove the links pointing to your website. The fact that your website is linked could be no more than a simple oversight on the webmaster’s part, which means that you need to be reasonable about your request. Always ask politely to have your link removed after you explain the situation.
The only exception to the aforementioned tip is in cases where the website linking back to your own looks like it’s spam. In this case, you can threaten to disavow their links with Google. You should then inform the webmaster that having links disavowed can negatively affect their own website and may result in penalties.
If it looks like someone other than the webmaster is responsible for posting the link back to your website, then you should start your letter off by mentioning what it looks like. This might make the webmaster more responsive to helping you out to remove the toxic link.
Explain to the webmaster that you’re not the person who put that spammy link there in the first place. This will give them a reason to actually help you instead of ignoring your letter or email.
Method Five: Disavow the Links with Google
The link disavow tool provided by Google is a strategy that should be employed if all else fails. Even Google warns that you should take every effort to remove unnatural and malicious links pointing to your website before you use the tool.
There’s a few dangers that the link disavow tool brings with it.
The first is to the website you’re disavowing links from. The disavow tool invokes manual review from Google staff, which means that the offending website may be manually penalized if Google finds that they’re doing something malicious.
The second and likely more important danger of the link disavow tool concerns your own website. If Google finds that you didn’t take every step possible to remove the links pointing to your website, they may place a manual penalty on your website.
Timothy Carter is the CRO for AudienceBloom. Since 1997 he's been helping businesses maximize their sales revenue from websites via content marketing, SEO and Internet Marketing strategies. Over the years he's written for publications like Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, MarketingProfs and other highly respected online publications.