If bad links have never appeared on your radar you’ve likely never suffered the ill effects of them. But just because you’ve never had a problem with them, it doesn’t mean you needn’t know what they are. I’m going to provide you with an overview in this post. I’ll explain how you can check for bad links to remedy them before they cause your blog real harm.
In this post you’ll learn:
- What a bad link is.
- What bad links look like.
- How to check for bad links pointing to your blog.
- How to remedy bad links.
What Are Bad Links?
Search engines use links as a major signal to their ranking algorithms. Links are “votes” for a web page that help search engines understand page relevancy to search queries. The more links pointing to your pages, the more credibility and authority search engines assign to them. The more credibility and authority your pages have, the more likely they are to appear higher in search results. It’s a simple formula!
However, not all links are equal: there are good ones and bad ones.
A good link is one created by another website owner who liked your blog and linked to it. A real person create that link with no motive aside from finding your content valuable or interesting and wanting to reference it. Unlike bad links they occur organically.
Bad links are the opposite… erm, obviously! A bad link is effectively any external link pointing to your blog that a search engine determines to be “unnatural”. Butt what the heck are unnatural links?
How Do Google and Bing Describe Bad Links?
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results.Source: Google
Abusive tactics that aim to inflate the number and nature of inbound links.Source: Bing
Bad links are any links that appear to search engines as an attempt to manipulate search results. A bad link then has not occurred organically, but artificially. It’s intent is to influence ranking position in what search engines determine to be an unfair way. Search engines see these types of links as unnatural.
I won’t go into too much detail here regarding what bad links look like. However for the purposes of this post though, bad links tend to fit into these categories:
- Paid links that you’ve purchased to gain a ranking benefit.
- Excessive reciprocal links… of the “you link to me and I’ll link back to you” kind.
- Excessive guest posting articles on other blogs for the purpose of gaining a ranking benefit.
- Large-scale article directory syndication.
- Excessively overused anchor text in any external link that’s optimized for a specific keyword.
- Links from sites categorized as spam.
These are just scratching the surface really. If you’d like to learn more detailed specifics about bad links, read my post explaining what unnatural links are. This will help you understand precisely the types of links you MUST AVOID.
How to Check for Bad Links
So this may be the first time you’ve ever heard about bad links. Or perhaps you know all too well what they are and have suffered as a consequence.
I can tell you first-hand about the negative consequences of bad links. I was on the receiving end of a devastating Google manual penalty because of them several years ago. It ain’t funny and I won’t recommend the life-shortening excitement it generates to anyone!
But I digress… this post is about how to check for bad links so it’s time to get on track.
I’m going to focus primarily on free techniques to help check for bad links. However, I’ll also reference tools that give you a limited version of a more powerful paid version. These give you a free unlocked trial.
Google Search & Bing Searches (Free)
This is perhaps the most rudimentary tool to use and it’ll also involve some legwork on your part. Run some searches for your blog name and domain and exclude your own domain using search operators like this:
- “your blog name” -site:yourdomain.com
- “yourdomain.com” -site:yourdomain.com
These operator will return pages in Google and Bing’s indexes where your blog is referenced. You may be able to look at them to see:
- If and where a link to your link appears and whether the page looks spammy.
- If it looks like there’s a bad link pointing to your domain.
It’s not a pretty method and it’ll involve some manual work. However it’s a completely free way (albeit blunt) to carry out some basic analysis.
Google Search Console (Free)
Google Search Console is a free tool that you can access when you have a Google Account. If you don’t presently have one, it’s easy to set one up. Read my post on how to do so here: How to Create a Google Search Console Account.
If you receive a link penalty and you have a GSC account, Google may send you an email to tell you. The mail probably won’t detail any links it has found though.
You can also check in the GSC itself by looking at the Security & Manual Actions report in the left-hand navigation panel. If you have a penalty for bad links, the Search Console will provide you with some examples:
Finally you can check the Links report in the navigation panel. This won’t show you the exact pages that link to your blog, but they’ll show you a whole bunch of domains from which Google has seen links to your blog.
This may be useful to help you look at the domains to see if there are any that appear spammy. You might be able to find links to your blog then by sniffing around the site. Of course this could be a big job on a site with lots of pages, but it’s a possibility.
Moz Pro (Free and Paid)
Moz has long been an excellent place to learn about all things search engine and SEO. But it’s not just a source of cutting edge information on search. Moz offers a whole suite of tools to audit your blog and provide insight into how you might move make improvements.
The Link Explorer tool, included in the Moz Pro package, enables you to see the backlinks for your blog. It’s not a cheap tool for a new blogger but you can sign up to a 30 day free trial, which again should be more than enough time to get you the information on any potentially bad links pointing to your blog.
Link Explorer will show you the domain score of the linking domain, it’s page authority and assign it a spam score to help you pinpoint potential bad links.
SEO PowerSuite (Free and Paid)
SEO PowerSuite is a super-powerful SEO tool that provides four different components:
- Rank Tracker
- WebSite Auditor
- SEO SpyGlass
You can download and use a free version of SEO PowerSuite, which gives you limited access to each tool. Additionally, you can sign up for a free trial to unlock it for 7 days before it reverts back to a locked version.
There’s a specific tool for checking backlinks that comes with the SEO PowerSuite package. It’s called SEO Spyglass.
SEO SpyGlass lets you see up to 1,100 backlinks. This will be fine for new bloggers but likely not comprehensive enough for more seasoned bloggers with a massive link profile. However, the free version is still useful since you’ll still get potentially useful insight into external links.
There’s a nifty feature that takes any backlink it finds and assigns a “Penalty Risk” to the domain it comes from. This can help you to see potential bad linking domain candidates.
The bad news is that aside from the 1,100 backlink limit, the free version of SEO SpyGlass does not permit you to export the links into a file. Nonetheless it’s still useful for you to visually check specific domains and browse them for your links to see if anything looks out of the ordinary.
How to Remedy Bad Links
Ultimately you’ll want to put all potentially bad links into one spreadsheet document. You’ll be able to use this to sort through them and assign those that are either:
- Causing you a problem (i.e. you have a penalty)
- Or that might cause you a problem in the future (i.e. you don’t have a penalty right now and don’t want to get one either!).
When you’ve collated your backlinks together in one place, look at each one closely to see if they are a potential problem. This will be easier in the case where he tools I’ve mentioned above provide you with a spam score for potential bad links.
Look at each link to check the following
- Do they come from a site that looks spammy to you?
- Is it a guest post or directory article?
- Are the links over optimized for a keyword and do they look spammy to you?
Of course, if you’ve been able to get specific links from Google Search Console because you have a penalty, you’ll know that these ones are definitely causing you a problem. You can flag these as requiring attention.
When you’ve gone through your list and have identified bad links that you feel 100% certain are causing a problem, there are a couple of steps you can take.
Contact Site Owners
The first thing you can do is to contact the site owner. Ask them to remove the bad link pointing to your blog or tag it with the rel=”nofollow” attribute. This is obviously a bit of a painful process that will take you some time… and you may never even hear back from everyone you contact.
Google Link Disavowal
The next option is to submit bad links to Google’s Disavow Links tool. This is a part of the Google Search Console and is designed as a way for you to tell Google to ignore specific links.
However, you need to be as close to 100% certain that any link you submit is causing you a problem. If you disavow links that are actually providing you with a ranking benefit you’ll shoot yourself in the foot. Once you submit a link to the Disavow Tool there’s no way I know of to reinstate it.
- Bad links are those determined by search engines to be cynically designed to manipulate search engine rankings.
- Search engines take a VERY dim view of bad links. They deliver harsh penalties for any blogs found trying to cheat the system with them.
- Rather than waiting to be hit by a search engine penalty, it’s far better to check for bad links in advance. You can then do something about them before getting hit with a penalty.
- Check if you’ve been hit by a Google Manual Penalty by looking at your blog in the Google Search Console. This will show you link examples if you’ve been slapped for them… but it won’t necessarily show you them all!
- If you know 100% that bad links have resulted in a Google Manual Penalty, you can ask linking domains to remove them or submit a link disavowel request to Google.
- Find out more about bad links at Google Search Console Help.
That’s it for now!
If you have any questions about how to check for bad links, or have experience of them, please leave a comment below.
James Pierce says
I’ve just checked my backlink profile and I’m all good – phew! But I bookmarked this for future reference this is something to set in your calendar to check regularly (I’m doing it every few months now, maybe 3 times per year in total). Thanks for another valuable guide, Paul!
That’s good news James. What tools are you using to check?