When it comes to SEO, you’ll need to pull out all the stops if you want to succeed. The internet is fiercely competitive in terms of getting eyes on your content, so it’s all about making sure your page ranks well with search engines; Google, Bing, and other search engines should be able to call your content up quickly and efficiently when a user searches for the topic that your content is covering. Of course, if it were that easy, then everyone would be an SEO expert, but that’s simply not the case.
One of the things you’ll really need to look out for when you’re constructing content is the concept of toxic backlinks. If you pursue toxic backlinks or receive them, then your content’s chances of being seen by the right people could be seriously harmed, and you could end up worse off than before you constructed the content. Quality backlinks are what you should be looking for, but if you end up with toxic backlinks, you’re going to need to do something about it. Here’s our guide to toxic backlinks, what they are, and how you can avoid getting them.
What is a quality backlink?
First, let’s define our terms. Here are the conditions that a “quality backlink” fulfils.
- Editorially placed. A quality backlink is one that’s generated organically when a content creator wants an article that’s authoritative and informative. They link back to your article, and you get the quality backlink.
- Intentionally generated. Quality backlinks are included on purpose; they aren’t trawled randomly by an algorithm. A creator is looking for a good article, and they use yours. This is what you want.
- Relevant. The crucial part of this is that a quality backlink is relevant to whatever the site it appears on is doing. If your link has nothing to do with the topic of a site’s content, then it isn’t a quality backlink.
What is a toxic backlink?
With this definition of quality backlinks in mind, we can move on to define exactly what constitutes a toxic backlink.
- Generated by a “linking out” site. Some websites exist only to create external links to other sites. This is frowned on heavily by Google and isn’t something you want, because it doesn’t count as organic link generation.
- Featured on an irrelevant site. Google won’t look kindly on your backlink if it’s generated by a site that isn’t relevant to your site’s content. Let’s say, for example, you write an article about motorcycles. If that link appears on a fishing website, it’s going to look very dubious indeed.
- Appearing in a comment. Unless a link is very naturally inserted into a comment, you generally don’t want links in comments. This looks suspicious to search engine algorithms and is probably a toxic backlink.
- Being buried or ubiquitous. If a link is buried in a website’s header or footer, or if it appears on every single page of a website, it’s an artificially-generated toxic backlink, so this is something you will want to avoid.
These are just some of the conditions that can make a backlink toxic, but if your link appears in this fashion, it will probably lead to search engines ranking your content poorly or imposing other penalties on you.
What effect can toxic backlinks have?
If you leave toxic backlinks in place, then your page rank will drop, which will decrease the chances that people searching for your topic will find your content. Obviously, this is bad, because it means fewer people will see what you’re writing, but it’s bad for another reason, too. If your page rank drops, you’ll appear less as an authority on your chosen subject, which will lead to further degradation of your rank. It can quickly and easily turn into a slippery slope.
Another way in which toxic backlinks can have a negative effect on your page is that users can sometimes manually report these links to Google. When this happens, you may find that a Google engineer or someone assigned to look into bad linking practices sees the link personally and ranks your website down as a result. You don’t want to attract the ire of Google engineers for obvious reasons.
How can I fix toxic backlinks?
There are a couple of ways you can fix toxic backlinks, and some of them will naturally be more effective than others depending on the situation in which you find yourself. Here are some of the things you can do to address toxic backlinks.
- Talk to the site’s webmaster. Your first port of call should be to get in touch with the site that’s linking to you and ask them to take the link down. If the link is toxic, you may not receive a response, but it’s always worth carrying this step out as your first port of call.
- Ask for a review. Google’s review process is very slow indeed, but if you don’t think the link should be considered toxic, then you can ask Google to review your case. It will take a while; most cases get responses within a month, but it can take longer.
- Use Google’s Disavow Links tool. Google features an in-built way to disavow backlinks, which you can use when you don’t want to own a link. It’s worth remembering that this is a fairly advanced feature that you shouldn’t use if you’re not au fait with the process. It could actually lead to your site falling in rankings if you’re not careful.
- Check an SEO tool to make sure the backlinks are actually having an effect. Sometimes, toxic backlinks don’t have any effect on your site. Google is quite smart; it knows how to differentiate between actively toxic links and those that are clearly just spam, so it could be that a backlink isn’t doing your site any harm even though it isn’t a legitimate link. In this case, believe it or not, the most efficient solution is simply to do nothing; there isn’t really a problem if the link isn’t harming your SEO.