Destination Digital

Do You Have A Toxic Backlink Profile?

In this recent article we talked about how to create backlinks for your website to improve your website’s SEO strength. We also cautioned against old-fashioned SEO backlink methods that saw a lot of websites straying into the murky world of link farms, and if you did this, then you need to back out of that practice right away and clean up your backlink profile.

There are other reasons you might have got a poor backlink profile for your website’s domain name, such as being maliciously attacked by black hat SEOs who purposefully backlinked to your website from all sorts of dodgy directories in the hope of bringing down the reputation of your website. You might also have been hacked once upon a time. The beauty of both these malicious attacks on your brand (from the hackers point of view) is that quite often you don’t realise it until ‘something happens’.

If you have a Google Ads account the very first place you will find out about a hack is on this platform. They are hot on it.  If you don’t run Google Ads but have Search Console, then you will also get notifications in this tool too.

But for less ‘code red’ situations that means you just have a poor backlink profile, how do you find out?


How can I tell if I have a toxic backlink profile?

If you have an older website and you know that you have some dodgy inbound links (maybe because you said ‘yes’ once to that dodgy email promising you an instant 300 inbound links for a fiver?) then you need to audit your website and figure out if your backlink profile is causing you problems in your Google organic search visibility.

So what’s involved? Answer – plenty of manual labour!

In a nutshell you need to:

  • Audit your backlinks
  • Score the domain authority of the backlinks
  • Keep the high authority and get rid of the low authority backlinks

To do an audit, you have to find all the inbound links pointing at your website and put them all into a massive spreadsheet. Good places to start with this are Google Search Console, Ubersuggest, Backlinkwatch (yes, very dodgy looking website, but a really handy tool) and SEM Rush.  There are loads of other inbound linking tools out there, so don’t feel constrained to use only these. You need to build as large a profile as possible to help you clean up your act.

After you have identified the links, scoring the domain is as simple as using Moz or Ahrefs to check the domain authority score. You need to be aiming for as high a score as possible for your inbound links where 100 is the best (and possibly only occupied by the likes of Google, Facebook, Linkedin et al) and 1 is the worst and most likely a really toxic website, or one that has virtually no digital footprint at all.

SEMRush is a great tool for helping you clean up your backlink profile, offering you an easy to understand ‘toxicity score’ on the inbound links your website has a set of tools to help you manage the outreach process to webmasters of various websites.

What should I do to clean up my SEO backlink profile?

So how do you get rid of links once you have identified them to avoid the hammer of judgement falling on you from Google? The short answer to this is that it is tricky.

In the case of a spam attack on comments on WordPress site, you have to go through finding and then contacting each of the webmasters in turn to get them to remove the backlink from their comments.

Quite often these will be on ‘hobby sites’ set up by someone who got a new puppy or who decided to make a website to show off their new found love of gardening.  Quite often these ‘webmasters’ will be absent and have forgotten their login details or can’t be bothered to do anything about it.  That said, it’s in the interests of the owners of these websites to remove the offending links (and to turn off auto-comments on their blog posts too) to stop their websites getting brought down with yours.  So, in this case, you find them and you email them, and you follow up with them and you keep a big spreadsheet going recording what you did and when to keep on top of it.

For links that are 404ing or are just wrong on other pages on other types of websites, then it’s a similar case of requesting removal. It’s really helpful if you send an email with the page involved, the link and copy involved and a polite request.

If it’s something you signed up for and you still have the login details, then you need to log back in and figure out the ‘delete this content’ options you might have, and then you fall back on…  yep you guessed it… finding the editor or webmaster’s details and requesting removals.

With inaction on all of these types of scenario, you can follow up to say that if you don’t get a response you will submit a disavow to Google, which won’t reflect well on their website. And then when they don’t respond to this, then you have to go through the process of disavowing.


How do I disavow links on Google?

The Google Disavow Tool can be found here – – and should be used with caution.  It is linked to your Search Console profile and so if you don’t have one, then you need to sign up for one of those in the first place.

You prepare for disavowing by creating a list of links from the activity you have undertaken to get in touch with each of the webmasters in turn to clean up your backlink profile.  In submitting a disavow you are promising to Google that you have done all you can and this is the last line of action left open to you.  For more details on the format, take a look at this help article:

You then visit the disavow page whilst logged into your Search Console/Google account and upload the file.

Note: If you have already uploaded in the past, the new file will overwrite everything you already uploaded so download it first, then re-upload with all the new URLs appended to the bottom.


Should I disavow?

Not always. Google’s guidelines on this are as follows:

You should disavow backlinks only if:

  1. You have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site,
  2. The links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action, on your site.

You will be able to see manual actions in your Google Search Console profile to see if your problem is serious or not.  In the case of where you have been hacked – for instance where someone has put fake content onto your website in a hidden directory or under a subdomain and then has backlinked to the fake content – you probably really ought to clean up your act as this could lead to a Google Penalty.  If you have a handful of less than desirable inbound links, but lots of other good quality links then this isn’t such a big deal for you.


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