What are backlinks? And aren’t they all the same?

In the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), offsite activities such as building links to your website (linkbuilding) are quite important to help make sure your website ranks well for your desired keywords. But there is something you should keep in mind when thinking about linkbuilding, which is that not all links are good links; in fact, sometimes having a link from a bad source pointing to your website can actually have a negative impact on your overall search engine ranking. One way to look at it is to think of your ranking like an election and the links to your site as the votes. If you get a lot of votes (links) you are more likely to win the election (get good rankings), HOWEVER, if most of your votes are found to be fraudulent (bad links from bad sources), then those fraudulent votes could easily backfire on you and cost you the entire election (drop your rankings).

Why would I have bad backlinks pointing to my website?

Because of this, not all links can be looked at the same, and when this happens, it is best for you to disavow those bad links, basically telling the major search engines such as Google that you don’t approve or want those specific less-then-ideal links, which in-turn will remove any penalties your site might be getting from having those bad links pointing to it. With this in mind, it is important to remember that bad links can come from a variety of different sources, including low value directories, shady linkbuilding you may have done in the past, sites that distribute your link to hundreds of places (automated), paid links that break Google’s terms of service, links from sites that are very unrelated to yours, and more. Because of this, it is important to gauge what each backlink is so you can better assess its value to know whether it’s likely a good link (positive ranking impact) or a bad link (negative ranking impact).

To clean up your website’s backlinks, you should follow a few steps, which I will list below.

1. First you need to find out what backlinks your website has, which can be done by running a backlink audit of your website. For this I highly recommend using a professional backlink tool such as Ahrefs which allows you to quickly identify all your websites backlinks with a few clicks of your mouse.

ahrefs top


ahrefs bottom

2. Now that you have access to view all of your website’s backlinks, the next step is to go through each of them and identify the bad ones within the mix. To do this, you want to try to find backlinks which fall into one of the categories below, and once found, add them to a text document for later on.

a. Find any backlinks that are listed where the page no longer exists and instead goes to an error page.

not found


server error

b. Next, try to find any backlinks where the page still exists, but where your link is no longer present on that page.

link dropped

c. After you’ve done that, try to discover any backlinks in the list which are coming from a domain that seems like it may be spam or from a foreign country you do not target.

spam links

d. Lastly, go through each of your backlink’s root domains to see if they are indexed in Google. Any domains that link to you but are not indexed in Google are very likely not good links for you to have.

root domain

To find out if a link is indexed, simply grab the first part of the url (the root domain) and type it into Google’s search bar like this, “site: [domain url here]”.

google lookup

If any results appear when you do this, then you know that domain is indexed with Google and is potentially a good link. If, however, you do this and the site does not appear (no results found) then that means that domain is not in Google’s index and therefore is likely a bad link which should then be added to your disavow list to be removed later on.

3. Now that you have completed your backlink audit and have a text document with a list of all the domains/urls you want to disavow, the next step is to actually disavow all of them so that Google knows that you do not approve of those links and that they should be ignored going forward. To do this, you will want to start off by creating an account with Google Webmaster Tools. Then, you will then need to attach your website to that account (instructions here).

disavow doc

After creating a Google Webmaster Tools with your website added as a presence, you will then want to go to the Google Disavow Links Tool. Once there, choose your domain in the dropdown and click “Disavow Links”.

disavow 1

Them it will take you to another screen where it will allow you to upload your text document with all your links to disavow in it. Once uploaded, you simply click submit, which will send the document to Google so that they can disavow the unwanted links in your list.

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While this whole disavow process can be a bit tedious and may take some time to get through, especially if you have a large amount of backlinks to your site, it is still a very important activity to do from time to time. It is recommend you do a backlink audit of your website at least once every year to help keep your backlink profile as clean as possible. So what are you waiting for? Start cleaning up your backlinks today, and help keep your website rankings at the top of the major search engines!

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