There are over 200 factors that come into play in Google’s algorithm when they decide where to rank websites on the search results page (SERP). Out of all these factors, there are a handful that sit right at the top, and are crucial to achieving great rankings. One of these highly-important factors are “backlinks”.
So, let’s talk backlinking. What it is, and why you should or shouldn’t be scared by it.
If you’re new to SEO, here’s a quick 101: Backlinking is the term used for links that point to your site from other sites (e.g. if you’re referenced in a blog post by a referral partner and they link your website, this is called a backlink).
But this doesn’t mean you should be welcoming any and every link from any old website, as low quality and low relevance sites can be severely detrimental to your search ranking.
Low quality can mean any site that appears ‘spammy’. This might be a site that has more popups and annoying ads than you can poke a stick at, or a site selling things such as gambling or pharmaceutical activity.
Google is also smart enough to figure out if you’ve gone and purchased or artificially built links pointing to your site that aren’t relevant to your topic. If you have too many low quality or unrelated backlinks pointing to your site, it may set off red flags.
Google has recently said that you shouldn’t need to take any measure to get these links taken down, as their algorithms are getting better and better at weeding out bad quality and irrelevant links, but there are steps you can take if you want to be sure of that.
One such step is to disavow links by telling Google to ignore certain backlinks that you don’t want acknowledged. There is a tool for this here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2648487?hl=en
One reason you may have for wanting to disavow backlinks is if you’ve taken bad advice in the past to purchase backlinks from inappropriate sources. As mentioned above, Google knows if you’ve paid for link schemes like this that violate their quality guidelines, and if so, you can expect to have some cleaning up to do. However, most other people should otherwise remain confident in Google’s ability to sort the wheat from the chaff.
So, you’ve got some bad backlinks. What now?
Step 1: Audit your backlinks
First, review your toxic backlinks, before Google penalises you for them. You can use a tool like SEMrush’s Backlink Audit Tool to do this. Then, you have three options:
- Reach out to website owners first and see if they can actually remove a negative link for you. This might take a while or there may be no contact details listed, so in this case it may be best to simply disavow. (More on this in step 3).
- If you agree with their toxic scores and reaching out isn’t an option, add a link to the Disavow list to generate a .txt file and send it to the Google Disavow Tool.
- If the link isn’t harmful (e.g. the domain is low in authority but relevant to your company) leave it be!
Step 2: Double check unknown sources
Check out backlinks from websites you aren’t familiar with and ascertain whether it’s a link that needs removal, disavowing or not.
Step 3: Send link removal requests
Google Webmaster Guidelines require you to ask bad backlink owners to remove links to your domain. SEMrush’s Backlink Audit interface helps by automatically locating the website owner’s email, so you can create an email removal request template and send it to all domain owners necessary in less time.
Step 4: Disavow backlinks
Monitor your backlinks over time and keep cleaning them up when needed. If some links cannot be removed even after contacting their owner, you will need to send them to the Google Disavow tool. You can also do this easily in the Backlink Audit interface.
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