How Toxic Backlinks Can Poison Your Website

Last Updated November 8th, 2020

How Toxic Backlinks Can Poison Your Website

To provide their users with the best experience, search engines regularly change the method by which they rank websites. Google, for instance, updated its ranking algorithm over 3,000 times in 2018, according to Moz. Even with all of these updates, search engines continue to rely heavily on backlinks when ranking websites. When planning a link-building strategy for your website, though, you should beware of toxic backlinks.

Unlike high-quality and natural links, toxic ones don’t promote higher rankings. Rather, they have a poisonous effect that can kill your website’s rankings and performance if left unchecked.


What Are Toxic Backlinks?

A toxic backlink is a type of low-quality inbound link that, in some way, violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Google requires all webmasters to follow some basic rules when building backlinks. If a backlink violates one or more of these rules, it’s considered toxic.

Paid Backlinks

Paid backlinks are considered toxic unless the nofollow tag is used. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines state that webmasters should not purchase backlinks that pass link juice or PageRank. If you purchase a backlink, you must ensure it has the nofollow tag, Otherwise, it will pass link juice, thus making it toxic.

Guest Blogging and Article Marketing

Performing excessive guest blogging or article marketing with over-optimized anchor text can result in toxic backlinks. If you’re going to submit blog posts or articles to build backlinks to your website, don’t use the same anchor text. Diversifying your anchor text ensures your backlinks look natural and nontoxic.

Spam Comments

Any link to your site created automatically with the assistance of a program or app is considered toxic as well. There are dozens of programs and apps that offer automated link building. They search the internet for semi-relevant blogs, at which point they’ll leave a generic comment containing a backlink. Because they use automation, however, these link-building programs and apps can lead to toxic backlinks.


The Harmful Effects of Toxic Backlinks

Since they violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, toxic backlinks are detrimental to search engine optimization (SEO). Google can easily tell which backlinks comply with its Webmaster Guidelines and which ones do not. If you don’t follow the Mountain View company’s rules when building backlinks to your website, Google may drop the hammer on your site by lowering its search rankings.

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are designed to prevent webmasters from manipulating their website’s search rankings. Backlinks play such a critical role in search rankings. As a result, Google must govern the way in which webmasters build them. If Google gave webmasters free rein over their link-building strategies, it would likely lead to lower-quality, less-relevant websites ranking at the top of the search results.

More Than Just Google

In addition to Google, toxic backlinks can harm your website’s rankings on Bing. Microsoft’s fast-growing search engine shares many of the same rules regarding link building as Google. If a backlink violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, it may violate Bing’s as well. And like Google, Bing punishes websites with toxic backlinks by lowering their rankings.

Reputation Management

Toxic backlinks can also harm your website’s reputation. Many toxic backlinks involve spam, meaning they are created in bulk for commercial purposes. As users discover these spammy toxic backlinks pointing to your website, they may intentionally avoid visiting your site in the future. After all, it’s usually illegitimate businesses that engage in spam because they are apathetic about their reputation.


How to Handle Toxic Backlinks

If your website has toxic backlinks, you’ll need to clean them. The longer a toxic backlink goes unaddressed, the greater the risk of it harming your website’s search rankings.

Before you can clean up your website’s toxic backlinks, you’ll need to identify the URLs where they are located. Using either Google Search Console or a backlink analysis app like Ahref’s Webmaster Tools, search through your website’s backlink portfolio while looking for toxic backlinks. If a backlink meets Google’s criteria of a link scheme add the URL to a text document.

Reach Out to Site Owners

Now that you know where your website’s toxic backlinks are located, you can begin the remediation process. Starting at the top of your list, visit each of the websites that contain a toxic backlink and look for the owner’s email address. Next, send the owner an email asking him or her to delete the backlink. You can explain that while you appreciate the backlink, you believe it’s impacting your website’s search rankings, so you want the backlink deleted.

You probably won’t experience a high success rate when requesting the deletion of your website’s toxic backlinks. For every 20 website owners whom you contact, only one or two may delete the backlink. Therefore, you’ll need to use a different approach to ensure the remaining toxic backlinks don’t affect your website’s search rankings. Thankfully, Google and Bing offer a tool specifically for this purpose. Known as the disavow tool, it allows webmasters to devalue backlinks.

Disavow the Links

With the disavow tool, you can tell Google and Bing which backlinks you want them to disregard. Just enter the URL of each of your website’s toxic backlinks, and after the search engines have processed them, they won’t affect your website’s search rankings.

Keep in mind, you don’t need to delete or disavow a backlink just because it’s low quality. Low-quality backlinks may have little or no impact on your website’s search rankings, but they’ll still drive traffic while also boosting your site’s authority. Furthermore, unless a backlink violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, it won’t harm your website’s rankings. If you delete or disavow a backlink just because it’s low quality, it could have an adverse effect on your website’s performance.


Toxic backlinks send the message that you are trying to manipulate your website’s search rankings. Maybe you purchased a few high-profile backlinks from a digital marketing agency, or perhaps you used an automated link-building program. Regardless, when search engines discover bad links such as these, they may lower your website’s rankings to preserve the quality of their search results.

If you are unsure of the quality of your backlinks and would like a review of your website, contact us. Link Software has experience helping clients get a handle on the basics of SEO and getting their sites moving in the right direction.