What is a toxic backlink, and how to remove and boost SEO ranking?

Link building is an integral part of SEO. Link helps to boost the domain and page authority which is very important for SEO ranking.

Poor quality links can lead to a ranking drop and the worst-case scenario can be an SEO penalty.

Let’s understand toxic or harmful backlinks and ways to remove or disavow them to keep the link profile clean and rank better.

Let’s talk in detail about toxic backlinks and methods to detect and remove them.

Table of contents:

Toxic backlinks are often referred to as spammy links that are low quality as they hurt your overall SEO performance. Links that are acquired unnaturally mainly to manipulate SEO ranking.

Toxic backlinks often do not have relevancy, importantly the source sites are poor in quality.

  • Low-quality sources – They originate from a website with poor-quality content
  • Irrelevant content – They link to a topic completely different from the one they are located in
  • Excessive quantity – Too many links from a single source
  • Over-optimised anchor text – Links placed on exact match keywords

You can expect severe consequences from toxic backlinks if done in high volume.

Here are some negative impacts of toxic backlinks:

  • Search engine penalties – Toxic link-building practices may lead to algorithmic or manual penalties from search engines like Google
  • Ranking drop – There are higher chances that your ranking will drop with spammy links even if you don’t get harsh penalties from Google
  • Decreased traffic – You will struggle to rank and the traffic will be in the decline mode
  • Reputation damage – Your brand may suffer if it is associated with a malicious site through a toxic backlink

Recognising poor links is the first step in improving the link profile.

Look for the following signals in the backlink profile to detect and remove toxic backlinks.

Over-optimisation of anchor text

Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink. Anchor text passes an important page rank signal, generally, exact match keywords are powerful but naturally, it’s not possible to get tonnes of direct match anchor text. This is mainly because normal people don’t know SEO and they would often place links or partial keywords, brand names, words like click here to learn more etc.

Here is an example of a natural and over-optimised anchor:

  • Natural: If you want to stay healthy consider cleaning your carpet regularly.
  • Exact Keyword Anchor: Keep your home healthy, book carpet cleaning Melbourne now.

Irrelevant or low-quality sources

The quality of links matters more than the quantity. Irrelevant, low-quality links add minimum to no value.

When you get a link from a completely irrelevant site or page then it is a red flag.

Here is an example:

You run a reputable technology news website, and to improve your SEO, let’s say you got links from the following sources:

  • A website selling discount pet supplies
  • A personal blog about health & fitness

As you can see, these websites have no relevance to news about technology, so the search engine may treat them as spammy.

Search engines like Google are smart enough to pick paid links.

Search engines look at overall website authority and trust factors to identify paid links.

Paid link sites are flagged with terms like sponsorship, contact us page with just an enquiry form with words like get your article published, contact us today!

Also, paid links often have direct match anchor text as they would like to get the maixum advantage.

These signals are easy to pick.

PBN stands for “private blog network”, which is a group (network) of websites that are managed by individuals or groups purely for link building to boost ranking.

These days PBN links are easy to get picked by Google algorithm and hence it’s a risky move.

While some get away with limited use of PBN links.

PBN links and guest posts are often used interchangeably which is not right.

Blog & forum commenting

This is the old cheap method of getting links, often they are pure spam.

Avoid getting links from blog or forum comments.

Irrelavent profile linkbuilding

Not every link adds value to website ranking.


  • GitHub is a cloud platform to manage software development and version control using GIT
  • You may have noticed people creating profile links with industries like carpet cleaning, this is pure spam

Hidden links are classic spam. Example white text on a white background.

Since their whole purpose is to manipulate the rankings in the search engine.

These are easy picks for search engines.

Avoid hidden links at all costs.

Low-quality directory submission

Submitting your website to online directories is a great way to gain traffic and increase your site’s ranking.

When you either overdo it or add your sites to a different country or language directly that has nothing to do with your offering, they are just spam.

Low-quality guest posts

They are similar to PBN, they often appear like news websites where one can write and contribute but are designed purely to get links.

Quality sites have a strict publishing policy, it goest through various checks before the article gets published.

You can use multiple tools as just one tool may not pick all your links.

Most tools will give you a list of backlinks and you will have to manually analyse them.

Some tools also score each link.

Google search console

Google Search Console is the best place to check your links. If you can analyse what Google has read and take action on it can be the most effective action item.

The tool is free, you can export the data to an Excel and make a list of toxic backlinks.


This is a comprehensive SEO tool that specialises in the analysis of backlinks as well as competitive research.

The is one of the highest-rated SEO tools for backlink analysis and overall SEO performance.


SEMrush can generate toxic backlinks for you, it’s a kind of job done.

Still, you should manually assess those links and then remove them.

Before you think of removing toxic backlinks, it is important to find out the approximate number of toxic backlinks pointing to your website and then create a plan to remove them.

If you have access to the sites where you have those poor quality links then you can manually remove them or approach the website owner and get them removed.

The process can be painful but once done you don’t have to do it again and it will get cleaned forever.

Use the Google Disavow tool

If you have too many toxic backlinks or can’t reach the website owners then you can use the Google disavow tool and submit the URL list in Google Search Console for Google to disregard those links.

Related: How to recover from Google’s penalty.

Need help with link building or cleaning?

If you need help with toxic backlink removal or building quality links most naturally then we are here to help. We are a Melbourne-based SEO agency and we provide holistic SEO services across Australia.

Visit our link-building costs page to learn more.

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