What Are Toxic Backlinks and How to Remove Them -
4 min read

What Are Toxic Backlinks and How to Remove Them

Craig Dewart

Written by Craig Dewart

What Are Toxic Backlinks and How to Remove Them
published April 27, 2023

Here's a guide to help you remove toxic backlinks pointing to your site.

Nobody likes toxic links, including toxic backlinks. Not only do they affect your site's ranking, but they also damage your reputation, eroding consumers' trust and leading to endless problems. To keep afloat in the online arena means knowing how to spot spammy links and remove them is crucial.

To put it plainly, toxic backlinks are garbage. At the end of the day, you want to get the best out of Google search results and drive organic traffic from quality sites to see the best results. We are here to tell you how to spot these problems and resolve them with minimum stress.

Backlinks are highly valuable, and your chance of appearing at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) increases with the number of high-quality links pointing to your website.

Toxic backlinks can and will bruise your online reputation with every search engine. These links manipulate rankings, are low quality and should be avoided at all costs. When dealing with the issue of toxic backlinks, always remember the golden rule: quality over quantity!

Generally, a toxic link comes from:

  • Irrelevant content and sites.
  • Sites that are purely made for linking out.
  • Unindexed sites (from Google).
  • From spammy sites or sponsored sites.
  • Untrustworthy sites.

You can spot the warning signs, and it is essential to remove toxic backlinks as soon as you spot them, as they can negatively affect your SEO efforts.

Google ignores low-quality links and unnatural links. However, unnatural links are less likely to result in either algorithmic or manual penalties.

Unless you are spamming to an extreme degree, it is becoming less likely that you will experience severe action. However, this implies that any links you build that Google decides to ignore will not affect your results, which is a massive waste of money and resources.

You must focus on all the links you build because if Google sees them as low-quality or toxic, they will be ignored and serve no purpose.

If a member of Google's webspam team examines the link profile for your domain and discovers a lot of spam, they may take a manual action against unnatural links. If pages or links do not comply with Google's webmaster guidelines, there will be consequences, as Google believes the link aims to manipulate search engine rankings.

"Manual actions" are used less frequently than before, however. Manual site reviews require time and resources, and in response, Google has worked very hard to improve its algorithm for spotting poor links. Nevertheless, manual actions can still occur, especially if you spam incessantly and frequently.

Manual actions may be triggered by various factors:

  • Being in a niche that has a reputation for link spam.
  • One of your competitors is filing a spam report.
  • The algorithm may pick something up and trigger a review.

You will be notified in Google Search Console that you have been given a manual action (penalty). You can see it under the manual actions tab.

If you have received a manual action, you will see a sample of the pages that have been impacted; these actions can either target particular pages or the entire site. The affected pages often lose any rankings before the penalty's application and cannot restore those positions until the sanction is lifted.

You must try to remove all toxic or bad links that resulted in the penalty to reverse a manual action for link spam, or you may need to request a nofollow from the webmaster, UGC, or a sponsored attribute and then disavow the ones you can't.

Algorithmic filter

Your website may experience an algorithmic filter problem, which is the most frequent case brought on by toxic links. This is also known as an algorithmic adjustment or penalty.

Essentially, the algorithm will adjust your rankings once it has spotted toxic links on search engines.

You won't be notified that you've been penalized and can't ask for reconsideration to remove the penalty. However, Google frequently announces algorithm updates publicly, and you will notice a lot of Sensor volatility.

Anchor text

Ideally, you want your backlinks to have a variety of anchor text that point to your website, from specific keywords, brand mentions, images, naked links, and much more. In general, you will notice this, but there are cases where these anchors will warn you and help you identify toxic backlinks.

Some backlinks that point to your website may use anchor texts that do not align with your company and what you promote. It is best to keep an eye out for inconsistencies in your anchor texts and then investigate them.

Domain authority or ranking

On a scale of 0-100, this rating reveals the strength of a website's backlink profile. This can be a valuable metric to find out how your website performs compared to related competitors, even though it is not a ranking criterion for Google.

Your domain authority or ranking is based on the number of trusted domains that point to your website. If the DR is low, the backlink quality may also be low.

What makes a solid DR? According to this theory, the DR of high-quality domains is greater than 70, low-quality websites less than 30, and everything between those scores is mediocre.

These requirements seem pretty strict, and if your DR does happen to be low, it does not always mean that your website is toxic or harmful. It merely means you need to put a lot more effort and time into link building. You also don't necessarily need to stress if a site with a low DR links to your site, and ensure that you revise them regularly.

You must regularly check for toxic backlinks pointing to your site. Some SEOs do this only once they have received a manual penalty or noticed a decline in rankings, while others do it religiously.

You can use Semrush's fantastic backlink audit tool to spot toxic and low-quality links pointing to your site. This is how to use the tool:

Step 1: set up the audit

When you set up the audit, analyze the root domain, specify the brand name, and set your target category and country. Then you can start the backlink audit and will receive a confirmation via email once it is finished.

Step 2: connect SEMrush and your Google Search Console

Connect your Google Seach Console account to Semrush while the audit is in progress so you can submit a disavow file promptly to get further insight.

Step 3: Look at the quick overview

You will receive a quick overview of your backlinks when the audit is finished. The overview will give you some stats and indicate the health of your backlink profile.

Take note of the toxic score in the audit report, as it may indicate you have some cleaning to do. Go to the audit tab to find a complete overview.

Sort the results according to the toxic score to work from the most to least toxic.

The Backlink Audit Tool uses a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being not toxic and 100 being extremely toxic, to identify which links pose the most significant risk to your rankings. It looks at more than 50 toxic markers.

Before deciding what to do with the link, look at its toxic markers. Analyze your backlinks to see your options; it is strongly advised that you either remove or add backlinks with a high toxic score to your disavow file.

Step 6: Create a whitelist

Create a whitelist including all domains with a low toxic score, and those you know are safe and natural.

Once a link has been chosen, you can add it to your "keep" list.

How To Remove Them

The domains regarded as toxic will remain after you have made your whitelist. It is time to take action on these links to improve your toxic score and clean up your link profile.

You may need to remove a significant number of toxic or bad links to counteract a manual action. You might wish to skip this section and go straight to learning how to disavow if you haven't had any actions, are performing a routine cleanup, or have seen that an algorithmic filter has been applied.

Evaluate your site's health with a backlink audit and ensure there are no spammy backlinks hindering future SEO efforts. You can also use the audit to find high-value links that could boost your rankings and performance.

Before starting the audit:

  1. Get an idea of the backlink strategies used by competitors to see where you stand.
  2. Use Ahrefs backlink profile overview to check your backlink profile.
  3. Keep an eye out for inconsistencies, big drops, and spikes in your domain report.

It's also a good idea to see where your links originate.

Step 1: Build your remove list

After choosing one or more links, you may create a remove list directly from the backlink audit tool. Move these links to your "to remove" list from the "Delete" tab if you plan to try to remove them.

This is presuming you were able to find an email address to which you could send the removal request. In other cases, you'll need to disavow links then.

If you use Gmail or a Microsoft email account, go to the "remove" option, and you may now connect your email account to the tool. You'll be able to issue removal requests after that with only one click.

Step 3: Put in a removal request

Making a removal request is easy. Hit the "send" button next to all the links on your removal list. You can also customize it if necessary.

Step 4: Monitor the removal requests

The final step is to keep an eye out for a response. You can find this in the "status" column. If your initial email hasn't been opened or received a response, you can go back into the email tool and resend it or follow up. You will also be able to see the stage and progress of your links.

Step 5: export the removal list

If your removal attempts are ineffective, you will then need to disavow all of your toxic links.

Consider making a disavow file

You must disavow these links if you are performing a routine link analysis, have tried and failed to remove toxic links, or are just skipping that step to fix an algorithmic filter that has been set.

A disavow file is a request to Google that it disregard the links you upload and make sure they are not considered when determining the ranking factors for your website. It is an excellent method for dealing with toxic and spammy links.

Disavowing these links can prevent penalties or help your site recover from them. It's crucial to utilize Google's Disavow tool carefully because doing so poorly could negatively affect your website's performance.


Toxic or unnatural links can badly impact the SERP rankings of a website, and if Google discovers that a website has many of these links, it may also remove the website from its database.

What is a toxic score in SEO?

The Backlink Audit Tool uses the Toxic Score to evaluate which links are the most toxic for your website, on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being good and 100 being extremely toxic.

Final Thoughts

A toxic backlink can be highly problematic and is the last thing you want on your site. At Link City, we understand that all site owners only want the best for their businesses, which means avoiding toxic links, knowing how to spot them, and ultimately getting rid of them.

This is why running a backlink audit is crucial. You must maintain your site regularly and ensure that you have a healthy backlink profile at all times, which means an increase in organic traffic and better search rankings.

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