When was the last time you performed a backlink audit? Not all backlinks have the same effect on search rankings. A high-quality editorial backlink from a reputable brand, for instance, will boost your website’s rankings more than a generic directory-style backlink. There are even destructive backlinks that can lower your website’s rankings.
This article presents seven types of backlinks you should remove for better SEO.
Removing or Disavowing Backlinks
You can protect your website’s rankings by removing or disavowing destructive backlinks. You may be able to manually delete them yourself, or you can ask the website operators to delete them. Removing the destructive backlinks will make them harmless.
If removal isn’t possible, you can plug the destructive backlinks into Bing’s and Google’s disavow tools. Disavowing will neutralize their influence on rankings. The two top search engines provide a disavow tool. You can use these tools to neutralize otherwise destructive backlinks.
7 Types of Destructive Backlinks
Here are several types of destructive backlinks to remove or disavow.
1. Comment Spam
Backlinks in comment spam are destructive. Millions of blogs and websites support visitor comments. They allow their visitors to leave messages at the bottom of their content pages. But visitor comments open the door to comment spam.
Comment spam consists of generic, mass-produced messages that don’t contribute anything of value. Spammers use apps to target blogs and websites with comment spam. Some of them may leave these mass-produced messages in hopes of increasing their own website’s rankings. Other spammers may leave comment spam to demote their competitors’ rankings.
2. Over-Optimized Forum Signatures
Destructive backlinks can consist of over-optimized forum signatures. Forum signatures are custom messages that appear at the bottom of a forum user’s messages. Each message that a user leaves will contain the signature.
According to Google, creating keyword-rich backlinks in forum signatures is a link scheme. Like all other link schemes, it’s against Google’s guidelines. If you’re going to link to your website in a forum signature, use a naked backlink. Naked backlinks consist entirely of the URL to which they direct visitors; they don’t have any keywords.
3. Hidden Backlinks
If you discover any hidden backlinks pointing to your website, you should remove or disavow them. Hidden backlinks are invisible to visitors. Search engines will see them when crawling the pages on which they were created, but visitors won’t see them.
Using a white font color for a backlink on a white background will result in a hidden backlink. Since they feature the same color, the backlink will blend into the background. Visitors won’t be able to see the backlink, but it will still be present in the page’s search engine-readable code.
Backlinks that are positioned off-screen are also hidden. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) can move links, as well as other elements, off-screen where visitors can’t see them. Off-screen backlinks are hidden and destructive. Whether you created them intentionally or by accident — or if another website operator created them — you should deal with hidden backlinks such as these.
4. Template Backlinks
Backlinks in templates can be problematic to your search engine optimization (SEO) game plan. Developers often sell site-wide backlink placements in their themes and templates. They’ll distribute the themes and templates for free, but they’ll make money by selling site-wide backlink placements to website operators.
Template backlinks, particularly those that appear on all pages of the theme or template, are spammy. At best, they won’t have any effect on rankings. Google lists them as a link scheme, meaning they could have a negative effect on rankings.
5. Ads Without the Nofollow Tag
Backlinks in ads are considered destructive if they don’t have the nofollow tag. Google prohibits website operators from creating paid backlinks that pass PageRank. You can purchase backlinks on other websites but only if they have the nofollow tag.
The nofollow tag negates most of the SEO equity of backlinks. It blocks the passage of PageRank, and Google will only use nofollow backlinks as ranking hints. Any backlinks in ads or other paid mediums must feature the nofollow tag. Without this tag or one of its variants, they are destructive.
Nofollow tag variants include ugc and sponsored. The ugc tag is designed for use with user-generated content. The sponsored tag is designed for use with ads. Both variants serve the same purpose of blocking the passage of PageRank as the nofollow tag. They simply provide context to the application of the tag-based nofollow directive. For backlinks in ads, use either the main nofollow tag or the sponsored variant.
6. Automated Backlinks
Any backlinks that were created automatically are destructive. According to Google, using automated apps, programs or software to create backlinks is a link scheme. Automated backlinks are almost always spam. You can’t create legitimate, non-spam backlinks using automated apps, programs or software.
If you believe some of your website’s backlinks were created automatically, you need to deal with them. Removing or disavowing the automated backlinks will protect your website’s rankings.
7. Backlinks From Penalized Websites
When evaluating your website’s backlinks, pay attention to the sites from which they originate. You may want to remove or disavow any backlinks that originate from penalized websites. Penalized websites are those that have been penalized by search engines and, thus, no longer rank.
If they link to your website, search engines may view your site as being guilty by association. The penalized website will be directly connected to your site. If it used a link scheme or other black-hat SEO activities, search engines may assume your website used those same black-hat SEO activities. To err on the side of caution, remove or disavow backlinks from penalized websites.
You can check to see if a website has been penalized by using the “site” operator. Assuming a website is suffering from a real penalty, also referred to as a manual action, it won’t appear on the search engine’s results pages. Searching for the website’s address with the “site” operator will return a single, empty results page.
Just because a backlink is destructive, it doesn’t have to harm your website’s rankings. You can either remove or disavow it. Removing the destructive backlink will wipe its existence off the internet, whereas disavowing it will prompt search engines to ignore it.