Before you read: In the wake of Google Penguin and other penalties, a lot of webmasters are scrambling to have their links removed in order to either recover from a penalty or avoid being penalized all together. If you are thinking about removing links on your own, prepare yourself for a huge amount of work ahead of you. If you are short on time or want to save yourself the headache, check out our list of recommended backlink removal companies, that will take care of everything for you. Otherwise, this page will go into how to remove toxic links on your own. Here we go!

A few years back, SEO was fairly easy and link manipulation was rampant since it was very clear to SEO’s that large scale link building and link manipulation was very effective. Lots of site owners and SEO companies piled on and enjoyed some pretty impressive rankings for a bit. Unfortunately for them, this was a temporary solution until Google figured out how to identify the sites that were doing it and applying a penalty to their site whether it be a manual penalty or an algorithmic penalty. If you think you have low quality or spammy backlinks pointing to your site, then you are going to really want to make sure that you address it as soon as possible. Even if you haven’t received a penalty yet, you will be at risk in the near future unless your link profile is cleaned up.

Step 1: Figure out if you were hit with a penalty

Before we do anything and start removing backlinks that could actually be a good links, let’s first take a step back and asses whether or not you were hit with a penalty. Generally speaking, there are two forms of Google Penalties. One is a manual penalty and the other is an algorithmic penalty.

Manual Penalty: A manual penalty means that your website has been reviewed by a Google Employee and has had a manual infraction put in place. If you have a manual penalty, you will receive a notice in Google Webmaster tools that there was a detection of unnatural links. Below is an example message from Webmaster tools:

Algorithmic Penalty: The other penalty is an algorithmic penalty. You won’t ever receive a message or notification if you were hit by an algorithm penalty. However, what you can do in order to determine if you were hit by an algorithm penalty is to use the Panguin Tool. This is a fantastic tool that allows you to login using your Google Analytics account and it will overlay various algorithm updates on top of your search traffic. You can even dig into your data all the way to the keyword level to see if there are any keyword specific penalties. When you use this tool, be sure to double check that you have your traffic source set to “Organic” so that other traffic such as referrals or PPC traffic don’t skew the results.

Step 2: Pull all your backlinks together

In order to take a deep look at all the links and the types of links that are pointing to your site, we first need to be sure that we can pull as many of the backlinks together as possible. Google only gives us a very small sampling of links in Webmaster tools, so we are also going to use some third party applications in order to get as much of a sample as possible.

Backlink Sources:

  • Open Site Explorer
  • Ahrefs
  • MajesticSEO
  • Google Webmaster Tools
  • Bing Webmaster Tools

If you don’t have subscriptions for all of the services above, don’t worry! We can still get a good amount of link data for free. Additionally, OpenSiteExplorer and Majestic SEO have a free trial that you can use to get access to the data. You are going to want to export each list of URLs and copy and paste them into a new tab in an Excel file. Once you have a tab for each source, you can then merge all of the data onto a new tab and call it “All Links.”

Now that we have a long list of URLs, we are going to want to remove any duplicates that were found using multiple sources. All of the sources that we are going to use to find the links are pretty good, so now we just need to remove any overlap. Once you have copied all the links from each tab and put it on the “All Links” tab, you can remove all duplicate URLs. If you have a lot of links, you can also use Excel functions to automate the “All Links” tab.

Step 3: Scrutinizing your links

Now that we have a pretty good total of all the links that are pointing at your site, we are going to want to dive in and examine each of the links that are linking to you. When we are looking at all of the link data, we are going to want to be on the lookout for the following:

  • Sites that are de-indexed in Google: if you perform “” does it return any results?
  • Links from paid posts: usually there will be a tagline that says “This is a sponsored post”
  • Links from directories
  • Links from blog networks
  • Links from poor quality or spammy looking website
  • Site-wide links
  • Footer links
  • Blog Comment Spam or Forum links
  • Sites have 0 PageRank or PR-n/a
  • Come from sites with same C class- you can use this C-Class Checker to check a list of sites
  • Linking pages have excessive number of outbound links

The above gives us a really high level look at the quality of the links that we have pointing at the site. To dive in a little deeper, we are going to want to fire up two tools that we used earlier to really get granular with our detective work.

Ahrefs Site Explorer– This is a great tool that will allow us to really dive in and take a look at the following:

The total number and types of links: do the domains that are linking to the site look spammy?
Unique referring domains: is there an unusual amount of referring domains?
Anchor Text diversity: is there little to no anchor text diversity? Does it look natural?
New & lost links- have links been acquired in a short amount of time?

Majestic Site Explorer– This awesome tool will give us another angle and help us understand the following

Site-wide links: are there site wide links either in the footer or sidebar of websites?
Over optimized anchor text: are all of the links keyword rich heavy and focused on “money keywords?”
301 redirects: are there lots of 301 redirects pointing to your site?

Things to consider when evaluating your links:

Don’t jump the gun just yet and start removing or disavowing links. When you remove or disavow links, you need to be 100% sure that you are sure that you do not want these links going to your site. Sit back and ask yourself the following:

  • Does this site look spammy?
  • Does the site have the user in mind?
  • Does it have potential to pass along referral traffic?
  • Is this a website that I want to align myself with from a branding or business perspective?
Step 4: Removing Your Links

If you think that you have some unnatural links that have caused a penalty either manual or algorithmic, then it is time to remove the bad links. To learn more about how to remove bad backlinks, visit this section of our site to begin..