SEO backlinks. The fine line between quality and toxic backlinks and the removal of harmful links

SEO backlinks: what are they? The fine line between quality and toxic backlinks and the removal of harmful links

SEO backlinks – do they have value for Google rankings? Or is it more like SPAM, not worth the effort in an already confusing definition of SEO? While most people know that SEO optimization starts with on-page SEO improvements – content, structure, technical issues and optimization – off-page SEO optimization is the second crucial part of SEO optimization.

What do you need to know about this in order to avoid crossing the fine line between SPAM (in other words, unnecessary and toxic reckless external linking) and strategically useful backlinking? First of all, where and how a backlink is placed will be valuable for a particular website. As it happens, unqualified specialists or brand owners themselves, without sufficient knowledge base, often place external links where their presence is detrimental to a website’s ranking. It also happens that SEO backlinks are added on their own, without any effort from the professional or the website owner. In this case, not only the placement of quality backlinks, but also their removal becomes an extremely important process in off-page SEO optimization.

SEO backlinks, “nofollow” and “dofollow”. What are they?

Backlinks (or external links), are links from external sources (other websites) that lead to a specific website. There are two types of external links: “nofollow” and “dofollow”. The technical difference is the additional “nofollow” tag in the HTML code of the link. However, in the SEO process, this small difference can be very influential. The rel=”nofollow” tag indicates that the link does not need to be indexed – in other words, it is simply ignored by the search engine. Such a link is usually of no value to a website in improving its SEO rankings.

Building good backlinks – is it possible to do it by yourself?

Although backlink building and authority sourcing is a process that requires careful attention and at least a basic knowledge of SEO. It is in general easy to implement. SEO backlinks can be built in a variety of ways:

  • on discussion forums,
  • in advertisements,
  • in SEO articles sites,
  • on blogs,
  • in news portals,
  • in the media sources,
  • in business catalogs, etc.

Whatever the source chosen for hosting links, it is important that it is credible and positively evaluated by search engines (authoritative, in other words, with a domain rating above 25). It is also particularly important to know that good backlinks should be hosted in sources whose content is logically linked to the content of the site to which the backlink will lead. Ignoring these two rules can not only not pay off, but can also lead to the opposite of the desired result.

How do I check the ranking of the source domain? This article explains the details:

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The importance of quality backlinks for a website’s SEO ranking

The primary goal of search engines is to show users truly relevant and trustworthy results in the top positions. What is the factor that determines whether two identical businesses providing identical services will rank in the top 10 of Google, while the other will be hidden in the depths of the tenth page? A website’s authority is shaped not only by the successful implementation of on-page SEO steps (a website that is technically accurate, fast, user-friendly and filled with useful content, i.e. enough text to be considered as a useful source of information), but also by off-page SEO and the number of backlinks (aka the number of recommendations). The higher the number of external sources that share a link to your website, search engines (e.g. Google) indicate that the website is authoritative and is often recommended by other sources on the Internet. That means that it is more worthy of being an answer to a search query than a competitor’s website with fewer such recommendations.

The importance of quality external links can be summarized by the following key benefits:

  • A rising recommended domain ranking is the sign of a reliable, high-quality and relevant website in front of search engines and users.
  • Higher conversion rates: good backlinks increase the targeted audience’s flow from the external sources where they are placed. By finding a website link in a business catalog in a relevant field, in the article section of a business-related website or even in an authoritative news portal, the target customer is likely to take an interest in the services you provide and the products you sell.
  • Both of the first two points lead to the third – higher search engine rankings for your website.

However, it is important to remember that the quality of external links is always better than the quantity. Search engines always prefer quality, relevant and good backlinks. If long-term SEO success is important to you, it is highly recommended that you keep both an organic and an ethical approach in building your backlinks network. SEO articles, texts or advertisements and their accompanying website links should be placed in sources that are logically relevant to the content of your website. For example, if you provide computer repair services, a valuable backlink could appear in a discussion forum about information technology. The quantity, frequency and variety of portals on which they are hosted should be similar to the organic flow of recommendations for your website.

Hosting external links: domain ranking, number of good backlinks and keywords in SEO text

Although one might think that the highest possible number of good backlinks = guaranteed success in Google’s Top 10. In reality this tactic not only doesn’t work, but can also have a negative effect. The unsystematic, indiscriminate placement of backlinks without regard to the quality of the source is considered a negative SEO practice. Keyword overuse in texts is also an additional negative practice. These practices usually lead to anti-results and search engine penalties by giving the website an anti-knowledge rating. The website’s position drops or the pages do not appear in search results at all.

Clearly, professional SEO services and off-page SEO optimization is not just about quantity. It’s just as much about quality, which the following factors will help you create:

  • The credibility of the source chosen to host the link. The ranking and type of domain, niche, topic – is it relevant to your website and business? Exceptions may be made for news portals or other portals with content on a variety of topics. In this case the link should appear in a portal section with topics related to the subject of your website.
  • High quality textual content without artificial keywords, with an embedded backlink.
  • Geographical location and language of the source are relevant. The source language where you placed the content linking to your website must match the language of your website.
  • Potential engagement is particularly welcome. External links that users are willing to click on are particularly valuable.
  • Regular updating. Even if the link directory fulfills all the above criteria, it is essential to note the last date of the update. Sources that are rarely updated with new content signal to search engines that the information network is not up-to-date and is not actively developed.

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What are toxic SEO backlinks?

Off-page SEO optimization and strategically placed backlinks are crucial for a website’s SEO position. As well it’s important to consider the potential risks when undertaking these activities independently. Among them are toxic links: links from low-quality (domain ranking below 25) or unreliable sources on the internet that are completely unrelated to the topic of your website, provided in a language different from your website or with a high bounce rate. A toxic backlink is damaging to your website’s search engine optimisation and your ability to rank high in Google results.

Toxic links and their negative impact on a website’s SEO position

  • Penalties. Search engines can penalise websites with a significant amount of toxic backlinks (the ratio of the percentage of quality backlinks to non-quality backlinks). Penalties can result in lower SEO rankings or even de-indexing (the website is no longer displayed in search results in general).
  • Bad backlinks are often placed on sites that do not contain meaningful content, which means they potentially have a high bounce rate and a poor reputation with search engines.
  • Damage to brand image. Toxic external links are usually associated with irrelevant, “spam” websites, so consumers may form a negative impression of your business by seeing your brand name on these sites.
  • Often, removing bad backlinks that have a negative impact on a website takes more time and effort than could be spent on quality link building and other SEO best practices.

How to identify toxic links and toxic sources?

  • Low domain authority (less than 25).
  • Irrelevant source content that is not suited to your business niche: poor quality text, lots of advertising and irrelevant keywords, content that is not updated and is outdated.
  • Poorly maintained, unrepresentative reference source website.
  • Toxic links are often characteristic of link farms – websites designed to artificially increase the number of external links by manipulating search engines.
  • Sources that are not indexed by Google.
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How to check the domain authority of a website? Free tools to try

Domain Rating (DR) is a website ranking indicator that shows the effectiveness of a backlink profile. DR is measured by a number between 1 and 100: the higher the score, the higher the domain position can be expected. Normally, the minimum domain ranking for a successful position in Google is at least 25 points.

Domain authority (DA) is also measured on a 100-point system. This indicator, generated by the SEO tool Moz, represents the likelihood of a website ranking high on search engine results pages. Domain authority is determined by factors such as the number and quality of external links and the age of the website. You can check the rankings and other data of the sources where you intend to host external links using free tools. One of them is Smallseotools, which allows you to see the domain’s DA, PA (Page Authority) and MozRank. SEO Review Tools will help you check your website’s DA, PA, number of external links, the age of the website and its URL, as well as its activity on social networks. Ahrefs Website Authority Checker – a tool for checking the DR and also showing the number of external links.

Existing backlinks: how to get to know the sources leading to your website?

Google Search Console is a free tool that allows you to monitor your page’s “health” and the results related to retargeting on Google Search. This Google tool also allows you to discover all the external links leading to your website in one place. You can check the list of external links by following this sequence:

1. Log in to your Google Search Console account. If you don’t have one, create one and link it to your website.

2. Click on the “links” button in the menu on the left.

3. Click on the “external links” button to see the full list of backlinks. These links can be viewed in the Google Search Console platform or exported.

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Removing toxic SEO backlinks

By familiarizing yourself with your website’s backlink list and the characteristics of toxic links, you will notice which external links on your website are not valuable for your SEO position. By contacting the domain owner, you can ask for your link to be removed from this source, but in some cases this process can be simpler. This is especially useful if it appears that the list of malicious links is far longer than expected.

The recommended tool for removing toxic links is the already mentioned official Google tool, Google Search Console. The process of removing a link is very simple – although it can take up to several weeks. Below is a roadmap on how to initiate the removal of toxic links in Google Search Console:

  • Make a list of existing toxic links. You should do this in a TXT file encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII format. One toxic link per line. If you want to remove an entire domain from the list of toxic links, precede the link with the phrase “domain:”. You can make comments if you wish: mark them in the password (#) – this line will be ignored by Google. Here is an example of what a list of toxic links might look like:

# Pages to disavow

http://toksiskasdomenas.lt/toksiskas-puslapis

http://toksiskasdomenas.lt/antras-toksiskas-puslapis

# Domains to disavow

domain:toxicdomain.com

  • Upload the list you created to Google Search Console. You can do this in the unrecognized links section. If there are errors in the file, the system will warn you about them. If successful, Google will re-process the pages you see and remove the toxic links you submitted.
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All about toxic SEO backlinks: valuable sources of information

Want to know more? The first recommended step is to consult Google’s official sources of information. Here are some articles for those interested in the finer nuances of off-page SEO and toxic links:

Getting to know Google Search Console

About removing toxic links

SEO basics

Joana Šaulienė, founder of Asteri and Efektyvi komunikacija

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