How to Deal With Bad Links

by Tom Demers October 8th, 2012 


As most marketers and Webmasters know, Google has been very busy with some major, disruptive updates to their search algorithms in recent months. The recent Panda and Penguin updates have decimated search traffic for some sites and even destroyed entire business that were largely dependent on search traffic.

One of the most recent issues facing those impacted by the Penguin update has been what to do if you have an overly aggressive, spammy link profile?

Determining Which Links Google Sees As "Bad"

Some advertisers will get a "love note" from Webmaster tools telling them have unnatural linking patterns but not be directed to which links are actually a problem how can you tell where the issues lie?

Some characteristics of links that could be problematic include:

  • Low quality sites with limited authority (low page rank or domain authority/MozRank)
  • Obvious footprints like site-wide links in the footer of sites linking to several sites of vastly different topics
  • Aggressive anchor text into deep pages of your site
  • A lack of branded anchor text (the name of your site, your URL) pointing at your site

Look for opportunities to remove patterns of links on a wide scale that are likely pretty low value and leave obvious footprints (such as footer links that have been purchased by you or on your behalf, link networks, etc.)

Eliminating Bad Links

Finding out whether you have bad links and generating a list of those links is one thing, but how do you tackle getting rid of them? It's quite a change from publishers who used to contact Websites to request links; now, they're contacting them to ask for removal. You can tackle this in one of two ways: Manual outreach, just like you may have done when trying to accumulate all those links in the first place, or using a link-removal tool to make the process simpler.

If you take the manual route, you'll need to gather contact information for all those links and reach out to the contacts or webmasters of each site. If you're lucky, you have a spreadsheet stored somewhere that already contains this information or you have access to it via whatever link management software you used to track your campaign initially. If you're not fortunate enough to have this information, you'll have to go back and re-trace your steps.

The great news for publishers everywhere is that thanks to the Penguin update's mass attack on thousands of Websites, developers have already gotten to work creating tools that automate aspects of the link-removal process and at the very least can make the process a bit simpler.

  • This is a service provider that will generate a report of backlinks, help you target links for removal and actually conduct the outreach process for you.
  • Another link removal service which focuses on removing directory links. The company has plugins with many directories which allow the automated removal of links within 24 hours.
  • This service doesn't actually conduct backlink checks for you, but you can add a list of URL's obtained using other tools and will locate contact information for you and helps automate your link-removal email campaign.
  • is the all-in-one solution: The service locates backlinks from three different sources, retrieves contact information from millions of Websites, and provides link-removal campaign tracking.

Depending on the ratio of bad links in your link profile, you might also benefit from doing more good work.

Building New Links

Additionally once you've removed bad links, taking some of the budget you might have been spending on paid links, large volumes of things like social bookmarking and profile links, etc. and moving it over to content marketing efforts such as guest blogging, content creation and promotion, building valuable tools, etc. Doing this in a white hat way and being conscious of not building too many links with aggressive anchor text (and even deliberately getting more branded links) can help even out your link profile and allow you to regain some of your rankings.

You May Have To Start From Scratch

Ultimately, there aren't any easy answers or silver bullets. In many instances once you've made the effort to remove the bad links and have worked to build a variety of safer links you may still need to scrap your domain and start over. In some cases 301 redirecting the URL to a new domain has helped for sites that have been impacted by Penguin, but many of the people championing this as a strategy have later reported the site tanking. Unfortunately there are no hard-and-fast, simple metrics for when to move on to a new domain. Look at the traffic you're currently generating from search and think about the effort it would take to move your content to a new domain (if this is a possibility for your business) and the effort it would take to get back to that level and consider consulting with a firm that does a lot of link removal and/or looking to forums with SEO pros to give advice specific to your site such as the SEO Book community, Webmaster World, or the SEO Dojo.

If you liked this post, your might also enjoy The 7 Kinds Of Links You Didn't Know You Have

Tom Demers

I'm the co-founder and managing partner at Measured SEM - we're a small search marketing shop that offers a variety of different PPC and SEO services, such as SEO audits

Measured SEM Blog

You May Also Like

6 Responses to “How to Deal With Bad Links”

  1. Garrett says:

    I have kind of mixed feeling on those who got badly hit by these Google updates. On one hand it would be brutal to see your sites drop massively in the rankings and for that to suddenly change your online financial situation. On the other most of these people knew what they were up to and should have understood the risks.

    If you're getting hundreds of low-quality links that you really haven't earned you have to know that's not something the search engines are hoping to see. Even if you get away with it you're going to run into issues at some point as the algorithms improve.

    So that's my philosophy and has been for years – assume that Google will only get better at what they do and filter out even more junk, so don't just play it safe but actually do better by creating good content and getting links with actual value. It's not just about what you need to do for right now, but what you must do in order to be as future-proof as you can possibly be.

    Anyways, there's my little rant. Thanks for the article as it will no doubt be helpful for some of those who are pulling themselves out of rankings limbo and who are now hopefully going to be trying a better path to search results.

    • Tom Demers says:

      Hey Garrett,

      Yeah I don't generally have any strong ethical issues with building lower quality gray-ish links (as long as you're not hacking sites and doing really immoral stuff), but I'd agree that I don't have a ton of sympathy for folks who decided to fade the risk associated with that type of link building.

      The other thing to note though is that while a lot of people understood these were higher-risk tactics there were definitely a lot of businesses who hired SEOs and didn't really understand what went into their rankings who got tanked who can find information on how to recover rankings valuable, and actually have sites/businesses that actually deserve to show up for queries they can no longer rank for.

      Thanks, great comment!


  2. Liz says:

    Instead of working on removing links I've been concentrating on creating new, quality links. I personally like the quality links I can get from guest posting.

    I do have one question though. What do you consider 'aggressive anchor' text?

    • Tom Demers says:

      Hi Liz,

      Yeah in a lot of cases that's the best path, as sites with highly authoritative link profiles are a lot harder to "tip" into being harmful. In terms of aggressive anchor text what I mean is when you have a page like and all/nearly all of the links to that page are hyperlinked with the words "dog collars". Having a large percentage of links with this type of anchor text has become significantly less effective post-Penguin and it's generally better to have a mix of anchor text such as:'s dog collars
      find some great dog collars at

      And so on.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Ana Hoffman says:

    I happily let the sleeping dogs lie, Tom, and my rankings came back.

    Good to know about the resources though.