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What are backlinks?

Backlinks are connections from other websites in the internet, ‘linking’ to a page in your website. Google’s very early algorithms calculated your website’s SEO performance in terms of the number and quality of backlinks it had.

What are toxic backlinks?

Google’s very early algorithms calculated your website’s SEO performance in terms of the number and quality of backlinks it had. Back then the SEO industry exploded into creating synthesised backlinks to improve Google ranking. 

Google decided that this was an abuse of their algorithms, and during the period 2012-2016 waged war against artificially created backlinks, ultimately creating then fine-tuning the Penguin subsystem. This software scrutinised backlinks into a website and decided if they were ‘natural’ or artificial (hence ‘toxic’). If the website reached a threshold count of toxic links it was severely punished by Google by spectacularly reducing its Google ranking performance.  Argh!!

Where do toxic backlinks come from?

There are a variety of toxic backlink sources, so here’s just a couple of examples: 

Directory Sites 

Dodgy ‘directory sites’ that build their own database collection typically by ‘crawling’ through the internet, indiscriminately adding websites, then poorly coding the link formatting. 

Badly formatted links

There are also arguably ‘good links’ from sponsors etc who have good intentions but add technically incorrect backlinks which end up being classified as toxic. 

Links with a keyword in the text

If the link is associated with a text like this here is my link and the text is a desirable keyword (known as a ‘money term’) for the website, it is very likely to be treated as toxic.
This approach is how ‘olde world’ backlinks were constructed prior to Google’s Penguin.


Links from advertising, also attract the ‘toxic’ label if not carefully engineered. Unfortunately, links promoting sponsors etc for example from club websites are often treated as advertising links by Google. 

How do I prevent toxic backlinks?

As toxic links come from external parties, there’s nothing you can do to prevent them.

What you can do though is to tell Google that your website isn’t associated with these backlinks through an administrative process they call ‘Disavow’

You can monitor your backlinks using tools like SEMRush’s Backlink Audit Tool to perform a routine check on backlinks and their calculated toxicity, or you can have us do it for you.

How do I find out if my site has toxic backlinks?

My preferred tool to examine and process toxic backlinks is SEMRush. It enables:

  • Backlink monitoring
    Monitors your backlink status, then sends alert emails.
  • Backlink toxicity calculation
    Reviews detected backlinks and interprets their toxicity

Our service saves you from having to pay the SEMRush licence which starts at about $US120 per month.

How to remove toxic backlinks

In a simplistic world, you would contact the web master at the toxic backlink source and request (plead really)  with them to remove their offending link. Unfortunately many toxic backlinks were entirely innocent, with the source website owner befuddled and confused about what you want them to do.  Many seemed to think you where just making it up and ignored your requests.

The alternative, and frankly more reliable method is to request Google disassociate the toxic back-links you’ve identified from your website. Google calls this a disavow.

Essentially, this is an administrative process that involves identifying the toxic back links, then submitting them as a list in specially formatted ‘disavow file’ to Google via its Google Search Console.

The process is as follows:

Import backlinks from Google
This is really important because the links Google finds are the ones that may lead to an SEO penalty. Extract the backlinks from Google Search Console account.

Review Backlinks for Toxicity

Cause I’m a simple guy, and cant calculate backlink toxicity, I use SEMRush’s Backlink Audit to review the website’s backlinks. 

Select Domains or URLS for disavow

  1. Review the sites with backlinks with a toxicity score of 50 or more.
  2. Flag if you need to disavow a link or the entire domain.

Export the disavow file

Create a disavow file that merges any existing disavow entries in the Google Search Console, with your new disavow links and domains.

Upload the new disavow file

Upload the disavow file to: https://search.google.com/search-console/disavow-links

We monitor and address toxic backlinks

By continuously monitoring your website for toxic back links, we identify and process them as they pop up. This minimises any likely Google back link penalty. 

The disavow process dis-associates your website from the nominated toxic backlinks. This ensures Google does not silently penalise your website for an accumulation of toxic backlinks that you don’t even know about.


Questions for your website service provider
Is someone monitoring your website’s link profile to ensure it doesn’t tip over into toxic and so impact your website’s Google SEO performance?

Does someone process toxic back links as they are detected to avoid your site’s Google performance from being compromised?

We routinely monitor and address any toxic back link issues.

Peter Cornish

Peter Cornish

An online marketer with deep experience in Sales & Marketing as well as technical skills accumulated over the many years of working in this industry. He has been knee-deep in websites and online marketing since the mid 80’s.
Peter is a lateral thinker who sees solutions where many don’t.

Website Concierge is a reincarnate of Succinct Ideas, providing quality website support and online marketing for small businesses.

If you found something in my site useful, I’d really appreciate if you could link to the page and maybe Google will help other people who need the same info find the page as well 😉