How to deal with spammy backlinks

In the last couple of months, more and more companies claim to suffer from spammy backlinks. Through a poll on LinkedIn, almost half of the 60 SEO specialists indicated that they, to a greater or lesser extent, indeed suffer from spammy backlinks. Time to take a closer look at spammy backlinks. We answer 5 questions + an infographic where we show you exactly how to deal with spammy links.

What are spammy backlinks?

Spammy backlinks originate from websites that are peculiar, unnatural, and do not have any relevance to your business. These links come about without you actively acquiring them. The topic of spam links is one that splits the SEO community into multiple camps.. You can categorise spammy backlinks as such: adult links, links from odd languages, and links from irrelevant directories. We consider these types of links to be spammy backlinks. Let’s elaborate a bit on each type.

Adult links

Nowadays, adult links are the origin of most spammy backlinks. Adult links are from websites that contain pornographic content. If your website isn’t related to this subject, we classify these links as irrelevant, which is how they end up in the spam bucket.

Links from odd languages

Links from languages/countries that you as a company have no connection or relevance to. Do you suddenly receive all different kinds of links from China, Russia, or the eastern bloc, while you have no connection to it? Then we consider that spam.

Links from directories which you have no connection with

These are links from, for example, blogspot.com. Sometimes there are relevant and valuable links on this kind of website, but most of the time it’s spam. Always check the relevance of the links in connection to your website. 

What are not (necessarily) spammy backlinks 

Some companies choose to disavow links, based on certain metrics or other features. Google itself doesn’t work this way. They assess the parties that are linking to your website based on relevance. That’s why excluding based only on metrics is a bad idea. We’re also not a big fan of metrics like the ‘spam score’ from MOZ or the ‘toxic link score’ from Semrush. Tools like these are often not that good at really seeing what spam is anyway. We would  recommend not disavowing backlinks like the following: 

  • Links with a DA (domain authority) lower than 10 
  • Links with a high spam score in MOZ
  • Links with a high toxic link score in Semrush

How do I find out if I have spammy backlinks?

There are many different tools that crawl your link profile constantly. For example tools like Majestic, Moz, Afhrefs, and Semrush, that can show which backlinks were added over the past months. However, these tools all have a huge disadvantage. They often find links that are not there, or are no longer there. Ahrefs in particular, shows a lot of links in the past months from domains where, after checking the code, it turns out that there’s no link. We always recommend taking Google Search Console as guidance in your search for harmful links. Go to GSC, click on ‘links report’, go to ‘download’, and then click on ‘latest links’ in the top right corner. Then you should get a spreadsheet or CSV file where you can see all the links that have been added recently. 

What are the risks of spammy backlinks?

The risks of spammy backlinks are quite small. In the past, the use of negative SEO was quite frequent. One of the main tactics to hurt the rankings and search engine visibility of competitors were, you guessed it, spammy links.  This has caused Google to decide to just ignore spam and other negative types of SEO. So in a nutshell, the risks are very low. Below you can find a more detailed answer from John Mueller (Search Advocate at Google) to the question ‘What does Google do when it indicates spam?”. 

How to deal with spammy backlinks

Most companies respond with panic when they see spammy links appear. First of all, there’s no reason to panic. We would advise you to let Google Search Console be your guiding light. Only disavow links that Google actually sees. Also, always check websites by yourself, don’t let the scans be your only source. Use the spreadsheet described above. In this Google Spreadsheet, look for terms like  ‘porn’, or weird extensions like ‘xyz’, ‘cn’,  using CTRL + F, and make a list of all hits, which you then enter in the disavow tool. 

Step by step

Below you will find an infographic with a step-by-step approach. 

Author

Dennis Akkerman

Co-Founder & Head of SEO

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