Backlink Cleanup: How to Identify Problem Links and Get Them Removed

Backlink Cleanup: How to Identify Problem Links and Get Them Removed

This is not something I would wish on anyone. Seriously. It’s tedious, time consuming, boring, and you’ll see parts of the internet you’d rather not.

First, I’m not of the school that thinks you can use any sort of software to do this. There are definitely parts of it that can be automated, but at the end of the day this is a manual labour type job. Any tools I’ve seen that claim to “detox” your bad links aren’t very good and quite frankly I wouldn’t trust any of them.

This process is really more for those who have a manual penalty but would also be recommended for anyone who is simply concerned with the quality of their backlinks.

Now to the work.

Google can’t expect people to pay for 3rd party tools to do this, so all the information you need is within their webmaster tools. You can use other link research tools, my favorite is ahrefs but there are many others that are also good. With that said, every penalty removal I’ve done in the last year used nothing but data found in webmaster tools.

Step 1. Start going through every single link listed in webmaster tools under the “links to your site” tab. Yep, every single one. Google only provides 1000 domains, but you really need to go through them all. So what are you looking for in all these sites? What makes a link a bad one?

  • Would you link to the site that is linking to you? No? Remove it.
  • Does the site look legit? No? Remove it.
  • Does the site provide legitimately helpful content? No? Remove it.
  • Are you getting benefit from the link aside from the perceived benefit of having more links? Referral traffic, etc? No? Remove it.
  • Do you want a site like that associating with your site? No? Remove it.

Any site you don’t like, put it on the list to attempt removal. Don’t bother with the pagerank of the site, how many links go to it, or any other BS metrics other SEOs try to sell you on as important. If you don’t like the site linking to you, try and remove it. This may have a short term negative affect, but unless you are running a “churn and burn” business, this will put you miles ahead of your competition in the future when newer and more sophisticated algorithms come out.

Step 2. Reach out to these sites you’ve deemed bad for your sites health and ask to have the link removed. This can involve anything from a contact form, email, phone call, or looking up the whois info and contacting the site owner that way. This may seem like a fools errand but removing these bad links is MUCH better than just disavowing them. Something you’ll find is that you’ll be surprised at the response rate of your link removal requests. I’ve even been so lucky to have one site owner have a bad link on literally hundreds of other sites he controlled and removed them all for me. You will come across others though that ask for payment for removal of these bad links. Please please please never pay for a link to be removed! You’d just be feeding the spammers.

Step 3. Any links that you can’t get removed are the links for your disavow file. If you don’t have a penalty, upload this file in webmaster tools and you’re done.  If you have a manual penalty, move to step 3.1.

Step 3.1. If you have a penalty to do with links you’ll need to submit a reconsideration request along with uploading your disavow file. So what goes into this request? I’m assuming you’re an adult, so I’m not going to tell you exactly what to write. You probably know what has gone on to get the penalty. Just explain yourself, what you did to get the penalty, steps you’ve taken to remedy the situation (include google docs with lists of sites you’ve contacted and how), offer sexual favours, beg and plead, etc.

In my experience, removing a penalty can take as little as 3 weeks or as long as 3 months. It’s not a fun job. It’s not exciting. In fact removing penalties is one of the most mind numbing things I’ve done, but it’s very worth it. If you’re struggling with a penalty or maybe made the mistake of paying someone for link-building and now you’re worried about the results contact one of our business developers. We can prepare SEO audits for your company and let you know what your best course of action is!

Mark Wilson
Contributed by

Mark Wilson

, Digital Marketing
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