How to Identify and Remove Bad and Toxic Links

One of the situations often encountered when a penalty comes up: identifying the problem which caused it. The most frequent issues are those related to a site’s content quality and link profile.

If you know your site doesn’t have the best content or it’s partially copied, a Panda-type update has most likely affected it. If that’s so, use this guide to solve the problems and restore the positions you lost. In the case of Penguin-type updates, the site’s owners or those who “promoted” it are often the ones who actually caused the appearance of this type of penalty.

Rarely is it the case of an attack from competitors. Through this attack, they want to change the competing site’s link profile; also, they wish to cause the penalty in order to stop competing sites from appearing first in Google’s results page.

These attacks often happen in a very short amount of time. Thousands or tens of thousands of links are sent toward the site over the span of 2-3 days. These links find their source in spam-type comments, profiles that have a link on forums or article directories. Competitors often buy links on penalized sites in order to point them to rival sites; by doing this, they want to trick Google into thinking the websites in question buys backlinks to occupy first positions in SERP.

This guide can also be used if you want to remove a manually received penalty. You can use it for spam-related backlinking or links you bought, too.

What is a toxic link?

Identifying toxic links can be a complex process. This is the case of sites which are sustained by a large number of links.
To locate these dangerous links, you have to analyze them with the following in mind:

  • a toxic link is always a dofollow one;
  • links which cause a penalty generally contain big or medium levels of monthly search in the “money keywords” anchor;
  • toxic links generally come from unrelated sources (the subject of the “source” site isn’t related to the one it recommends);
  • spam-type comments, forum signatures, profile links and those coming from web directories and article directories qualify as toxic links;
  • link exchange (if they’re dofollow ones);

How to perform the actual identification

First step needed to identify low quality links with a toxic potential is this: extract as many as you can. You can do so with the tools described in today’s post. You can also use the link profile from Webmaster Tools account together with these dedicated tools: SEOSpyglass, Majestic SEO and so on.

To correctly find toxic links we recommend SEOSpyglass. Besides being able to extract bad links, this tool allows you to import info coming from other sources; but make sure they’re in this format: .csv. You can also manually import the links directly from the tool’s interface.

The next step used to identify dangerous links is this: quickly analyze them. For starters, find (from the total number of links) the ones having a “dofollow” attribute . These are the ones containing a toxic potential for the site they refer to. You should perform the action by choosing Page Factors > Internal factors > Page info; the latter are all in the SEOSpyglass tool.


After data import (done manually or in the .csv format), the links are automatically analyzed and sorted. The sorting’s also done according to the link’s attribute (nofollow / dofollow). You can erase the nofollow links from the report; the latter will only keep the links that allow the passage of link juice and anchor text.


After the list and number of links are reduced for the analysis, you have to tick, in the same tool, these: “Total links” and “External links“. Once the remaining links are scanned, the resulting report will show details about the pages containing IBLs. Comment-based toxic links are generally recognized when the page has a large number of outbound links. These pages are usually spammed with hundreds or thousands of comments.


Also, make sure you analyze the general statistics offered by the tool; in addition, analyze the number of links coming from a domain. A large number of links indicates a sitewide IBL; it can also show multiple comments left on the same site. These links are among the first which must be analyzed. If they’re coming from related sites or are natural, they can be introduced on the safe list. You won’t have to delete them.

Add the links on the toxic list if they come from unrelated sources or their anchors are of the “money keywords” variety. Do the same if the links come from the following sources: web directory, article directory or comments. You must remove these links to clean the site’s link profile.

For a quick identification of toxic links, you can also use this from the SEOSpyglass: its “Title” column. If the title is unrelated and the respective page has nothing in common with your site’s subject matter, the link is most likely spam. You will thus have to remove it.

You should also track the links’ source IP. An IP that offers a lot of IBLs can be considered a negative one. Same should happen with a C-class IPs offering as many links as the other one; especially if it’s corroborated with other signs already mentioned: a shady anchor text, unrelated pages and so on.

Partial identification of toxic IBLs can also be done with several online tools. Here they are: RemovEem, Rmoov and However, these can offer either false or inconclusive results. The best solution is to manually verify the links. That way you can avoid wrongly including or excluding toxic links which can cause future penalties.

How to remove low quality backlinks

To remove toxic links you can do the following: copy, from SpyGlass, the backlinks with a “dofollow” attribute; export them in Excel format. After you do that, you can sort and filter them according to the attributes you find interesting.

Once you’re here, you must identify the links going to the root and internal pages, respectively. An easy way to nullify toxic links sent toward internal pages is this: delete them.nocive-backlinks

By doing that, the site’s toxic links going to internal pages won’t have a destination anymore. Instead, they’ll return a “404” message. During the next link update, the respective toxic links will disappear from the Webmaster Tools account. That way, your site will be clean.removed-backlink

The remaining links which target the site’s root must be sorted.

The easiest method is this: copy, in a separate table, only the links column. Next, use Data > Text to columns. Add, as separator, this: “/”. You will then have a column including domains; some will show up with “www.“, others won’t.


Delete the other columns. In the end you’ll only have one; this will contain the domains offering a link. Use “Find and replace“; erase “www.“. The remaining list can be cleaned using Data > Remove duplicates.

You will then be left with a domain list offering a dofollow link. Once this list is made, you can add another column next to it. This should contain the following comment: toxic link, OK link and so on. Let’s say that you have a list with 100 root domains; 60 are toxic ones and they have to be removed.

The toxic ones have to me moved to a separate table; removing them will be done later on. In this case, you have to verify contact info for different webmasters. This will have to be done each site at a time. It’s a difficult task. Often, these sites don’t include a webmaster’s contact info. When you can’t find it, you can use a “whois” service.

For that, add the contact data to a separate column in the same Excel document; add that near the domain which causes problems. After doing that, you’ll have most of the contact info of those whose sites contain toxic links. What you should do next is this: contact those people. We recommend approaching them with caution. First, explain the situation to them; second, send them the complete list of the toxic links’ location. Use “Ctrl + Find” in Excel / SEOSpyglass to identify all of the locations. Do that in case there are multiple pages containing the backlinks which need removal.

A large majority of webmasters won’t reply to your request. Or they will ask you for money to remove those links. If that should happen, add their domains to the disavow list; send the latter to Google.


Identifying and removing toxic links is a relatively complex task. It can, however, be accomplished if the info above is carefully considered.

If you need more advice on the matter, or you want actual help in the identification and removal of bad links, feel free to contact me.

Catalin Nichita is the founder of project. Catalin has about 6 years of experience in SEO and is specialized in penalty removals and website audits.

1 Comment

  1. Andrew

    Oct 7, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Thank you these detailed explanations! The method involving the deletion of the target page is awesome!

    I have a website manually penalized for low quality link building and this trick will help me for sure. I will remove the pages with a high number of low quality links pointing to them and I hope Google engineers will revoke the penalty on the next “Reconsideration request”. 🙂