Every SEO professional knows their salt is their that links (along with content) are the backbone of SEO.
Links continue to remain a significant ranking factor.
What happens when you get bad links on enough of a scale to harm your site?
Your site can get algorithmically downgraded by Google – or worse, you get a manual action.
While Google maintains they are good at ignoring bad links, enough bad links can harm your site’s ranking.
This guide will explain 10 different types of bad links that can get you penalized, and what you can do about them.
1. Press Release Links
Press release links were popular about 10 years ago.
These links were super easy to get.
All you had to do was write a press release and syndicate it to hundreds of press release distribution sites.
You’d quickly get hundreds of links.
Like any SEO tactic that worked well, it got abused.
Now, Google considers press release links a link scheme because these are so easy to manipulate.
You especially want to avoid any press release links that rely on over-optimized anchor text targeting your main money keyword.
If you absolutely must have a website link due to factors beyond your control, use naked URLs or branded URLs as your anchor text, and use only one link from the contact area of the press release.
2. Discussion Forum Links
To be clear: not all forum discussion links are bad.
If a link is coming from a good quality site, an established user, and the link itself is not manipulative or spammy, you probably will want to keep it.
However, if you have thousands of links coming in from foreign discussion forums, they are all low-quality spammy links, and they continue to come in, you may want to disavow them.
Any links that look spammy won’t do you any favors in Google’s eyes.
3. Links From Foreign Guestbooks
Links like these are also manipulative.
Links from foreign guestbooks can be placed manually or with the aid of an automatic program.
Enough of these at scale can cause ranking drops.
When in doubt, disavow.
4. Many Random NoFollow Links
Think you can fool Google by randomizing your footprint just enough so that your spammy link building will go undetected?
It is exceedingly difficult to create randomized footprints that you think Google will not detect.
If you are using an automated program, it is increasingly likely that Google will find the footprint of that automated program, unless it is truly random.
Why? The simple act of nofollowing the link is a footprint.
Thousands of links from many different sites that are all nofollowed is an indicator that something spammy is going on.
5. Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
PBNs used to be a great way to build links to get rankings.
You could randomize your footprint and all would be well.
You could continue to see significant gains from using these techniques.
Now, PBNs on a massive enough scale can tank your site and cause it to lose organic traffic.
Google is able to detect – and punish – most PBNs.
Some PBNs may take longer to spot than others, but eventually Google will catch on.
6. NoFollowed (& Followed) Social Bookmark Links
Social bookmarking links are also considered to be manipulative by Google.
This can get you in trouble if you do it too much.
Think about it. They are all manually-placed and are spammy as hell.
It’s no wonder Google considers these a link scheme.
7. Directory Submissions (or a Directory Submissions Service)
Directory submission services love to tell you that you will get great traction from their links.
“We’ll help increase your Google rankings!!” they will say.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Submitting to low-quality directories will likely do more harm than good for your rankings.
As with many things in SEO, there is an exception.
It is OK to use relevant and targeted directories for natural link building – especially in local SEO.
8. Blog Comments
Historically, blog comments have been one of the most-abused tactics in SEO.
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Comment spam is an ancient link acquisition tactic to avoid.
It. Does. Not. Work!
In fact, you can thank spammy blog comments for the introduction of nofollowed links.
The goal was to prevent spammers from getting SEO benefits from abusing the comments section.
But there is a right way to approach blog comments. The key is leaving topically relevant comments on topically relevant sites.
9. Links From Fiverr or Other Cheap Link Services
This is yet another abused tactic in SEO.
Again, this is so egregiously bad that, while they are not part of Google’s guidelines, the patterns and footprints left behind are likely obvious to Google’s algorithms.
It would not be hard for Google to set up an investigative protocol to sign up for accounts for these services, pose as SEOs or other webmasters, and check out the most common patterns used by these services.
Just always remember – that person you’re talking to on the black hat forums regularly could very well be a Googler.
10. Links Built by Automatic Link Building Programs
Ever heard of tools like GSA Search Engine Ranker, Scrape Box, or XRumer?
Sure these tools can build you lots of links. However, in recent years, these programs have become less effective.
This SEO professional does not recommend using these programs for your SEO efforts, especially not on your money site.
If an SEO can think of it, it is likely that Google is already several steps ahead with pattern variations already built into their algorithm.
Are Links Actually to Blame, or Is It Something Else?
So far we’ve talked about links that harm you.
But could it be something else?
To find out, you should perform multiple audits.
Assess the state of your site and move forward from there.
- A technical SEO audit to uncover any potential crawl issues, technical issues, or any similar issues impacting the site.
- A content audit to determine the state of the site’s content.
- A link profile audit to assess the current state of the site’s overall link profile.
From here, you will be able to move forward with steps to fix the site.
If you are unfortunate enough to have a complex site with issues in all three columns, you will need to get to work.
Manual Action: Preparing the Disavow File
In my opinion, nothing beats Link Detox by Link Research Tools. It can assess links from the most sources (25), such as Majestic, GSC, Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush, and many more.
You will want to compile all links for as many sources as you can get your hands on.
Upload them according to the instructions in Link Detox.
Once you have done this, and you have gone through Link Detox’s process of reviewing and rating links, it will be necessary to prepare the disavow file.
Google has said some interesting things about the disavow file, including the following:
Someone stated in Reddit:
“…recently John Muller from Google confirmed that bad links can in fact hurt your rankings in some cases…”
To which John Mueller replied:
“This was specific to links that you’ve built yourself, not about negative SEO.”