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Recovering from Bad Backlinks

Silverback Strategies

Before beginning your link acquisition strategy, it’s probably wise to audit your current backlink profile.  With link-based penalties being all the rage at the moment, some of us have learned the hard way that your past will eventually catch up with you.  Building an immense amount of low-quality links once worked for websites, but as Google became more savvy and continued to raise the bar it became pivotal to not only acquire high-quality backlinks, but also thoroughly inspect your profile to make good judgment calls on which links are causing poor rankings.  During the audit process you’ll also be able to learn the types of websites that link to yours which can really be helpful when planning out your acquisition strategy.  In addition, it’s more than likely that you will have a better understanding of your site’s strongest pages and the ones that need improvement and more links. 

Is this link bad?

There are a number of well-regarded options for checking a site’s backlink profile including Open Site Explorer, Moz, Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, Google Webmaster Tools, etc.  However, most of these require a paid-subscription to see the entire profile so Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) is the probably the ideal choice if you don’t already have an account with one of the others.  When you are ready to start this process, you can view the list of links to your site by clicking “search traffic” under the site dashboard.  You can download this list and start sifting through them to see which ones look unnatural or have extremely low SEO metrics.   Here are a couple guidelines when deciphering whether a link is “bad” or not:

• Links with the same anchor text coming from multiple sites
• Spammy links in blog comments
• Links from article directories or sties that look like link farms
• Links from link exchanges
• Links from sites with a low pagerank or low traffic
• Links from sites with malware warnings
• Links from sites that are unrelated to your niche
• Links from sites that aren’t in the Google index

Webmaster outreach

Once these links are found you should first attempt to remove them by either logging into your account and removing them yourself or reaching out to the site’s webmaster if it is not directly in your control.  If reaching out to the webmaster, send a polite request that includes a link to the page which has the offending link.  The easier you make it for the webmaster the more likely they are to complete the task.  Here is an example:


I’m Danielle Garza, an SEO account manager for [site-address].  It’s been detected that our link from your site negatively influences our site’s SEO metrics. 

The link is on this page: [link-to-the-bad-link-page] 

The anchor text is: [bad-link-anchor-text]

And the destination URL is: [site-address-of-the-bad-link]

Would you mind removing the link when you have a sec?

I’d really appreciate it!

Please let me know if you have any questions or need assistance with removing the link.

Best regards,


If you’re finding that you’re receiving minimal to no responses back or if you are and the removals are simply not happening, then it’s time to use the Google Disavow Links tool. 

Google Disavow

You can use this tool by logging into GWT and visiting the Disavow Tool page where you can upload a text file listing all the ULRs you want to disavow.  The tool allows you to disassociate your site from the sites you list, but having said that, Google has openly said they view this tool as a ‘request’.   Before you upload your ‘request” there are a couple instructions you should be aware of:

• The file type you upload with the links you want disavowed must be a .txt and it must be encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII
• Enter the line “domain:example.com” when you want Google to ignore all links from an entire domain
• Enter “#” character before a line of description when you want to include additional information about excluded links


#These following links have been discovered using Google Webmaster Tools recently. I have tried reaching out to the following websites for link removal, but have not heard back. Most of these links were built from an outside company in 2012-2013 trying to engage in black hat SEO by using cheap link directories and forum profiles.


Once you’ve uploaded your file, it may take a number of weeks for Google to process your request.  In addition, these links will continue to be visible in the “Links to Your Site” section even after disavowed. 

Additional advice:

• The best way to dilute old, historic links is to acquire some new high quality links.  This may enable you to forgo the disavow/removal process!
• Inspect your links once a month to observe the quality of links being built.
• Have a template email to help streamline the process for link remove requests and keep notes on your progress.