When was the last time you clicked beyond the comfort zone of Page One when searching for something on Google?
The chances are, you can’t remember.
Page One is our safe place.
We rarely need to venture outside of it because we know the results shown here are uber-relevant to our search term.
But what sort of impact is that process having on your website?
You’re listed in the unexplored depths of Page 20, despite plowing time and money into improving your presence in the SERPs.
Your ideal customers aren’t anywhere to be found.
Why is every competitor speeding past, seemingly with ease?
There’s one thing that could be pulling your entire website down: low-quality links.
No matter how great every other aspect of your SEO strategy is, if your backlink profile is riddled with bad links, then your rankings are going down.
Backlink SOS: How to Find the Low-Quality Links Damaging Your Rankings
In order to begin finding (and extracting) these pesky low-quality links that are trashing your ranking attempts, you’ll need to start with the one thing that’s crucial for any and all link-related activity:
Your backlink profile.
This contains all the data on every backlink pointing to your site. It also includes the SEO metrics for each backlink, which you’ll be using to find those low-quality links damaging your SEO reputation.
Simply hit the Backlinks tab to see your own:
(If you don’t already have a Monitor Backlinks account, use this link to get a 30-day free trial. You can thank me later, when you’re soaring in the SERPs!)
So, you’ve got your backlink profile.
Here are the things you need to look for:
1. Penalized Sites
But, before we dive into spotting whether you’ve fallen victim to one, let’s explain why they’re the work of the devil (in terms of SEO).
These flags can be placed automatically by the search engine’s algorithm, or manually by one of Google’s team.
But what that comes down to is this:
A penalty is a penalty, and shows that the site in question has done some dodgy tactics.
In an SEO world where reputation and authority is highly regarded in Google’s algorithm, you wouldn’t want to be collecting backlinks from these types of websites.
That’s because you could be given a penalty by being associated with them (like guilt by association!). Especially if you’ve built a link from them and they’ve already been penalized.
To check if you’ve built a backlink from a site like this, start by doing a site search of the domain it’s from.
You’ll want to look for the number of indexed results, which shows how many pages are being ranked from that domain:
Failing to spot anything here? That means the site has been excluded from search results, and placed under some form of penalty by Google.
However, don’t let out a sigh of relief just yet.
Minimal search results from a site search could also indicate that your linked-from site has been given a penalty.
In this case, do a sense check.
Can you find at least 50 pages on the website when you visit it through your browser, as normal? If so, and you can only find four in Google’s search results, add it to your low-quality link list. There’s definitely something fishy going on!
2. Low-Traffic Sites
You’ll want to take a deep dive into these links because they might not be worthwhile to have.
Sites with zero or minimal traffic won’t add much value to your site. Plus, your aim is to make every backlink valuable for a user. So, if there’s nobody seeing your backlink—never mind clicking on it!—then it might be time to get rid of it.
Just a little warning with this step: It takes a bit more time, but it’s definitely worth it… so, don’t skip!
To find these sites, head back to your backlink profile. You’ll need to click through and check every link that looks suspicious, from domains you don’t recognize.
Then, plug the URL of your linked-from site into Alexa.
You should be looking at:
Site Traffic Graphs
This graph gives an indication of how the traffic to your linked-from site is changing.
For example, if I had a backlink from Amazon.co.uk and wanted to check their site traffic, I’d see this graph:
If you see a graph with an upward trend, you’ve got a good reason to believe that the site is just getting going. It’s likely to become bigger, better and more authoritative in the future, so hold on to these ones—they’re backlink gold.
However, if you spot a downward trend, try and figure out why.
Is one of their competitors overtaking them? Or have they been penalized?
Follow the steps in #1 to check if it’s due to a penalty, and if you find that it is, you can go right ahead and add the site to your list of low-quality links.
Visitors by Country
You should also be using Alexa to discover where the majority of visitors to your linked-from site come from.
Remember, value is key in link building. That’s why you should always be thinking in terms of your ideal customer.
You can see that for the Monitor Backlinks site, the majority of site traffic comes from the U.S. This demographic is closely followed by India and the U.K:
But does this mean it’s a good backlink to get traffic from?
Again, it’s not as clear-cut as you might think.
If your ideal customers were living in Asia, then probably not.
However, if you were targeting people in the U.S. with an interest in SEO, then it’s a fantastic backlink to have.
The final thing you’ll need to use Alexa for is to determine the engagement rates of your linked-from site.
Engagement is a huge ranking factor in search engine algorithms. It proves that the site is sharing something of value. You know, that important thing I keep banging on about?
Here are the engagement metrics for our site:
We’ve got a low bounce rate and high time on site, which shows that people are staying on our site when they come to it.
When you add your backlink URL here, use these as your KPIs:
- Bounce rate: Less than 50% for blogs; less than 30% for general pages.
- Daily pageviews per visitor: No fewer than one.
- High time on site: 2+ minutes is great.
However, each of these site traffic statistics can be dependent on the age of the site—remember that newer websites won’t have a ton of traffic.
So, combine this data with some good old common sense. If you find bad scores and evidence that the site’s been active since 2004, it’s probably wise to add them to your list of low-quality links.
3. Sites with Low Domain Authority
One of those is Domain Authority (DA), which scores a URL on its likeliness of ranking in the SERPs.
Scored out of a maximum of 100 points, you should be aiming for sites with a minimum DA of 40.
Why? Because like many other things in SEO, the best way to improve your own Domain Authority is to collect links from sites with a higher scoring than your own.
Let me explain.
My website currently has a DA scoring of 26. It’s not great, and indicates that I’m fairly unlikely to take the SERPs by storm:
My scoring is low because I don’t have many links from high DA sites pointing to mine.
You can check the DA of your backlinks in a matter of minutes (and no—it doesn’t involve manually entering them into a DA checker, one by one).
Simply head back to your backlink profile in Monitor Backlinks, and organize the DA column from smallest to largest:
Now go down the list one by one.
For sites with a DA scoring of 15 or less, I’d recommend banishing them instantly—unless they’re a brand new website and still waiting to be indexed.
However, for sites with a DA scoring between 16 and 35, use the other tactics I’ve shared in this article to determine whether it should be added to your list of low-quality links.
4. Pages with Low Page Authority
Your site’s DA could be 40, which would indicate a strong ranking force overall. However, pair that with a PA of 3 and you’ll struggle to rank that particular page in Google, no matter the strength of your website.
Keeping in mind the importance of relevancy in SEO, you’ll need to do a double-check on any backlinks from pages with a low PA.
Head back to your backlink profile. This time, sort the Page Authority column from lowest to highest:
Dive further into any backlink entries that come from a page with a PA of less than 40.
These are unlikely to have the major SEO power you’re looking for, so unless they’re super-relevant to your site, they can be added to your list of low-quality links.
5. Sites with High Spam Scores
Created by Moz, a website’s Spam Score is rated out of 17 and determines how likely a site is to be penalized by Google.
In your backlink profile, sort the Spam Score column from high to low:
…And use this criteria to suss out the fishy entries:
- 0-5 = Good score. Aim for these!
- 6-10 = OK score. Be wary, but they’re not a cause for concern yet.
- 11+ = Bad score. Get rid of them.
Remember that littering your backlink profile with entries from sites with a high Spam Score could seriously knock your reputation.
You’re trying to build your authority, and that’s almost impossible if you’re collecting this type of low-quality link!
6. URLs with Low Trust Flow
Similar to the other score-based systems we’ve already talked about, the Trust Flow of a website determines how trustworthy it is in Google’s eyes.
Think about it: Google’s (and any search engine’s) intention is to always show the highest-quality, most relevant result to a user’s search query. That means they’re much more likely to rank a trustworthy website over one with crickets echoing in their backlink profile!
Because of this, aim to collect backlinks from sites with a high Trust Flow.
You can audit the links you’ve already built by heading to your backlink profile and organizing the Trust Flow column from lowest to highest:
Here’s the criteria you’ll want to follow:
- 50+ = Good score
- 26-49 = OK score
- <25 = Bad score
But, your work here isn’t done yet, my friend. You’ve still got a bit of digging left to do!
You’ll also want to take a look at the Trust Flow category of your backlinks. This gives a brief overview of the site’s main topic, and can help you with the relevancy step we’re talking about next.
7. Backlinks from Sites That Aren’t Relevant… At All
Let’s put that into practice.
If you were Google, which of these sites would you be more likely to place in the top spot?
A) An SEO software website with links from pet insurance, cat food and wedding planning sites.
B) An SEO software website with links from SEO blogs and marketing websites.
It’s option B, right? Not only does it look more sensible, but collecting backlinks from reputable sites will help prove your authority in your niche.
You can find links that don’t fit with your industry by using the Trust Flow category I touched on earlier. This category gives an indication of the industry niche that Google considers the site to be in. So, it goes without saying that the Trust Flow category of your backlinks should be relevant to the topic of your own site.
But what happens when the Trust Flow category hasn’t been specified?
In that case, it’s the good ol’ job of using your common sense. Click through to any links you suspect might be low quality, and take a look at the industry they’re in and the topics they’re covering.
Not relevant? Get rid of them!
What Do I Do with These Low-Quality Backlinks?
So, you’ve worked your way through this checklist and highlighted any low-quality links that don’t fit the bill.
Now, it’s time to disassociate yourself from them.
Head back to your backlink profile and mark the low-quality links you found with a checkbox in the left-side column.
Then, hit the Disavow button and select:
- Domains – If the entire site is the issue (like a lack of relevancy)
- URLs – If the link placement is the issue (such as a low PA)
And, if that site ends up getting penalized, you won’t need to worry. You no longer have a backlink tying you to them, meaning you get the all-clear!
Stay in the Loop About New, Low-Quality Links
Great job! You’ve cleansed your backlink profile and banished every entry that could be dragging your rankings down.
But, let’s part on a final word of warning: This won’t be your last attempt.
You’re always building backlinks to your site, and sometimes, they’re unintentional. That means this process will need to be repeated in another six months, and in another six months after that, to ensure low-quality links don’t continue to drag you down.
However, Monitor Backlinks has a handy feature that’ll help you with this.
The tool constantly monitors your backlink profile so that you don’t have to keep checking in, and notifies you when any new backlinks are built to your site (or when a backlink gets removed).
Whenever a suspicious-looking link appears in your daily notification, you just have to boot up the tool to take a closer look.
That way, you can keep on top of your purging process and focus on larger-scale SEO tasks to improve your search visibility.
If I were to sum up this article in a single sentence, it’d be this:
Not every link is a good link!
Regularly check your backlink profile for any new additions, and disavow any low-quality links that could be causing damage to your site’s SEO.
You’ll turn into an analyzing machine… And soon hit the top spots!