What Are Bad Links in SEO? (Types of Bad Backlinks + Best Practices)

Adam Steele
Nov 14, 2022

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You can tell from the name that you don’t want them, but what exactly are bad links? How do you know if you have them, and how can you avoid them in the future?

Bad links are links that Google doesn’t like, and that can drag your website to the depths of the search engine results page (SERPs) that never see the light of day. Let’s go over the anatomy of a bad link, and what can you do to ensure your link-building efforts only result in SEO-boosting good links.

What Are Bad Links?

Since all bad links are backlinks, let’s start by remembering what a backlink is and how it’s supposed to function.

Backlinks are hyperlinks on one website that point to another website. They’re also commonly called inbound links. They provide value to the reader by giving them more context or making it easy to navigate to something that is being referred to in the content they’re reading.

But for most SEOs, the biggest value of backlinks is that they pass link juice. In other words, they indicate to Google that the website being linked to is reputable, informative, and trustworthy. The more link juice is flowing to a webpage or site, the more worthy of a top spot in the SERPs it will appear to Google’s algorithm.

When a backlink serves this function well, it is a good link. However, plenty of backlinks send the opposite signal to Google: they indicate that a website is spammy and can’t be trusted. This is the opposite of what any website owner wants, and the links that send this message are bad links.

In short, bad links are low-quality links that are perceived as unnatural, toxic, or spammy by Google’s algorithm. They tend to be the product of sketchy link-building practices that aim to manipulate rankings quickly.

SEO is a long game, and building good links is a strategy that takes time, but that pays off handsomely in the long run in the form of organic traffic. Bad links are often the product of shortcuts that promise to deliver SEO results quickly. Google’s algorithm is very good at recognizing these techniques and punishing websites that use them.

Bad Links and SEO

Even good links vary in the amount of link juice they pass to a website, with high authority, relevant websites passing the most. However, bad links don’t pass any, and more often result in negative consequences from Google.

Google has spam policies that explicitly prohibit the types of techniques that lead to bad links, and in the worst-case scenario, they can de-index your site from Google altogether. That means your website can’t appear in Google search results, no matter how great your content is or how many websites link back to you.

The less awful, but still highly undesirable, outcome of building bad links is that your rankings suffer dramatically. If you get pushed down to the second page of Google or farther, the chances of anyone discovering your website through organic search are very small.

When it comes to your SEO success, bad links are anathema and should be avoided at all costs.

9 Types of Bad Backlinks (to avoid)

Unfortunately, bad links come in many forms. Here are the most common ones you’ll encounter, so that you can know to avoid them.

1. Excessive exchange links

Some exchange links are normal and can even boost your rankings. After all, it’s normal and expected that websites operating in the same niche will occasionally mention each other and link to one another.

However, this exchange of links appears deliberate, it becomes unacceptable from Google’s point of view. That’s why link exchange websites are best avoided.

By all means, don’t hesitate to link to a website if it makes sense in your content just because they’ve linked to you in the past, and don’t be concerned about getting a link from a website you’ve linked to. But avoid engaging in explicit link exchanges, since this could get you in trouble.

2. Excessive guest post links

This is another area where quantity matters. Yes, we’re starting with the gray area cases, but these are the ones you’re most likely to run into in your link-building journey.

Guest posting can be a fantastic way to build links and get your brand in front of a new, relevant audience. However, make sure you are:

  • Guest posting on high-quality websites, not spammy ones that let anyone submit posts
  • Posting on websites that are relevant to your niche
  • Not recycling the same guest posts on a bunch of different sites
  • Getting backlinks through a variety of methods, not exclusively guest posts

3. Syndicated press release links

Press releases have been in use since long before the days of the Internet to spread the word about major business news. They can still serve this function well, but be wary of syndicated press release mills.

If you send out a press release to reputable publications in your industry, they may write up something about you and provide you with a backlink. These are positive for SEO.

However, there are also plenty of low-quality websites that will publish any press release for a fee. Those are best avoided. Not only do they come from sites with low domain authority (DA), but they are essentially purchased links, which goes against Google’s guidelines.

4. Irrelevant links

You hear a lot about getting links from high-DA websites, but less about the importance of website relevancy. If you have a tech company and you get a backlink from a popular skincare website, this will look fishy to Google. You may not have your rankings damaged the way you might with some other bad links on this list, but you should still avoid too many of these irrelevant links since it makes your link profile look suspicious and unnatural.

5. Low-quality directory links

Links in reputable directories, such as YellowPages, are great for local SEO. However, lots of sketchy directory websites have popped up over the years to try to sell directory links to unwitting brands.

These should be avoided. If you’re pursuing a directory link, stick to those that are widely used by the general public and that have a good reputation.

6. Comment and forum spam

There was a time when website owners flooded the internet with comment and forum spam linking to their websites.

These days, blog and forum comments are generally automatically regarded as nofollow links (more on these in a moment) by Google, so they do nothing for your SEO rankings. However, creating a bunch of them can still look like spammy behavior to the almighty algorithm, so this tactic belongs in the dustbin of history.

7. Failing to use the nofollow attribute

Not all links count toward SEO rankings. Only those that have a dofollow attribute pass link juice. By tagging a link with the nofollow attribute, Google gets the message that it shouldn’t pass link juice.

Links that are purchased or otherwise unnatural, such as sponsored post links, should always have the nofollow attribute. For example, if you do a gifting campaign to get user-generated content, any backlinks that result should be nofollow.

You can use a chrome plugin to quickly see if a link is nofollow. You can also do a backlink audit to spot these tags.

8. Sitewide links

Another old trick to generate lots of backlinks in one go used to be the sitewide link. These would typically appear in footers, and since a footer can appear on thousands of web pages on a single site, it would result in thousands of backlinks.

These are usually the product of spammy link-building, so it’s best to avoid them.

9. Obligatory links

Having any kind of contractual obligation for a customer or anyone else to provide a backlink as a requirement of doing business together is not allowed by Google. Anyone providing a backlink should do so willingly.

Bad Links Best Practices

Now that you know what bad links look like, you can make sure you don’t use any link-building strategies that will result in them. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind.

Set up Google links report

Google Console’s links report feature can be used to keep track of new backlinks, so you can see if any bad links are finding their way into your backlink profile.

Conduct a regular backlink audit

Another way to stay on top of your backlink profile is with regular audits. The benefit of using a backlink audit service is that you can also get assistance with the removal of bad links, which can be a bit of a daunting task, especially if you have a lot of them to worry about.

Learn about removing backlinks

If you are handling the removal of bad links on your own, the first course of action is the contact the webmaster of the site on which they appear and to have them removed. Google also has a feature that allows you to disavow bad links. However, they strongly encourage users to first try to get the links removed themselves, so disavowal should be your last resort.

Make use of those attributes

Both on your website and websites linking back to you, make sure the nofollow tag is used whenever it should be. Failing to properly apply this attribute to a backlink, alerting Google that link juice shouldn’t pass across that link, is a violation of their terms.

Use a variety of link-building techniques

The best way to get a robust backlink profile full of good links is to use a variety of techniques to build them.

We mentioned that some guest post links are good, but you shouldn’t only have guest post links.

Similarly, some mutual links with other sites are just fine, but you shouldn’t join link exchange schemes.

Press releases can be great for authentic link building, but you shouldn’t use press release syndicators. T

The overall message is that a variety of link-building techniques is always best, and most likely to result in good links that don’t send up red flags for Google.


Bad links can seriously damage your hard-earned reputation with Google. Loganix can help you build good links that deliver search engine results the sustainable way. From content creation to link building, we’ve got you covered.

Hand off the toughest tasks in SEO, PPC, and content without compromising quality

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Written by Adam Steele on November 14, 2022

COO and Product Director at Loganix. Recovering SEO, now focused on the understanding how Loganix can make the work-lives of SEO and agency folks more enjoyable, and profitable. Writing from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.