Are Bad Backlinks Hurting My SEO?

As an agency owner with a specialty in Google Penalty recovery, I’ve seen a pattern of scenarios when it comes to low quality backlinks hurting a webmasters site and SEO. Below are the most common scenarios:

  • I hired an SEO company in the past and they build shady backlinks 
  • I hired an in-house expert and they build shady backlinks 
  • I purchased backlinks for $99 back in 2012 and didn’t realize the negative ramifications
  • I used keyword heavy anchor text on external backlinks, which hurt my SEO 
  • I tried some backlink tactics that I regret now but when I built the links, I didn’t know any better 
  • A competitor is spamming my website with low quality links 
  • I received a notification within Google Search Console for a penalty pertaining to unnatural links to my site and I have no idea what’s going on 
  • My SEO rankings aren’t as good as they should be and I’m thinking it could be because of bad backlinks, but I don’t know anything outside of this 

Related Blog: My Google Keywords Dropped Dramatically [Read More


Before going into a state of panic about low quality links hurting your site, it’s important to note that Google is doing a better job at discounting low quality links pointing to your site [learn more]. This theory makes perfect sense. In the past, if a competitor wanted to hurt your SEO, they could build 1000’s of low quality links to your site for $99 from a foreign link building company. This shouldn’t be the case and Google’s done a better job discounting low quality links while putting more emphasis on the quality links.

If Google feels like you are manipulating the system with shady and low quality backlinks, it can still hurt your SEO, hence the importance of an overall audit.


  • Login to Google Search Console to see if you’ve been hit with a manual actions penalty [learn more]
  • Click on the “links” section within Google Search Console and “Export External Links” to see what type of backlinks are pointing to your site [view step by step instructions
  • Utilize a third party tool like SEMRush. They have a “domain analysis” tool where you can detect the backlinks, anchor text, referring domains and more [learn more]
  • Check the history of algorithm updates to see if your drop in ranking on Google coincided with an algorithm change that pertained to low quality links. 
    • We strongly recommend tracking your keyword rankings in a software like SEMRush so you can detect trends amongst your site and competitors sites. 
  • If you feel you have low quality links, you can disavow entire domains or specific URL’s utilizing Google’s Disavow Tool. This tool tells Google to discount certain backlinks that you deem not credible [learn more]. 

Note: If you feel auditing your backlink profile is outside of your realm of expertise, you can reach out to our SEO experts.


A lot of companies get blindsided by low quality backlinks being built to their site and it’s unfortunate. I’ve seen reputable website hosting companies and national legal marketing companies build terrible backlinks to their clients website. This was more commonplace prior to 2016 when link building was outsourced but it still happens today. 

A billion dollar car insurance company had shady backlinks pointing to their site. They were unaware there was an issue until I analyzed their backlink profile within Google Search console. Crazy, right? 

Back in 2012, I conducted a backlink audit and found 2.5 million backlinks coming from spam sites and inappropriate sites from other countries for this car insurance company. Many of the sites weren’t even in English. This is an example of low-quality backlinks that you would never want your customers to visit. They are irrelevant, with no correlation to your business.  

Related Podcast: How I helped a car insurance company recover from a Google penalty by disavowing over 2.5 million backlinks

If you find a backlink on a website that seems low in quality or not relevant, I would view this as a low quality link. Just like you don’t want your kids hanging out with shady friends, you don’t want your website to link from shady sites. A site like BlogSpot is a common one where we see low quality links coming from.

Moz and SEMRush each have backlink tools where you can analyze whether or not there is a high spam score associated with a domain. I recommend utilizing these tools when doing research on your own site. 


A lot of links that have been acquired by unnatural means will often be keyword anchored.” – Marie Haynes.

I love this explanation for Marie. It’s similar to a crime. Oftentimes, there are fingerprints and clues leading up to a crime. The same holds true for keyword heavy anchor text. This means backlinks are trying to be acquired in an inorganic manner.

We see it all the time with our clients. Webmasters link aggressively internally and externally using keyword heavy anchor text not knowing it can cause more harm than good.

An example of this would be a personal injury attorney in Phoenix linking internally to another page on their site using “Phoenix Personal Injury Lawyer” as the anchor text. [Related Blog: Beginners Guide to Internal Linking]

Alternatively, if this Personal Injury Lawyer wrote an external article for Justia and they linked back to their site using a keyword they wanted to rank well for, this would constitute as keyword heavy anchor text.

The mindset of many in the past was the hyperlink containing the keyword you want to rank for would improve rank. Anchor text should be linked back in a natural manner.

If you have a lot of keyword heavy anchor text, the easiest place to start is changing it on your own site. We recommend also reaching out to webmasters on external sites to change the anchor text to make it more natural. 

Additional Resources on Keyword Heavy Anchor Text: 


What’s fascinating about Google and SEO is that time involvement doesn’t always correspond to solid rankings. I’ve seen plenty of businesses spend hundreds of hours on SEO but since they were going about it in the wrong way, it caused way more harm than good.

This is common when it comes to link building. Many people know that backlinks are a core foundation of Google’s algorithm. They figure the more backlinks they get, the better. A business owner will then reach out to all of their friends to link back to their site. The backlinks are keyword heavy anchor text on non-relatable websites and all come through within a couple of weeks. This is an obvious pattern that Google can detect.

It’s great when you can contribute external content showcasing your authority. Don’t be overly aggressive and make sure to build your links in an organic manner.

A good rule of thumb to follow is checking your referral traffic in Google Analytics. Are the backlinks on external sites actually driving relevant traffic to your site? When they arrive at your site, are they staying on the page for a substantial amount of time? If the answer to those questions is yes, you are likely building the right kind of backlinks.


There are many ways that low quality links can get built to your site. It’s important to detect these bad links and find a solution to fix what could be causing red flags to Google. 

Don’t just harp on your low quality backlinks. Google wants to see quality, authoritative, local and relatable sites linking back to your site. Having a proactive mindset when it comes to link building will help with your SEO.

Below are some ideas to improve your overall link quality:

  • Industry Expertise  
    • Showcase your industry expertise. If you write a blog daily or weekly, this can get found by others, who will link back to it as a resource. It’s amazing how many quality backlinks you can get by focusing on your own blog. 
    • If there are industry publications, you can share your expertise on these external websites, which can help you drive people back to your site for additional resources 
  • Local 
    • Sponsorships 
      • If The Media Captain sponsors a little league baseball team and they have a little league community website that links back to all sponsors in a natural way, that’s a beneficial link. This is a local authoritative site linking back to our Agency’s site. 
    • Directories 
      • Local directories are taking up more real estate on the first page of Google. Getting listed on these directories with reviews can drive great referral traffic to your site, help generate new business and increase your overall trust and authority. Simply do a Google search for “City Name + Primary Keyword” and see what’s ranking on the first page of Google. This is where you can start to get listed.

Related Blog: How to Acquire High Quality Links [READ HERE]. 


Bad backlinks could be hurting your website, especially if you don’t have quality links to showcases authoritativeness for your site.

It’s important to understand your past and clean up the mess, even if you didn’t do it unintentionally. At the same time, it’s important to be proactive in acquiring new links.