Off-Page SEO

Unnatural Links

Shahid Maqbool

By Shahid Maqbool
On Jun 8, 2023

Unnatural Links

What are Unnatural Links?

Unnatural links are links that are obtained in a way that violates search engine guidelines, specifically Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

These links are considered manipulative and can harm a website's search engine rankings, as Google sees them as an attempt to manipulate its algorithm to rank a website higher than it deserves.

Some examples of unnatural links include paid links, link exchanges, link farms, and automated link-building using tools.

These types of links are typically created to manipulate search engine rankings and do not provide any value to the user.

Are they important?

Unnatural links typically result from black-hat SEO practices, which may provide short-term benefits but can ultimately harm your website's ranking in the long run.

In the past, many websites used unnatural link-building tactics to manipulate their search engine rankings and appear higher in search results than they deserved.

However, with the introduction of Google's Penguin algorithm, these tactics have been targeted and penalized.

If a website has a large number of unnatural links pointing to it, it can be seen as trying to manipulate search engine rankings, and Google may penalize it.

These penalties can range from a drop in search engine rankings to complete removal from the search engine results pages.

This can have a significant impact on a website's traffic and visibility, which can in turn affect its business.

To avoid penalties from Google, it is important for website owners to engage in natural link-building practices that are in line with Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

This includes creating high-quality content that attracts natural links, reaching out to other websites to request links, and building relationships with other website owners in the same industry or niche.

By doing so, website owners can improve their search engine rankings and avoid the negative effects of unnatural links.

Examples of unnatural links

Google has mentioned several examples of link spam in its Spam Policies document. Here are some examples of bad or unnatural links that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines:

Link schemes

This includes practices such as buying or selling links, exchanging links, or participating in link farms such as PBNs, which are all designed to manipulate search engine rankings.

How to fix?

Stop using them right away and include them in the disavow list.

Low-quality directories and bookmarking sites

These are directories or sites that exist solely for the purpose of hosting links and are not reputable or high-quality sources of information.

How to fix?

Remove your listing immediately.

Link exchanges

This involves exchanging links with other websites excessively without taking into account the relevancy, often in an effort to artificially boost search engine rankings.

How to fix?

Disavow all such links.

Injected links

These are links that are added to a website without the website owner's knowledge or consent, usually as part of a hacking attempt.

How to fix?

Add links to disavow list and reach out to the webmaster, requesting them to apply the nofollow attribute.

Sitewide links

These are links that appear on every page of a website, often in the footer or sidebar, and are considered to be of low quality.

How to fix?

Add links to disavow list and reach out to the webmaster, requesting them to apply the nofollow attribute.


These are small applications or tools that can be embedded on websites, often with a link back to the widget creator's website. If the link is not relevant to the widget or the website, it can be considered a bad link.

How to fix?

Add nofollow to all these links.

Press releases and syndicated content

If the primary purpose of a press release or syndicated article is to include links back to a website, rather than to provide useful information, it can be considered a bad link.

How to fix?

Instead of disavowing, prioritize cleaning up the content.

Blog comments

Leaving comments on blog posts solely for the purpose of including a link back to a website is considered an unnatural link.

How to fix?

Include in the disavow list and refrain from inserting your website link in blog comments.


Similar to blog comments, including links in forum posts solely for the purpose of promoting a website is also considered a bad link.

How to fix?

Stop link-building through irrelevant forums unnaturally.

Guest post links

These are links that are included in a guest post or article that has been published on a website other than your own.

If the purpose of the guest post is solely to obtain a link back to your own website, this is considered an unnatural link.

How to fix?

Request to have these links nofollowed or removed if possible, or include them in your disavow list.

Bookmark/directory links

Bookmark and directory links are links that are obtained by submitting a website to a directory or bookmarking website.

While these links can be legitimate, they can also be abused by spammers and are often considered unnatural.

How to fix?

Remove links from spammy directories and stick to only reputable ones.

Redirected domains

Redirecting an old domain to a new one can be seen as bad because it can lead to penalties from search engines. If search engines view the redirected links as unnatural, they may penalize the website.

Sometimes, redirected domains are also purchased solely for the purpose of redirecting traffic to a website and are often used as part of a link-building strategy.

These links are considered unnatural because they are not transparent and do not provide a legitimate reason for the link.

How to fix?

Stop redirecting the old domain and instead, manually contact website owners and ask them to update their links to point to the new domain if these are relevant to the new domain.

How to detect them?

There are several ways to detect unnatural links pointing to your website. Here are some methods you can use:

Use Google Search Console

Google Search Console provides a list of backlinks pointing to your website. Check this list regularly and look for any links that seem suspicious or low-quality.

Conduct a backlink audit

Use a backlink analysis tool to conduct a thorough audit of all the backlinks pointing to your website. Look for links that are coming from spammy websites, unrelated websites, or websites with low domain authority.

Some of the best backlink audit tools are:


This tool can help you analyze the backlinks pointing to your website and identify any that are harmful.

Here is how you can use it for backlink auditing:

  • Sign up for a SEMrush account and enter your website's URL to generate a backlink report.

  • Navigate to the 'Backlink Audit' tool within SEMrush to analyze your backlinks and identify any harmful or suspicious links.

  • Click 'New Audit' to start a new backlink audit.

  • Configure your audit settings, such as the crawl depth and frequency, and select the backlink sources to audit.

  • Click 'Start Audit' to begin the audit.

  • Review the results and identify any harmful or suspicious links. Look for links coming from spammy or low-quality websites, links with over-optimized anchor text, or links from websites that are irrelevant to your niche.

  • Export the backlink audit report to a spreadsheet or CSV file to analyze the data more closely.


This tool offers one of the most comprehensive backlink analysis tools on the market. It can identify harmful backlinks and help you disavow them.

Here are the steps involved in backlink auditing while using ahrefs:

  • Log in to your Ahrefs account and select the "Site Explorer" tool from the menu.

  • Enter the URL of your website and click "Search."

  • Once the results are displayed, click on the "Backlink" tab to see a list of all the backlinks to your website.

  • You can use the filters to refine your search and view backlinks based on various criteria, such as domain rating, page rating, and link type.

  • Review the backlinks to identify any that may be low-quality or spammy. Look for links from irrelevant or low-quality websites, links with exact match anchor text, or links from websites that have been penalized by Google.

  • Export the list of backlinks to a spreadsheet so you can analyze the data further and make any necessary changes to your backlink strategy.

Analyze anchor text

Analyzing the anchor text of links pointing to your website is an important part of detecting unnatural backlinks.

When reviewing the anchor text of your backlinks, look for any signs of over-optimization or commercial intent.

For example, if the majority of your anchor text contains exact match commercial keywords, it may be a red flag for unnatural link building.

This is because Google considers the use of exact match anchor text as a manipulation of its search algorithm and may penalize websites for it.

It's important to note that not all commercial anchor text is unnatural. If the anchor text is relevant to the content it's linking to and the link is coming from a high-quality website, it's less likely to be seen as a manipulative practice.

Check for a sudden increase in backlinks

If you notice a sudden increase in the number of backlinks pointing to your website, it could be a sign of unnatural link building. This is especially true if the links are coming from unrelated or low-quality websites.

How to avoid them?

Here are some ways to avoid building unnatural links to your website:

Focus on quality content

Create high-quality, valuable content that people will want to link to naturally. This is the most effective way to earn high-quality backlinks.

Build relationships with other websites

Reach out to other website owners and build relationships with them. Offer to collaborate on content or guest post on their website. This can help you earn high-quality backlinks naturally.

Avoid paid links

Avoid buying or selling links, as this is considered an unnatural link-building practice and can result in penalties from Google.

Don't use automated link-building tools

Avoid using automated link-building tools, as these often create low-quality and spammy links.

Monitor your backlink profile

Regularly monitor your backlink profile to identify any suspicious or low-quality links. If you do find any, take steps to remove or disavow them.

Use rel="nofollow" for sponsored links

If you do have sponsored content or links, use the rel="nofollow" attribute to tell search engines not to follow those links. This can help you avoid penalties from Google for unnatural link-building.

Disavow unnatural links

If you do find unnatural links pointing to your website, you can disavow them through Google. This means telling Google that you don't want those links to be counted towards your website's ranking. Here's how to do it:

  • Try to get the links removed: Before disavowing any links, try to get them removed from the websites they're coming from. This can involve reaching out to website owners or using a link removal tool.

  • Create a list of links to disavow: If you're unable to get the links removed, create a list of links you'd like to disavow. You can do this using a spreadsheet or text file.

  • Upload the list to Google: Once you have your list, upload it to Google through the Disavow Links tool in Google Search Console. Note that Google recommends using this tool sparingly and as a last resort.


Unnatural links can have serious negative consequences for a website's search engine rankings and overall online presence.

Whether they are the result of intentional link schemes or accidental mistakes, unnatural links can signal to search engines that a site is trying to manipulate its search rankings and can result in penalties such as lower rankings or even removal from search results.

To avoid these risks, it's important to focus on building high-quality, organic links that provide genuine value to users, rather than relying on shortcuts or questionable tactics.

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