What Are Unnatural Links? Do They Affect Site SEO?

Have you ever thought about why, despite your best efforts, your website is unable to move up Google’s rankings? You’ve optimized your content, created backlinks, and even made some questionable actions that you’d prefer not to admit to. However, your ranks are still static.

Could it be that some of the backlinks you’ve worked so hard to get are holding you back?

Well, according to search engines like Google, not all links are created equal. There is a dark side to link building that may be damaging your SEO efforts without your knowledge- Unnatural links.

They’re the links that raise red flags at search engine headquarters: links purchased, sold, or otherwise gained through unethical means that violate webmaster guidelines. And Google does not tolerate anyone attempting to manipulate the system.

The point is that unnatural links are a major issue in the field of SEO, and they can have major consequences for your website’s rankings. But don’t worry, we’ll get deep into this issue, exploring what exactly makes an unnatural link, how to identify them, and, most importantly, how to avoid them entirely.

Let’s begin!

What are Unnatural Links?

Unnatural links refer to links that are fake, manipulative or violate search engine guidelines. These links are like the digital world’s sly tricksters. They are not your everyday-friendly backlinks that support your website. Instead, they try to mislead search engines and manipulate your site’s ranking. 

So. where do these links come from?

These are the links that are obtained from a shady source. Or perhaps you took part in one of those “link exchange” scams in which websites agree to connect, resulting in a strange incestuous link circle.

It might also be links obtained by software programs that automatically distribute them around the internet. Or links are hidden away using cloaking or redirect trickery in an attempt to avoid Google’s attention.

In Google’s opinion, any link that was not obtained through standard organic approaches (quality content, real relationships, and true human outreach) is unnatural. It’s an artificial approach to making your website appear more popular and authoritative than it is.

Google wants all links to be natural and organic. Unnatural links, on the other hand, are a shortcut that Google certainly does not appreciate.

Types of Unnatural Links

Here are some of the most important types of unnatural links to be aware of:

a. Blog Comments 

Leaving real, value-added comments on relevant blogs with a link back to your site is typically OK from an SEO standpoint. However, problems occur when comments are entirely self-promotional or left in bulk as a link-building plan. This is a “comment spam” method.

Unnatural blog comment links include:

  • Leaving the same basic comments on many blogs
  • Comments with over-optimized anchor text links
  • Comments that drop a link with no significance

Only leave real, original comments on relevant blogs if you have something important to say.

b. Forum Posts

Participating in relevant forums can help you gain knowledge and earn editorial links. However, issues occur when the main goal is to remove backlinks.

Unnatural forum links include:

  • Excessive signature links from many forums
  • Link removal without contributing anything to the conversation
  • Over-optimized anchor text for forum links

Contribute to relevant topics only when you can offer knowledge, not simply links.

c. Link Schemes

Link schemes, also known as link farms or private blog networks (PBNs), are a link-building method in which someone dedicates a website only to link development.

PBNs are linked websites that link to one another for SEO purposes. PBN links are often of no value to users and, as a result, may be penalized by Google.

PBN

Discontinue any link schemes. Audit your backlink profile to identify low-quality/irrelevant links from these schemes, then disavow them using Google’s tool.

d. Low-Quality Directories

Low-quality directories are a typical source of unnatural links, which may negatively impact your website’s SEO if used as part of a link-building strategy.

A low-quality directory could have the following characteristics:

  • It immediately accepts all entries with no criteria
  • It is unfriendly to users and difficult to navigate, among other issues
  • It is not secure (HTTP rather than HTTPS)

When low-quality directories are used deeply and manipulatively to gain artificial links rather than for legitimate goals. This overuse activates Google’s sensors for unnatural link-building methods.

Do not encourage these directories to use your company name. Focus your website’s visibility on high-quality directories such as Google Business Profile, Reddit, and Yelp. Consider creating links to your website on relevant industry sites.

e. Sitewide Links

These are links that are often seen in a website’s footer and are generally added by a website developer or designer.

For example, Marketing Lad uses the following sitewide links in its footer:

footer links

These are often OK and will not be reported by Google if they are natural, however, some companies pay for sitewide links on other websites, which is strictly prohibited.

Conduct a backlink assessment and remove any sitewide links that are not related to your business.

f. Press Releases and Syndicated Content

Press releases and syndicated content are acceptable, as long as they include branded anchor texts. However, many people continue to utilize keyword stuffing to boost their ranks.

Keyword stuffing occurs when a term or keywords are used so frequently in a press release or syndicated material that they appear inorganic (or artificial). Keywords are constantly repeated, leaving the press release unreadable.

The best approach is to generate press releases that benefit users rather than search engines.

g. Link Exchange

A link exchange occurs when you receive a link from another website and exchange it with a link to that site. Google considers trading links with other websites to be poor behavior since it is not natural or organic.

The search engine is far more likely to penalize bulk link exchanges a large-scale version in which several sites are connected to one other. Especially when they deal with websites from other sectors.

Because Google favors contextual relevance, linking to unrelated topics and sites may raise doubts. To let Google know about your relationship with a linked page, use the rel attribute on all known links.

A guest post or paid promotion that includes a link exchange, for example, must be tagged with rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow”. These tags will instruct Google not to follow and perhaps flag the specified links.

h. Redirected Domains

A manual action penalty for unnatural links can be readily triggered by an old domain that redirects to a new domain.

This is a very typical type of unnatural link today. People gain expiring domains with good link profiles and redirect them to their existing sites.

Google is quite clever with this strategy now, and you typically receive credit for this kind of link. Remove any redirected links to your website, as they are a clear violation of Google’s guidelines.

How Unnatural Links Affect SEO?

Unnatural links can drastically harm a website’s search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and rankings. When analyzing a site’s authority and ranking positions, search engines such as Google prioritize the quality and integrity of its backlink profile.

When Google detects a pattern of unnatural, intentionally generated links linking to a website, it can apply human or algorithmic penalties that have a direct impact on the site’s ability to rank highly in search results. The results may include the following:

a. Rankings are Negatively Impacted

When evaluating the ranking of a link, Google’s algorithm prioritizes its quality. If your site is full of links that are there just for keyword stuffing or is put completely out of context, your site’s rating might suffer drastically, and it may even be deleted entirely from Google’s index. Following two or three unnatural links, Google does a manual action.

And after you receive the penalty, you will immediately be ranked lower. You may abruptly drop out of search ranks for valuable keywords linked with your content, and you may even have difficulty having new content indexed by Google.

b. Decreased Traffic

As a result, a lower ranking indicates a significant decline. Google does not discriminate when it detects an unnatural or spammy link linked with your website, regardless of the authority you have created or the number of visitors you receive daily.

It’s also worth noting that Google doesn’t only punish the specific page or portion of your website where the unnatural links are located. The entire website will most likely be punished. Even pages with organic links and high traffic might suffer, resulting in lost traffic to your whole site. 

c. Reputation Damage

SEO is a lengthy game. You invest so much effort in obtaining organic links, improving your website, and developing a genuine presence on search engines. You gradually enhance domain authority, as well as the dependability and authenticity of your website.

If you continue down the path of practices and link schemes, everything of the reputation you’ve built can fall apart – both for search engines and site visitors. It may take a long time to rebuild that reputation and regain credibility on search engines. 

d. Manual Penalties From Google

Unnatural links are considered black hat SEO by search engines, which are techniques that violate the search engine criteria for SERPs. They result in manual penalties from Google, which can lead to rankings and loss of website traffic and income.

Google gives you the benefit of the doubt and does not punish you till 2-3 links. However, after you receive it, you must follow certain procedures before submitting a reconsideration request to Google to remove the unnatural links penalty. 

e. Loss of Indexed Pages

In addition to ranking losses, an unnatural link penalty may force Google to decrease the number of pages indexed and rated from that domain.

f. Loss of Search Visibility

Major penalties can render a website invisible in Google’s search results for the majority of search queries, significantly reducing organic visitor levels.

What is a Google Penalty?

A Google penalty, also known as a manual action, can occur at any moment, particularly if you have unnatural links on or leading to your website.

Unnatural links are the most prevalent reason Google issues penalties.

How Can Unnatural Link Penalties Occur?

The penalties are imposed when Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are violated. More precisely, artificial outbound links are one of the most typical backlink actions penalized by Google.

The violation of Google’s standards is mainly caused by black hat SEO practices and the presence of unnatural and harmful links in your website’s backlink profile.

Google’s spam team would impose this penalty as a manual limiting measure.

How Do You Get Unnatural Links?

Unnatural links are sometimes caused by hiring an unskilled SEO professional or using a low-quality agency to develop your backlinks.

These links can be purchased or developed by scrapers and spammers, or they could be the outcome of a competitor’s negative SEO effort.

How to Find Unnatural Links in Your Link Profile?

  • Semrush’s Backlink Audit Tool will help you identify unnatural links that risk your website’s link profile. 
  • Set up Semrush Backlink Audit.
  • Log into your Semrush account and click Backlink Audit.
  • If this is your first time using Semrush, sign up for a free trial, input your domain name, and choose “Start Backlink Audit.” 
  • If you’re doing an audit on an existing domain (or project) in Semrush, click the “Set up” option to provide your audit settings.
  • To add a new domain, select “+ Create project.” Next, input the website address and project name (optional). Click “Create Project.”
  • The tool will now prompt you to choose audit parameters. For most websites, the default “Campaign Scope” is “Root domain.” Other optional audit options in the left menu are:

a. Branding Settings: Enter and track your official brand name—useful if your domain name is different from your brand name.

b. Domain Categories: Indicate the subjects (categories) with which your domain is related, ranging from Arts to Travel. This enables the tool to deliver more precise findings. 

c. Target countries: Choose countries that are relevant to your business or audience. So the technology can better determine whether backlinks from specific nations are meaningful.

  • When you are ready, click “Start Backlink Audit” to proceed. 
  • Depending on the size of your website, the audit may take several minutes to complete.
  • A status bar will show its progress. You can leave this page and return later.
  • When the audit is complete, click the domain to get further information. 

A. Analyse Link Quality and Relevance

Relevant, excellent links improve your site’s SEO rating and provide a better user experience. Backlink Audit displays an overview of all links to your website. Classifying them as harmful, possibly toxic, or non-toxic.

You will also receive an “Overall Toxicity Score” based on the number of poisonous backlinks—inbound connections that potentially reduce your site’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Semrush classifies websites with 10% or more toxic links as highly risky. Sites with toxic links ranging from 3% to 9% get a medium toxicity rating. Websites with fewer than 3% toxic links receive the lowest grade.

According to the preceding study, our sample website marketinglad has 61 toxic links and 184 potentially toxic ones.

To access the “Audit” section click on the red part of the score bar, which displays a list of toxic links and their exact details.

B. Find Patterns of Unnatural Links

Google analyses backlinks for repeated or odd linking patterns, such as PBNs, low-quality directories, and blog comments. These often indicate manipulative methods rather than natural links.

Backlink Audit allows you to study flagged links and rapidly identify those that follow these questionable patterns. The “Audit” part of the report allows you to thoroughly explore each toxic link.

You’ll be able to see the following information for each backlink:

1. Anchor: The clickable text in a backlink.

2. Authority Score (AS): It is Semrush’s proprietary indicator for domain reputability. It considers the quantity and quality of backlinks, organic search traffic, and overall legitimacy.

3. Toxicity Score (TS): Measures the likely danger of a certain backlink using a 100-point scale, from 0 (good) to 100 (extremely toxic).

Hovering over the TS reveals the “Toxic Markers” for each flagged link. Backlink Audit uses more than 45 factors to determine toxicity.

This evaluation organizes your links into three lists: “Whitelist,” “Remove,” and “Disavow.” To identify the desired action for each link.

Monitoring your backlinks through regular audits allows you to:

  • Maintain a healthy link profile
  • Make sure your backlinks are from credible and relevant sources
  • Identify and eliminate low-quality or spammy links that may damage your site’s trustworthiness
  • Optimize your link-building plan to boost your site’s search exposure

How Do You Remove Unnatural Links?

Now that we understand the different sorts of backlinks and how they can harm overall SEO efforts, let’s look at how to remove unnatural links.

1. Conduct a Backlink Audit and Identify Unnatural Links

Most unnatural links to your websites are concealed so that you are unaware that your site is under penalty inspection. Only by doing a backlink audit regularly will you be able to detect abnormalities.

The first indication of an unnatural link penalty is a significant loss in ranking and traffic. A human penalty may be easily seen in the Google Webmasters Tool, while an algorithmic modification requires you to evaluate your backlinking profile. 

A backlink audit may be performed using SEO tools such as SEMrush or Ahrefs. When you receive an email regarding an unnatural link penalty, look for links from directories and link farms, links gained in return for payment, and links obtained through automated backlink services.

SEO audit Tools display all of the links to your website. SEMrush, for example, labels unnatural links as risky. You may filter the links depending on their domain ratings, traffic volume, and other criteria. Based on the data, examine each site that might be the source of an unnatural link.

2. Manually Review the Websites

If you don’t have a link checker, you’ll have to manually check the links. On Semrush, you have a toxic link score, and any link with a score higher than 60 is toxic. You can check for unnatural link sources in Google Search Console. You may do this for any artificial incoming links. For outbound links, you should properly evaluate your site and pay special attention to links that might alter search rankings

To manually review the links, check for the kind of links mentioned above. See if you can detect trends or identify a spammy URL. If you discover it, there is a potential that you may receive link spam. Categorize your links into:

  • Legitimate and good links
  • Paid or spammy links

This makes it easy for you to take action on each link since you can either contact the site to delete your link or add it to your disavow list. 

3. Email Websites to Remove Links

The first step in removing unnatural connections is to contact the webmasters and request that they delete your links. This is a step that Google recommends the website do before adding the links to the Disavow file and requesting a reconsideration to eliminate the unnatural links penalty.

Keep a record of your discussions with webmasters in case you need it later when submitting reconsideration requests to Google. When contacting webmasters, remember to be polite and include any relevant information, such as where the backlink is situated, why you want it removed, and how you want it removed. 

4. Use the Disavow Tool

If you do not receive a response and the requested action is not implemented by the websites, you may disavow the link. To disavow a link is to delete all damaging links to your website, which is the last step. When you take this action, you are telling Google not to evaluate these connections when assessing your website.

Most SEO tools will allow you to build a disavow file and send it to Google. Simply pick all possibly unnatural links and disavow domains. Your SEO tool will save these links to a text file. 

5. Send a Reconsideration Request

Once you’ve used the disavow tool, submit a reconsideration request to Google using the Google Search Console. When filing a reconsideration request, you must include the following details:

  • The spam issue you experienced
  • The activities you took to fix the issue (such as sending emails to webmasters for link removal)
  • The actions you take to ensure Google’s rules (for example, submitting a disavow file to Google Search Console for the links you cannot delete)
  • Documentation and emails as proof

Conclusion

At the end of the day, unnatural links are equal to attempting to take shortcuts to popularity. These are links obtained by manipulative strategies such as buying, excessive link exchanges/schemes, automated link building, or covert redirect linking, all of which violate search engine webmaster guidelines.

Google wants everything to be legitimate and earned. They’re all about rewarding websites that have a genuine following and reputation, rather than simply faking it using system-gaming techniques.

What is the smarter move?

Stop looking for easy ways to get popularity. Put forth the effort to build an authoritative website with quality content that will organically generate links and authority over time. It’s a longer journey, for sure, but it’s the only way to achieve true success that will keep both your human audience and Google’s algorithms pleased in the long run.

FAQs

1. How do unnatural links impact SEO?

Unnatural links can impair a website’s SEO by resulting in penalties from search engines such as Google. These penalties can result in lower ranks or even removal from search engine results pages (SERPs), which reduces exposure and traffic.

2. How can I discover unnatural links pointing to my website?

To analyze your backlink profile, use Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, or third-party tools like Moz or SEMrush. Look for suspicious trends, such as an unexpected rush of links from unrelated sites, a large number of connections with exact match anchor text, or links from known spammy domains.

3. Can I benefit from unnatural links to improve my SEO?

No, attempting to influence search rankings using unnatural link-building strategies is hazardous and can lead to serious consequences. It is advisable to concentrate on acquiring high-quality, pertinent links using lawful ways such as providing good content and establishing real relationships with other websites.

4. How can I avoid future problems with unnatural links?

Monitor your backlink profile regularly, adhere to link-building suggestions provided by search engines, and prioritize developing high-quality content that organically draws links. To avoid unintended violations, educate yourself and your team on ethical SEO methods.

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