Your SEO Resource to learn about good links and risky links (AKA toxic links).

Toxic Links are just a marketing term

Google, 2022

Yes that is correct. Toxic Links is a phrase that quickly found its adoption in the SEO industry for

Links with high risk to cause a Google penalty (manual action) or (partial) ranking demotion (rankings drop) to your website.

That’s a whole mouthful, isn’t it? Toxic links sounds easier, right?

Google usually calls such links Unnatural Links, but sometimes just Spam Links in conversations with the Google Spam team.

Toxic Links are backlinks that are understood by SEOs as a high risk to hurt your organic rankings of a website.

Of course:

  • Nobody is going to die when he receives a “toxic link”.
  • There is no toxic material being sent to you when your website receives a “toxic” link.
  • A website will not lose all its rankings if one “toxic link” is linking to it
  • “Deadly link” sounds even more bizarre, but was used in some circles also to describe the same. Nobody was hurt tough using THAT phrase.

Toxic links could possibly harm the search engine rankings of a website.

Toxic Links is a term that became popular among SEOs to describe what it does, intoxicate your backlink profile.

The solution to reduce that risk is called disavowing. To create a disavow file with Link Detox® and then upload to the Disavow Tool in Google Search Console.

When Google introduced negative effects of links officially in 2012 with the Google Penguin Updates, it became apparent that the more overweight of negative affecting links you have in your backlink profile - the worse.

Unofficially such toxic links were known almost a decade longer.

Google has always issued (silent) penalties or demotions for specific “silver bullet links” (we believe that term was coined by ©Dave Naylor 2007).

Instead of toxic links you can use any of the following terms and they may be more or less precise.

  • Unnatural links
  • Paid links
  • Spam links
  • Negative SEO Links
  • Hacker Links
  • Attack Links
  • Inorganic links
  • Low quality links
  • Artificial links
  • Manually created links
  • Deceptive links
  • Manipulative links
  • Impact links
  • Unhealthy links
  • Unsafe links
  • Nefarious links
  • Sleazy links
  • Shady links
  • Dubious links
  • Questionable links
  • Fishy links
  • you name it…

The name doesn’t matter, it’s about the function of links having a potentially negative effect to your organic rankings.

The introduction of toxic links (links with negative effects) ended a long “golden era of SEO” where you could

Throw crap (links) against a wall (website) and “see what sticks.”

SEOs only had to use a credit card to buy more and more links and improved their rankings.

After over 10 years of hearing SEOs brag about their (quite simply earned) successes, Google took measure and issues draconian penalties for websites abusing links the way they were. Toxic links developed from rather seldom problems to a widespread industry issue that wiped out many businesses organic traffic, often overnight.

Links can pose a risk for your rankings.

At LRT we measure the risk of a link, a cluster of links, or a whole link profile in Link Detox Risk® or the simplified LRT Risk™

A numeric value between 0 and 10000 that is calculated as described and published in previous work by LinkResearchTools since 2012.

Link is not just a 0 or 1, like most things in SEO Link Risk is not a black-white question.

This flow chart maybe helps you understand who and when needs to worry about Toxic Links.

%%{init: {'theme': 'base', 'themeVariables': { 'primaryColor': '#33a1ff', 'secondaryColor': '#efb854', 'secondaryTextColor': '#000000'}}}%% graph TD; A[Do you have a website?] A -->|YES| B A -->|NO| X B[Do you rely on organic search traffic from Google?] B -->|YES| HighMarg[Are you in a high margin industry*?] B -->|NO| X2 HighMarg -->|YES| D[Why do you even question
if you should worry about
Toxic Links?] HighMarg -->|NO| LB[Do you do link building?] HighMarg -->|Not sure| X3[Check here.] LB -->|NO| DIGIPR[Do you do have a Digital PR agency?] DIGIPR -->|YES| DIGIPR2[Are they getting paid to get you links?
among exposure, brand building] LB -->|YES| LBOK[Do you think Google likes you building links?] LBOK -->|NO| D DIGIPR2 -->|YES| LBOK LBGOOG -->|YES| D LBGOOG -->|NO| GSUP[Google Guidelines are quite clear.
Do you care about Google Guidelines?] GSUP -->|NO| GOAHEAD[Go ahead and build links,
but make sure you mange your link risk.
You DO manage your link risk, right?] LBOK -->|YES| LBGOOG[Google does not like manipulative links
and may penalize you. Did you know?] GSUP -->|YES| GOAHEAD2[Either stop and disavow
every manipulative links = RESET or
go ahead and clean up the worst ones.] D --> |Heard on Twitter| HEARD1[Be aware that Twitter SEO is
not representative for many industries.] D --> |Google takes care| HEARD2[Can Google take care of every website?
Ignore all problems? Can they always?] GOAHEAD -->|YES| GOODJOBBH[Good job black hat, may the rankings be with you.] GOAHEAD -->|NO| LEARNBH[You can learn more about toxic links on] LBGOOG -->|YES| D X[No organic traffic.
No problem with toxic links.] X2[A website but not interested in Google traffic.] X2 --> |Yeah, who needs Google?| X click X3 href "/glossary/high-margin-industry/"
If you don’t see a flowchart abvove, rendered in SVG using Mermaid, then you can click here for a static image of it.

There are few software companies who took parts of the published work by LRT as inspiration for their own “Toxic Link Analysis Software”.

These companies started many years later.

Products that compare themselves to Link Detox® miss following ingredients in their products.

  • Toxic link examples received from Google as Spam examples in reconsideration requests for many years 2012-2017 (nobody invented time machine, or did we miss the memo?)
  • Training data collected from 10000s of users actually fixing their penalties.
  • Calibration of Link Detox Risk® against those penalties issues and the resulting actions. If you’ve not been there, you cannot have this data. So even the proverbial time machine needed would have required people to use that competitor product. Didn’t happen. Calibration so much easier in early years of Google Penguin as the effects of the penalties was much harsher. If we were to start today, we would not be able to get to the same precision.
  • Actual Link Building and Link Audit expertise that helps develop and test the algorithms, calibration and product. Go to your favorite “other toxic link tool” and ask to hire or speak to the expert for toxic links. Good luck :-)

For example Semrush didn’t have a toxic link analysis product until 2017, five years after the “hot phase of Google Penguin” actually started, without a chance to have a system learn from all the data and patterns emitted from 2012-2017.

Today in 2022 we have no reason to believe that any product that compares itself to Link Detox® and Link Detox Risk® are getting even close to the precision and reliability.

That doesn’t mean Link Detox® is perfect.

Evaluating the risk of links is not a simple task, not for Google or anyone. And this task is certainly not 100% accurate in all cases. That’s why training feedback was collected since 2012. Another machine learning feature not present elsewhere.

There are also a few companies that went down their own route and came up with correlation studies, where for example a dash in a domain name would increase the estimated risk. That’s nonsense of course. You cannot spot toxic links by correlating them to the domain names.

Over the years more and more cheap knock-offs entered the market. Today every new SEO SaaS startup claims to understand and report toxic links for you to disavow. We really do not understand how they have the guts to claim that they can do that, given how much work went into fine-tuning our algorithms and machine-learning against 100s of penalties.

Given the above limitations (knowledge? time machine anyone?) you will understand this is a tough claim by “new kids on the toxic link block”.

Then there are companies with deep pockets that spend a fortune on promotion of really poor content about toxic links.

Some other companies send their users daily “warning mails” for so-called “toxic links” to disavow immediately, when it’s really just some scraper spam links that can be disavowed automatically or with 1-click in bulk (as it’s handled in Link Detox®).

Naturally people got irritated or annoyed with pretty dumb results and the notification spam.

These people then often go to Twitter to ask poor John Mueller if they should disavow this or that link, and sometimes just sent a cropped screenshot asking for help. Now what’s Google’s John Mueller going to do? Look at 6 domains and say yes, disavow them. Of course not!

These corner-cutting approaches by “general software vendors” to build toxic link software and their even more half-assed marketing approach has certainly given toxic link software a bad rep for some.

Of course this is nothing new. In 2012 when Link Detox® was first launched for the first 8 months for free, some young people in the Google Webmaster Forum accused us to build toxic links to people’s websites, so they would be using our (then free) product. The irrationality screams, right, and those “TCs” (top contributers) marking their own answers as “best answers” was even more hilarious. So take all that with a grain of salt and the knowledge that there’s always a portion of people who prefer to take all matters in their own hand and even sift through 1000s of domain names without any additional metrics.

Using Link Detox® thousands of webmasters recovered their penalties. That’s a fact.

Our experience in link building and link analysis experience from a decade before Link Detox® came out gave us all the right tools and data to be in the position for launching such a diagnostic product.

We have continued to develop our product and knowledge, as specialist for links - with the simple goal to provide the

“Best Link Data You can get”.

And still April 2022 we logged into one of the most popular mainstream link products, and found many links not crawled for 5 years for quite popular domains.

Links that were not re-crawled for 5 years from high authority domains… …don’t fall into our definition of good link data.

This website was set up as a free SEO Resource for everyone to learn about Toxic Links. It contains material previously only accessible to paid users, or members of trainings.

We at LinkResearchTools are obviously biased, and we don’t try to deny that. Having worked in the SEO industry for 20 years now, with LRT being the product of choice for many SEO professionals in high margin niches since 2009.

Nobody is perfect, but we agree, when people call us the authority in toxic links, link analysis and of course recovery from Google penalties.

If you think we can learn from each other, please do let us know.

Challenge us with your knowledge and let us exchange notes.

Do we want to sell you something?

You bet. Like all experts in their field, we are very proud about what we developed over the years and how many people we have helped.

You deserve the best only, and that is Link Detox® and LinkResearchTools.

We are proud about our users recovering from so many Google Penalties, improving their rankings by disavowing links that held them back and in generally being able to help with our skills.

Every achieved expert feels like that. Every expert has its price.

We hope when you read this site you will come to a positive judgement about our expertise, compared to all the other copied stuff out there.

If you believe that our communication is defined by sales pitches, then go compare our communication to the “other toxic link tools” out there.

Should you decide for another product than Link Detox® and LRT, we wish you good luck and welcome you back with open arms.

Should you decide to go down the hard path to check all the links manually, then we also wish you especially much luck.

But now, dive into our knowledge base - not available elsewhere.

Enjoy & Learn, Christoph C. Cemper
and the team of

Toxic Links

What are toxic links?

Toxic Links are backlinks that are understood by SEOs as a high risk to hurt your organic rankings of a website.

How do you know if a link is toxic?

You cannot know for sure. Google does not declare which links are toxic and which not. In Link Detox® there is a link risk estimated for every link. The higher the risk, the higher the chance that a link can have a negative (toxic) effect on your website’s rankings.

What is a toxic URL?

The term toxic URL does not make much sense without context. What is proably meant is that from on such a toxic URL as source URL would be considered toxic. However, without actually having a link to analyze, the URL by itself has no risk for organic rankings, obviously if there is no link.

How do I remove a toxic link from my website?

You need to remove the toxic link from the website that is linking to you. Because that is hard to achieve often, Google gave webmasters the Disavow Tool, which lets you mark the domains and links you don’t want them to count towards your backlink profile.

Should I remove toxic backlinks?

Do not worry if you find a few spammy looking backlinks. The risk of gettting a Google penalty or tripping a Google filter increases the more toxic links (i.e. links with high risk) you have in your backlink profile. Proactive disavowing is recommended and has helped many webmasters not only avoid penalties but also increase their organic rankings.

What is toxic score?

Different software vendors use different terms for their data models they develop. We are not sure where this term comes from, but it seems similar to Link Detox Risk® to measure the risk of a link becoming toxic for your rankings.

Do backlinks affect rankings??

Yes. Backlinks are the secret-sauce of SEO, every since.