How To Stop Bad Incoming Links Hurting Your Search Engine Rankings

Incoming links can actually hurt your search engine rankings. If you have a lot of incoming links from low ranked websites, your own search engine ranking may be affected because of it. It is a little crazy when you think about it: Competitors can hurt your ranking simply by linking to your website from bad websites. It may not even have been a competitor that caused this to happen. If you have hired an SEO company in the past to promote one of your websites, they could have built traffic using black-hat SEO techniques i.e. buying hundreds of cheap links and pointing them towards your website (unfortunately, that’s what many so called SEO Experts did!).

Google recognise the need for website owners to disassociate themselves with bad incoming links, which is why they created the Google Disavow Tool. The tool allows you to disavow low quality links to your website. In effect, it allows you to add a nofollow tag to links on other people’s websites so that their link to you does not factor in your own ranking.

Last week I had to use the disavow tool for the first time. My website Martial Arts Videos, which you all know from my recent case study about the relaunch, has no search engine traffic. It currently gets less than 5 visits per day from Google, which is frustrating as it has so many great articles published there.

Getting no traffic from Google suggests that they have applied a penalty to my website. I have never did anything unethical in the promotion of the site such as buying links or trying to manipulate the search engines in any way, so it seems strange that a penalty would be applied. Still, I could not think of any other reason for this therefore I submitted a Reconsideration Request via Webmaster Tools.

Within a few days Google confirmed that my website had not been manually penalised.

Dear Site Owner or Webmaster of,

We’ve received a request from a site owner to reconsider for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

We’ve reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the web spam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google. There’s no need to file a reconsideration request for your site because any ranking issues that you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the web spam team.

Of course, there may be other issues with your site that affect your site’s ranking. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can occur as we make updates to present the best results to our users.

If you’ve experienced a change in ranking which you suspect may be more than a simple algorithm change, there are other things that you may want to investigate as possible causes, such as a major change to your site’s content, content management system or server architecture. For example, a site may not rank well if your server stops serving pages to Googlebot or if you’ve changed the URLs for a large portion of your site’s pages. This article has a list of other potential reasons why your site may not be doing well in search.

If you’re still unable to resolve your issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Yours sincerely,

Google Search Quality Team

I was actually disappointed that it had not been penalised as I had no other ideas as to what could be causing my site to have zero search engine traffic. My friend Kevin Mackay from WP Squared advised that I may be suffering an “Algorithmic Penalty”. This led me towards me thinking it was incoming links that are the problem. It is easy to check this in Google’s Webmaster Tools. All you have to do is login to Webmaster Tools and click on “Search Traffic” and then “Links to Your Site”. You will then see a list of all the incoming links to your website.

It became clear that this could be the root of my problem. The report showed that I had over 630,000 incoming links from MMA Clips. This was due to MMA Clips publishing videos from YouTube automatically every day and because there was a link to Martial Arts Videos in the navigation menu.

Martial Arts Videos Incoming Links
Click on the above image to see a larger version.

Even though I removed the links to Martial Arts Videos from the site, Webmaster Tools still shows all those incoming links. Therefore, I made the effort of disavowing them.

Clicking on the appropriate domain on Webmaster Tools will show you more information about where the links are. Due to my website being linked in the navigation menu, it showed that my links were being generated from categories. Clicking on “Download this table” generates the same report that is shown below. It does not really help much as it simply shows category links e.g. /film/jackie-chan/.

Incoming Links to Martial Arts Videos

The correct link to click on is “Download more sample links”. That generates a list of incoming URL’s via CSV or Google Docs. Then you need to simply edit this list in a text editor and remove all the irrelevant links. For example, in my case, I kept all the links to but deleted all other links. I then saved the list in a text file.

Lastly, I had to visit the Google Disavow Tool at and select the profile for Martial Arts Videos.

Google Disavow Tool

Then I simply uploaded the text file I saved previously and clicked submit.

Google Disavow Tool

It took four or five days for the links to be removed. It is worth noting that the sample list I downloaded only had a few hundred links, and not the 630,000+ that Google is reporting as incoming links. What is a little strange is that after four or five days, the total number of links dropped to around 590,000. It’s bizarre that removing a few hundred URL’s resulted in 40,000 links being removed.

Disavow Domain

When I went back to the disavow tool to remove more links, I noticed something I had not noticed before. After uploading a text file it noted that I had removed 0 domains and a few hundred links. Clearly, this meant that domains could be removed easily. It turns out that all you have to do to remove a domain is upload a text file with domain: and then the name of each domain you want to remove. For example:

This will remove all incoming links from that domain.

Links Removed

My hope is that a combination of removing all links from will help my search engine ranking. It is, however, at this point only a hope. I do not know whether those incoming links are the source of my low search engine traffic or if the disavow tool will successfully remove all incoming links. I will update this article if my search engine traffic does return because of these actions.

Without doubt, poor incoming links have been established as a source of a low search engine ranking, therefore it would be prudent to review all of your websites and check to see whether there is an unreasonable amount of links coming from domains with low page ranks.

Good luck,

I am an experienced blogger who has been working on the internet since 2000. On this blog, I talk about WordPress, internet marketing, YouTube, technology and travelling.
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