Monitoring Backlinks and Link Pruning

SEO Guide Step 15

How to Monitor and Remove Unwanted Links

Bad links are poison, and most site owners cannot tell. They bought into the hype that all links help, and so they heap on more and more poison. They suffer a slow death in many cases, and sometimes, to battle losses, they add more links. The result is a near death experience.

As explained in the previous SEO Guide lesson, having the right kind of backlinks helps your website rise in the search engine rankings. But the wrong kind can create an SEO nightmare if your site gets hit with a Google penalty.

Monitoring your website’s link profile (including the full list of links that point to your site from other websites) is a wise defensive SEO strategy. Once you know how to find backlinks to your site, you can evaluate them and remove the bad ones from your link profile.

Google’s algorithms analyze a site’s link profile, and if too many of its inbound links look suspicious, the site’s rankings can plummet. This is still true even though the search engine can now recognize and discount many spammy links (i.e., Google may ignore the links for ranking purposes).

Whether you are trying to recover from a link-related penalty or safeguarding your site proactively, it’s critical to monitor backlinks — maybe not “like a hawk,” but on a regular basis — and keep your link profile clean.

In this lesson, you’ll learn a process for finding and removing harmful links from your link profile:

  1. Monitor backlinks to your siteWho’s linking to me?
  2. Evaluate your link profileWhat makes a bad backlink?
  3. Remove backlinks by “link pruning”How do I get rid of bad links?
  4. Use Google’s Disavow tool – What’s my last resort if they won’t cooperate?

NOTE: We’ve included links to detailed instructions that will help you do each step in the procedure. Once you get a system down, link pruning will become a routine part of your ongoing SEO site maintenance. 

#1: Monitor Backlinks

Google Search Console links menu

Do you know how to find backlinks for your site? Before you can start the link pruning process, you need to take inventory of your current backlinks. You can use a variety of backlink checker tools to monitor backlinks and find out what web pages are linking to your site. Start a spreadsheet with all the linking page URLs in a column.

Google ​Search Console (formerly called Webmaster Tools) is a good place to start gathering your link data. ​Choose “Links to Your Site” under the Search Traffic menu, as shown to the left. (SEO Tip: Here’s how to set up your free GSC account.)

Unfortunately, your link profile in Google ​Search Console usually won’t be complete or up-to-date. To get a fresher, more complete list to begin your link audit, add data gathered from several link-tracking sources: Bing Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO Site Explorer, Moz’s Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, or SEOToolSet’s Link Analysis tool.

#2: Evaluate the Links

Once you’ve learned how to find backlinks and compiled your link profile, you’ll need to evaluate each of the links for quality and decide which ones need to be removed. Evaluating backlinks is a tedious business. After a while, you may be able to recognize an “inorganic” (unnatural) link just by its URL, but for most of them, you’ll need to click and examine the web page where the link resides. If it’s on a low-quality or spam site, you don’t want to be associated with it.

You can create your own scoring system for judging link value or use PageRank as one measurement of quality. For more advanced scoring systems, ​we recommend using Majestic SEO’s ranking scores called Trust Flow and Citation Flow. MozRank has a similar quality indicator. In your spreadsheet, create columns to keep track of the link information, contact information for the website owner or webmaster, and correspondence records.

(Click to read detailed instructions on backlink analysis.)

Photo by Paul Williams (CC BY 2.0), modified

#3: Remove Inorganic Links (Link Pruning)

Now that you know which links should be removed, you’ll need to create an email template you can send to website owners requesting link removal. The email should explain who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish, with specific information, including links, needed for the site owner to process your link removal request. Record the date of this first link pruning request in your spreadsheet so you can follow up and verify whether the link has been removed. Send second and third requests, if necessary. Use your spreadsheet to keep track of everything because you’ll need documentation of your efforts when communicating with Google.

To prune a link, you want the webmaster to either 1) remove the unwanted link from their website, or 2) add rel=”nofollow” to the link tag so the search engines won’t count it.

#4: Disavow Link Domains as a Last Resort

In cases where your link-pruning requests are ignored or rejected, all is not lost! As a last resort, you can submit a disavowal request to Google and Bing that basically says, “I don’t want these links, but all my attempts to have them removed have failed, so please disregard them.”

A disavow backlinks request is appropriate when you’ve repeatedly tried to get the website to remove the links, but to no avail. Your spreadsheet that contains all the details and correspondence records gives you the proof you need to go to the search engines directly (and hopefully avert a Google Penguin penalty). Disavowing backlinks should only be done selectively and with great care, so read all our tips (or contact us for help with penalty assessment and link pruning).  

(Click to read details on how to disavow links.)


Listen to Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s webspam-fighting team, explain the reason for the Disavow Backlinks tool and when to use it. (Length is 9:19)

He recorded this back when Google introduced the tool, back in October 2012. He warns people against using the tool unless they’ve received a links error message from Google; however, most sites today have some bad links they need to prune and may need to use this tool. 


Next in the SEO tutorial, we’ll take you beyond link monitoring and help you make sure your website is up to par with some technical SEO tips, based on Google’s guidelines. You’ve almost reached the end of the SEO tutorial … forge on!

Related blog posts and articles:

Suffering from a Google penalty? Our SEO Penalty Assessment and optional Link Pruning services help businesses identify and recover from backlink profile issues. We can help.

FAQ: How can I effectively monitor and remove unwanted links from my website’s link profile?

Your website’s link profile quality is paramount for achieving higher search engine rankings and maintaining a reputable online presence. Unwanted or toxic links can severely hamper your SEO efforts. Therefore, monitoring and removing them effectively is essential to ensure your website’s success.

  1. Assess Your Current Link Profile

Begin by conducting a thorough audit of your website’s existing link profile. Use reliable SEO tools to identify your backlinks’ quantity and quality. This initial assessment will help you pinpoint potentially harmful links.

  1. Differentiate Between Toxic and Low-Quality Links

Not all undesirable links are necessarily toxic. While toxic links can severely impact your SEO, low-quality links may be irrelevant or outdated. Distinguish between the two to prioritize your efforts.

  1. Utilize Google Search Console

Google Search Console provides valuable data on the links pointing to your site. Monitor this information regularly to identify any issues or suspicious activity.

  1. Employ Backlink Analysis Tools

Leverage reputable backlink analysis tools such as Ahrefs, Moz, or SEMrush. These tools offer in-depth insights into your link profile and can help you spot harmful links.

  1. Contact Webmasters for Removal

For low-quality or irrelevant links, contact the webmasters of linking sites and politely request link removal. Maintain a record of your outreach efforts for future reference.

  1. Disavow Toxic Links

When dealing with toxic links, use Google’s Disavow Tool to inform the search engine that you want to disassociate from specific links. Follow Google’s guidelines closely to avoid unintended consequences.

  1. Monitor Progress Continuously

Regularly monitor your link profile to ensure that your efforts yield positive results. SEO is an ongoing process, and new links may appear over time.

  1. Maintain a Clean Profile

Consistently practicing good link hygiene is key. Regularly assess and remove undesirable links to maintain a healthy link profile.

  1. Build High-Quality Backlinks

To offset the removal of unwanted links, focus on building high-quality, relevant backlinks from reputable sources. This will strengthen your website’s authority.

  1. Stay Informed

Stay up-to-date with SEO best practices and algorithm updates to adapt your link profile management strategy accordingly. By following these steps diligently, you can effectively monitor and remove unwanted links from your website’s link profile. 

Step-by-Step Procedure: Monitoring and Removing Unwanted Links

  1. Perform a comprehensive audit of your website’s link profile.
  2. Differentiate between toxic and low-quality links.
  3. Utilize Google Search Console to monitor your link profile.
  4. Employ reputable backlink analysis tools for in-depth insights.
  5. Contact webmasters to request the removal of low-quality links.
  6. Disavow toxic links using Google’s Disavow Tool.
  7. Continuously monitor your link profile for changes.
  8. Maintain a clean link profile by regularly removing unwanted links.
  9. Focus on building high-quality backlinks from reputable sources.
  10. Stay informed about SEO best practices and algorithm updates.

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