does those bad and broken backlinks really hurt your search engine rankings?

What is a back link?

A back link is a (web) link back to your webpage from another webpage in another web node. Although internal links are also technically back links, external links (mostly) are more relevant from the context of SEO. So, a back link typically is a web link in a webpage that resides on another domain that your own. Backlinks are also referred to as incoming links or inbound links.

There are several different ways to track your back links. None of the methods are perfect or all inclusive. But it is good practice to monitor or keep track of your back links regularly without spending a whole lot of time or effort.

What is a bad backlink?

First, we need to define what a bad link is. This is the first hurdle…And also we will start with the assumption that "bad back links" hurt the rankings in search engines.

A bad back link can be defined as a link that will negatively hurt the rankings of the webpage in search engines. Why it affects the rankings can be due to a lot of reasons.

A commonly accepted example of bad link is a link back from spam websites or a link farm. In the good old days of search engines, the most important factor affecting the rankings was the quantity of back links for the page. The quality of the back link did not matter as much, because of varying reasons. So, many people minted a lot of money by creating websites that had pages with linkbacks to other websites. They charged money for each link back and the site itself did not have much content of worth.

So, is paid links bad?

Paid links are bad for SEO in the sense that you did not earn the back link due to quality of your content. But then it comes down on how the search engine can detect and ensure that the link is actually a paid link. If the backlink is from a domain (or also known as link farms) that is known to have or supported paid links, then you could be penalized because it is a fair assumption that you have paid for the link as well.

If your paid link is from a domain that has not been categorized as a link farm or as site with questionable reputation, then you might be able to get away with it. The risk you take is that the domain might be detected as a link farm in the future. The search engines are constantly monitoring and categorizing webpage and domains.

So, the next question is how do search engines differentiate between organic and paid links?

As it was mentioned earlier, the domain reputation is a big factor in this. The search engine indexes and analyzes every page and link in the domain. There are sophisticated algorithmns that can categorize domains by both the site content as well as the backlinks. Even though these algorithmns can be pretty accurate, there can always be false positives as well.

Sometimes, it is not uncommon to find that your content has been copied by some shady websites and you have a back link from the site even without you paying for it. You can always request the website to remove your content and backlink, and good luck with that. More often than not, you will have difficulty even contacting the webmasters of these websites.

So, if search engines know the bad domains and know that it is a bad back link, why don't they just ignore it?

Actually they do. You are not getting any SEO brownie points for back links from known paid link farms and low quality sites. Search engines hates when you try to manipulate their algorithm!! And, paid links is considered to be an attempt to do so. They are trying to stop this manipulation of the algorithmn.

You might remember that not so long ago, Google had Page Ranks and Domain Ranks for webpages and websites, and every SEO expert was obsessed with it. Page Rank itself was an attempt at differentiating between bad sites and good sites. Google has since forth deprecated the Page Rank factor, but I am sure there are other factor that take the domains into consideration.

So, the question that search engines need to know is how actively you are pursuing these black hat SEO tactics? If you are not actively doing it and the bad backlinks are just accidental then it is very unlikely that you will be penalized. These bad backlinks are going to be a very small percentage of the total links anyways.

Yeah, so forget about it…

It is very unlikely that bad backlinks are negatively hurting your rankings unless it is a large percentage of your back links. Even if you have some bad links, work towards getting more "good" back links which will diminish the overall importance of those bad links. The bigger your website gets, the more the number of junk low quality websites that are linking back to you. It just becomes a game of whack-a-mole…..which is a waste of time.

Having said that, Google does have a disavow tool where you can disavow your bad backlinks (at least the ones that you know about). You should not spend a whole lot of time disavowing every single bad backlink. Unless you know for sure that a particular back link is hurting your website, you need not be worried about it.