Google has gone to great lengths in the last few years to try and curb and (if needed) penalise sites that try to use tactics to manipulate its algorithms for their own gain. Most people with even a fundamental understanding of SEO know the important role that smart links play in ranking. 

However, not all links are created equal. Google is designed to penalise links it sees as “unnatural” but in some cases, elements of your link profile may be blurring the lines and hurting you, without you even knowing it. Here are some of the elements to keep in mind.

What are unnatural links? 

The overarching definition for unnatural links is any links that Google thinks were added artificially to inflate your page’s ranking. The reasoning for these being unnatural is that the link directs users to content that has no benefits for them. However, if you look further, there can be different subcategories for these types of links. For example, unnatural inbound links may include adding your link to the comments of a blog that isn’t necessarily related to it. For example, if you run an e-commerce site and add your link to the comments of a political blog, it will likely lead to issues.

There are other links that fall into this category as well. Links garnered through “link exchanges,” circular links between a network of sites, or links from low-quality directories all qualify. It can be difficult to keep track, especially if you’re a site with an established web presence.

Can you get a penalty from Google for unnatural links now? 

Very much so. In fact, Google is only likely to be giving out more penalties as it refines its algorithms further to target bad practices. If you’re on the fence, take a moment to think whether or not your link is adding any benefit to the end-user at all. If you’re struggling to think of it, the link may be unnatural.

How to find these links? 

You have a few options here, but the most exhaustive method is to perform a backlink audit. Find all the backlinks to your site in a tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs and see if any of the links you find qualify as unnatural.

How dangerous are unnatural links for SEO in 2020? 

These can have a major impact on your ranking if left unchecked. Checking your link profile should be a top priority for any SEO strategy.

When should you use the Google Disavow Tool? 

One of the most available methods to deal with this issue is the disavow tool in the Search Console that Google already offers. However, you don’t need to use it a ton of times. Ideally, you want to save this tool if you get an unnatural link warning, or an SEO professional warns you that there may be a problem.

How often should you carry out these manual actions? 

A backlink audit should be a regular cyclical part of your SEO plans. Using Google Disavow can be done on a case-by-case basis.

These links can quietly pose an issue for your overall ranking in terms of SEO. However, even as things improve here, you want to make sure that you’re not hamstringing your potential elsewhere. There can be deep-rooted SEO issues that are causing problems on a massive scale, and you don’t want to be caught in that scenario. The best way to protect yourself and your site is making sure that after using the disavow tool (if needed), follow up with a website SEO audit. Partnering with a digital marketing agency is the best way to get quality here.