Best Link Building Practices to Avoid Google Penalties

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Best Link Building Practices to Avoid Google Penalties
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  • Post last modified:February 15, 2024

Getting a penalty from Google is never good news. It can tank your website’s rankings and reduce your online visibility and the amount of organic traffic you are receiving. It is essentially the exact opposite of what you were trying to do when you incorporated backlinks into your website’s content in the first place.

Thankfully, there are several ways to avoid link penalties from Google. Read on as we give you a rundown of what causes link penalties and what you can do to prevent them.

1. What Are Google Link Penalties?

Google link penalties result from spam, unnatural, low-quality, and repetitive outbound and inbound links added to your website’s link profile. Google considers such links as a violation of its Webmaster guidelines.

Using these links can be viewed as an attempt to increase your site’s rankings with the help of artificial methods.

Google penalty issued for unnatural links
Google penalty issued for unnatural links

It’s important to remember that Google believes in delivering high-quality, relevant search results to web users. Using black-hat SEO tactics such as unnatural links go against the service Google wants to provide.

If Google sees anything artificial in your website’s link profile, it will investigate the issue. If there’s something unnatural about these links, Google will give you a penalty. That means that Google will no longer feature you in its search results. You could also get removed from the search engine’s index.

2. What Causes a Google Link Penalty?

A Google link penalty can result from a variety of things. For instance, according to SEMrush, 53% of penalization cases result from sponsored or paid links. Guest posts and press releases are also responsible for 45% of the penalties issued by Google. It takes at least two or three types of manipulative activities that trigger these penalties in most cases.

Top 10 Cases of Google Penalties according to Semrush study
Top 10 Cases of Google Penalties according to Semrush study

It is also important to remember that even if you added unnatural toxic backlinks years ago, Google might still take action against your website if it detects them.

Google can also issue penalties on direct ads and affiliate links, links in widgets, hidden links, and PBNs and link networks. It can penalize you for buying and selling links that are meant to attract traffic.

You can get a penalty if you exchange goods, services, or money for links. You can also get penalized if you send someone a complimentary item in exchange for an article about the item and post a link directing other readers to it.

3. How Can You Avoid Google Penalties for Backlinks?

Google usually doesn’t provide any examples of bad backlinks. This means that you might have to wait for six months to have a penalty removed. It can also take up to two or three reconsideration requests to get a Google penalty lifted.

Fortunately, several ways can help you avoid receiving a penalty from Google. Let’s take a look at some of the best practices you can adopt for this.

3.1 Make Sure You Have an Authentic Link Profile

As mentioned earlier, Google examines your website’s link profile before handing you a penalty. The best thing you can do here is to get ahead of the problem by analyzing your website’s link profile in advance. This can help you see if any unnatural or harmful backlinks may raise red flags.

If you notice such links, you should remove them immediately before Google sees them and hands you a penalty. We recommend doing these audits once a month.

Remember, link building is an essential part of SEO. If you want to have a robust link profile, you should consider creating fresh, relevant, and high-quality content that other websites can easily link back to. This can significantly improve your credibility.

You should also add outbound links that relate to your niche. For example, if your website focuses on organic skincare, you don’t want to add outbound links to websites about engine repairs. Such irrelevant links can get flagged as an attempt to manipulate your website’s ranking, and you don’t want that.

If you find such links on your website, you must remove them immediately and consider replacing them with something more relevant.

3.2 Be More Responsible About Sponsored Content

Sponsored content and guest posts are a great way to improve your link profile. It also helps you attract organic traffic and enhance your website’s ranking. However, once again, you need to be conscious about how you go about this.

For example, sometimes, you can get a backlink penalty if you use specific phrases next to a keyword-rich link in anchor text. Some of the most common terms that can trigger a penalty here include “This article was sponsored by,” “Advertorial post on behalf of,” or “This information was provided by,” followed by a link. If you use such phrases and fail to disclose a partnership, the Google team might consider it a red flag and penalize you.

To avoid this, we recommend you use proper sponsored attributes when you place a link to your offering on another website. You should also keep the use of keyword-rich anchor text to a minimum. We recommend diversifying the keywords used, as well. This way, you won’t have multiple backlinks attached to the exact keywords or anchor text.

Similar rules apply to guest posts. You should avoid using exact-match keywords as anchor text for link-building purposes. This would violate Google’s guidelines.

Once again, it is essential to create guest posts that relate to your niche. This can allow you to introduce any anchor text organically to align with the content of the article.

Further readings on sponsored content:

3.3 Be Smart About Anchor Texts

We discussed the use of anchor texts and how it can lead to a backlink penalty. Now, let’s take a look at how you should be using anchor texts.

Anchor texts are phrases that hyperlink to another website or document. Marketers sometimes use anchor texts by stuffing in keywords related to their niche and adding links to their website. As we have mentioned, Google can penalize such actions.

To avoid such penalties, you can utilize your company or your brand’s name as anchor text. This can offer more exposure to your brand and allow you to add promotional links without running the risk of a penalty.

3.4 Don’t Compromise User Experience for Link-Building

You don’t want to forgo user experience in favor of building links or posting advertorial content. Google ranks websites based on the quality and relevancy of a user’s search query.

If your website carries content that users will find helpful, then Google will rank it accordingly. However, if you arrange the content in a way such that visitors are immediately greeted with a million ads and have to scroll down to read the actual content, then your website might get penalized by Google.

Remember, Google prioritizes user experience as an SEO ranking factor. Therefore, if your website has a poor layout with too many ads, you can consider redesigning it and making sure users can easily see the content as soon as they click on a web page.

3.5 Keep an Eye on User-Generated Spam

Your website’s backlink profile can also suffer due to user-generated spam. You can find such spam links in forum posts, user profiles, and comments. Google usually doesn’t consider spam links in profiles to determine your website’s credibility.

However, it can still penalize you for spam that has been posted using apps designed for such a purpose. Some spam links are also hidden behind relevant promotions and contact details. Unfortunately, your competitors can also link bad links to your website to hurt its search engine rankings.

To avoid penalties from these sources, you can do the following:

Step 1: Identify Spam Links

The first thing you can do is use a tool to identify the bad links that point to your website. You can use tools like Moz, SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Monitor Backlinks for flagging toxic links and taking action against them.

Step 2: Contact the Webmaster

Next, you can contact the website owner and ask for the links to be removed. This usually doesn’t work. However, Google requires you to try before you proceed to the next step.

Step 3: Create a Disavow File

Finally, you can create a ‘disavow’ file of spammy links related to your website that Google should ignore. You can add specific URLs in the file or add a particular domain and ask Google to ignore all links from this particular domain.

It’s essential to use the Disavow Links tool carefully. Here are some tips to keep in mind here:

Tip 1: Analyze your backlinks profile carefully, so you don’t end up removing high-quality backlinks that hurt your organic ranking.

Tip 2: Be patient after you submit a file. Google takes a while to process a disavow file, and you will need to wait for your ranking to recover.

3.6 Make Your Website More Secure

Another practice that you can look into to avoid penalties is investing in website security. This doesn’t directly relate to your website’s link profile, but it does add to your website’s credibility.

If your website is vulnerable to cyberattacks, Google will look at it unfavorably. This is usually out of your hands.

Unfortunately, Google disagrees. After all, if a hacker decides to go after your website, what can you do? If your website gets hacked, any sensitive user information could get leaked. Given Google’s emphasis on a safe user experience, this can hurt your rankings and lead to a penalty.

Making sure your website is secured correctly can prevent this. You can have website security experts go over your website with a fine toothcomb to detect any potential avenues of attack and secure your website appropriately.

Ensuring your website is secure can also attract more users and encourage them to share your information with you. It’s a win-win!

3.7 Avoid Listing Your Website on Low-Quality Business Directories

Business directories can help you improve your online presence. They can boost local searches and increase your brand awareness and reach. They also help enhance your brand’s reputation and allow you to receive more online reviews and feedback from customers.

That said, listing your website on the wrong business directory can also lead to a Google penalty. If your website is only listed on low-quality directories, it could create problems for you, and you can get flagged by Google. How do you differentiate a well-reputed directory from a poor one, though? Here are some tips that can help:

Check Who Is Running the Directory

A high-quality directory is manned by human editors who manually review each submission. If you are using a directory that auto-accepts URL suggestions, there is a good chance it carries low-quality websites that could hurt your website.

Take a Look at the Indexation Rate

You should check the indexation rate of the directory. This refers to the number of individual pages within the directory website that have been indexed by google. To do this, you can type “” and replace the with the directory’s URL. If Google fetches a limited number of results compared to the directory’s size, it is best to steer clear of it.

See if the Directory is Popular

An easy way to check if you are using the right directory for your listings is by seeing if the directory is performing well in terms of trust and link popularity. Several free online tools can help you do this.

Check the Layout and Design of the Directory

Finally, you can also discern the quality of a directory based on its visual layout and how it has been designed. For example, if the directory is flooded with Google ads and the content is full of grammatical mistakes. There’s a chance you are looking at a directory that is only meant to generate money and does not act as a helpful resource for users.

3.8 Keep a Close Eye on Widgets

Widgets are web-based mini-apps that contain a link to your website. This link can be taken and added to a page on another website. You can provide a widget to another website that displays your links on their page. In doing so, it provides a backlink to your website. If you choose to do this, you must add a no-follow attribute to avoid getting a penalty.

If you cannot add a no-follow attribute, you can disavow the links using the earlier method. Remember that you do not need to disavow links that direct to a relevant topic on your website. Some widgets also require you to link back to the service provider behind the widget. This can create problems for you too.

3.9 Avoid Adding Any Hidden Links

As per Google’s guidelines, adding hidden links to improve your search rankings can be considered as deception, and you can get a penalty for violating Google’s Webmaster guidelines. Website owners typically hide links by disguising them as plain text. They can also:

  • Locate the text or the link behind an image
  • Set the font size to zero to hide the text
  • Link only a small character such as a period or a hyphen in a paragraph.

To avoid such penalties, we recommend you make all links visible. You should also add a no-follow attribute. If a hidden link is hurting your website’s link profile, then you can request for it to be removed. You can also disavow the link if the first option does not work.

3.10 Check for Other Links

Some backlinks tend to be located in places like your website’s footer or sidebar. For instance, if you have an inbound link with text such as “Powered by A-Company” or “This Website Has Been Designed by B-Company,” you should ensure there are no keywords present here to a Google penalty.

Once again, you can avoid a penalty here by setting a no-follow attribute, replacing the anchor text by removing keywords, and disavowing the link.

You can also keep an eye out for links related to adult content, scholarship links, and links in podcasts. For scholarship links, these links focus on generating traffic from websites with a .edu domain suffix. If you are making an irrelevant offer here, then it could lead to a Google penalty.


And that brings our discussion on best link-building practices to an end.

Remember, it’s essential to conduct an audit of your website’s link profiles to keep an eye on spammy, toxic, and harmful backlinks. You should also be smart about sponsored content and guest posts and avoid using keywords in any anchor text you use. Inserting your brand name as anchor text is much better.

Besides this, we suggest you monitor user-generated spam and disavow links where necessary. We also recommend checking for hidden links and prioritizing user experience over link-building.

Most of these problems can be avoided if you use reputable SEO article writing services. Such services can help you create relevant and high-quality backlinks that add value to your website’s link profile.

What’s your go-to method for link-building to boost your website’s ranking? Let us know!


Daniel is the founder of COMPETICO digital agency. Since 2014 he helps digital businesses COMPETE SMARTER and WIN BIGGER through SEO, and Competitive Intelligence.