What Types of Inbound Links Trigger a Google Penalty?

The most important part of any SEO strategy is to build high-quality backlinks. Backlinks are important for your search engine rankings, visibility, and site traffic. However, the quality of those links is also important. They can be a considerable threat if not managed. This is because Google enforces strict sanctions and penalties. This is why you should take care of your backlinks strategy. You should also make informed decisions about them or hire professional help to manage them for you. So knowing what types of inbound links trigger a Google penalty is important. This will save you a lot of trouble both in 2022 and the upcoming 2023.

The consequences

It is not uncommon to see your traffic fall to zero just overnight. Many websites have had that experience.  This happens when Google algorithms find unwanted practices on your site. Black hat SEO if detected by google bots can get you penalized immediately. Some practices however go by with just a warning from Google. However, if you get penalized your traffic flatlines. This means that Google has completely removed you from the search or enforced a partial removal. Either way, you are losing your rank within google search and not showing up as a result meaning that you are not visible by search engines. This is the worst-case scenario for any SEO expert and an unwanted result of the SEO effort. Having issues like this is a cause for further investigation and a better understanding of the way Google penalties work and the unwanted practices it does not tolerate.

Google sigh because its watching what types of inbound Links trigger a google penalty
Google is following your activities searching for misconduct and violations of its policies and common practices

The cause

While building your SEO strategy you also build up your backlink profile. This is a set of both inbound and outbound links leading from or to your website. The key is to create a natural backlink profile. This means that you provide website content that is interesting and important to people so that they are inclined to link it or share it. At the same time, you are also linking to quality and relevant content on other sites. In this way, linking occurs naturally increasing the value of your website and increasing its popularity and rank. However, your backing profile can get corrupted and can get labeled unnatural.

This happens when Google algorithms conclude that linking is against its set of rules. These links are then labeled artificial, misleading, deceptive, and manipulative. Such labeling and, as a consequence, google penalty, happen when the website follows spammy practices, offers poor quality content, performs keyword stuffing or scrape content, and so on. So, you may be penalized by Google for the inbound backlinks that you have no control over. Since acquiring these links may occur without you knowing it is important to audit your profile. You should do it once a month to try and find out inbound links that can get you penalized. You should then react and get those links revoked to stay protected.

Backlink profile

To preserve your backlink profile you have to invest considerable time. You are not in control of your inbound links but you can get them listed and analyzed. Once you know what types of inbound links trigger a Google penalty, you can react and get them disavowed to preserve your rank. So you should audit your profile at least once a month. But, to ensure proper management of your profile you must know what types of unbound links trigger a Google penalty. Although they provide some guidance, Google is not clear about its criteria and how its bots work but, certain analyses provide some data. So the data shows that the predominant reasons for penalties are:

  • Sponsored and paid links
  • Guest posts and press releases
  • PBN and link networks
  • User-generated spam

Besides these, there are many other practices and factors but these are the largest.

A pie char and graph of a website
Make sure you audit your backlink’s profile from time to time to make sure that it is healthy and up to regulation

Sponsored and paid backlinks

These types of backlinks cause more than half (53%) of all the penalties. Incoming links that contain certain wording may imply the sponsored character of the link. Phrases like “article is sponsored by…” or “information provided by…” may trigger Google penalties. To avoid it make sure to format the text as nofollow or “sponsored”.

Guest posts and press releases

This reason accounts for 45% of all penalties. Google recognizes when posts or press releases use keywords in anchor text purely for link building. These links do not contribute to the user and are in violation go google guidelines. So, to avoid being penalized you should avoid using keyword-rich anchor text, avoid straightforward promotions and discard this risky practice.

PBN and link networks

As much as 27 % of penalties are caused by this practice. This is a clear black hat SEO that is expected to lead to penalties. The only way to prevent penalties is to have every link deleted or disavowed. The main characteristics of PBN networks are: they use free blogging networks and use the same keywords without variations, they are recent or changed ownership recently, and they have weak traffic and low authority. This is why PBNs are easy to spot and are subject to penalties. But there are ways to build your PBN links the right way so you can get away without being penalized.

User-generated spam

This form of spam causes 16% of the penalties. Google claims not to use this sort of spam as the reason for sanctions but the practice and data do not support this claim. This spam is caused by links provided by users in their posts and signatures. As they are the result of user activities even trustworthy and reputable sites are victims of this practice. Sites can protect themselves by disavowing these links and this practice.

Other inbound link triggers

Besides these, there are other triggers that may cause a Google penalty. They have a relatively low percentage but are of importance nonetheless. Sometimes these practices go by without getting a penalty, but these should also be avoided to be on the safe side. So, to be thorough, we should also mention and analyze them. Here is a list of other factors that can cause a penalty by Google.

  • Spam,
  • Web directories and link listings,
  • Direct ads and affiliate links,
  • Links in widgets,
  • Business links from directories,
  • Hidden and
  • Sitewide links.

All of these can cause considerable problems if found by Google. Also, consider that Google does not consider the longevity of a link. You may have had a bad inbound link for years and once Google finds it can issue a penalty as it does for your new bad links.

SEO made from scrabble peaces
Your SEO strategy is dependent on knowing what types of inbound links trigger a Google penalty and which tools to use to control the health of your backlinks


There is zero tolerance for any pure spam that Google finds. So, make sure to remove and disavow such links and make it a rule not to use our spam in your SEO. Also do not use sneaky redirects, keyword stuffing, or irrelevant links to the topic at hand. These are also considered pure spam.

Web directories

Listings and web directories can be a source of many toxic inbound links. These links can usually be distributed through a large number of listings generating a large number of links. Usually up to 5 such links are not enough to trigger a penalty but you should be careful. So, do monthly audits of these types of links and disavow them or get them removed immediately. Monitor traffic from these sources and their effect on your SERP. Create a policy to only use high-quality and reputable websites for your business listings.

Direct ads and affiliate links

Try not to use direct ads and affiliate links in the form of Buy now or Sign up now. These are the cause of penalties. Google requires that you use these sorts of marketing ads only with a “nofollow” or “sponsored” attribute. Knowing about the use of “nofollow” and “do-follow” attributes here becomes very important. Any such links you must eliminate if the mentioned attributes find not work and still cause a penalty.

Tablet with widgets on it
Widgets can be a source of these types of links


Using widgets is a common practice to drive traffic to your website from some other sources, with an embedded code to your website. Google however demands that this code incorporates a “nofollow” attribute. This is the reason to disavow or remove such widgets if they do not have the attribute. In addition, you should be careful not to use widgets directing traffic to other websites. These third-party widgets are usually dofollow so their use can put you in danger of triggering a penalty. There is an exception that is connected to using widgets in this way. Google tolerates widgets that direct traffic to a specific topic on your webpage or topic-based pages.

Business links from directories

Using business directories is s good way of promoting your company. There is nothing wrong with this practice but in some 10% of cases using these directories can trigger a penalty. This becomes an issue if you are using directories that are not reputable and are of low quality. Backlinks from these kinds of directories and listings can cause you considerable trouble. So, try not to use low-quality directories and disavow or get such links removed as soon as possible.

Hidden links

Using hidden links is a direct infringement of Google’s rules and a deliberate action. Some sites can use links disguised as plain text which is the direct cause for the penalties. This means that you should refrain from this practice and use only visible links. You should also request the removal of any such link or disavow it immediately.

Sitewide links

Using sitewide links is not an uncommon practice. These types of links are usually located at the top or bottom of each page on a website. They usually promote the creator or designer of a website or the platform that hosts the website. Either way, these links can trigger a penalty if they do not have a nofollow attribute. Dealing with such links requires immediate reaction aimed at their removal or disavowing. Using these links by replacing anchor text can also work so do not neglect them and be sure to take action.

SEO audit made of scrabble letters
Make sure to perform regular audits to preserve your backlink profile

Penalty recovery

All of the see inbound links can cause you to get a Google penalty. Although there are ways of recovering from these sorts of penalties they can cause you considerable damage. Removing you from SERP and making you invisible to search engines can be a considerable blow to your SEO effort, website traffic results, and ultimately, company profits. Recovery usually takes a lot of time and effort. There is a considerable amount of effort that goes into making changes and corrections that will lift the penalty. The effect of these changes is also not instantaneous but demands communication with Google and making a case out of the process. All of this prolongs the time you are under penalty and multiplies the negative effects you experience.

So, knowing about these factors is important for preventing them. Identifying these risk factors is the key to controlling them and avoiding such a disastrous outcome that may come from a Google penalty. Knowing when and how to use the disavow tools here is important and necessary. This is even more important today in 2022 when there is an even higher impact of the internet, SERP, and online visibility on your business performance and results. Prevention and strict self-control is the key to avoiding such situations. So this further emphasizes the importance of the control of your backlink profile.

How to control inbound links

Knowing just how and what types of inbound links trigger a Google penalty is the first step in controlling the. The key advice is to audit your site and backlinks profile. This will allow you to have them deleted or disavowed if deletion is not possible. Make sure you use new tools that allow you to do analyze your situation quickly. Also, use service providers that can utilize a warning system to notify you in advance. To take proper action and protect yourself from penalties it is good to utilize all of the resources at your disposal. Simply knowing what types of inbound links can get you in trouble is the first and most important step. Once you identify the threat you can take action and implement tools that can protect you and keep you safe.

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