Delete Urls With Bad Backlinks to Remove Google Penalty

By 19-06-2013   BloggingSEO

Why not delete a bad url on your site and 404 it if thousands of bad backlinks point to it to remove a Google penalty. Many webmasters are using the disavow tool to disregard links, but sometimes there may be thousands of them which might be difficult to find as well as disavow.  Remember that removing a huge bunch of  back links can also drop your search engine rankings. But what if there are a few specific urls which have the maximum burden of poor backlinks?

404 Bad Urls

404 errors

I read this detailed article about 404 errors on Google and how the Google algorithm deals with them. Clearly 404 errors are part of any website and are meant to signify gone content or wrong urls which do not exist and helps to keep search results for your site clean. Google says 404 urls don’t hurt your site rankings

So 404s don’t hurt my website at all? A: If some URLs on your site 404, this fact alone does not hurt you or count against you in Google’s search results.

In fact Google’s John Mueller has beeen quoted in this post that it is a good idea to 404 target pages with bad back links and it might help to recover from a bad penalty.

…if you have bad links you know are hurting your ranking, you can 404 page not found the page, remove the page the links are pointed at and Google will disavow those links.

Can redirecting bad target urls  remove the bad links penalty?  Moz clearly mentions that redirecting urls to new urls will not remove the penalty as the link juice will get passed on to the new urls as will all the bad backlinks referral. So it is better to remove and 404 these urls  if and only if you really believe that the url is the cause of your penalty.

If you redirect a single URL with bad backlinks attached to it, those bad links will then point to your new URL. In this case, it’s often better to simply drop the page with a 404 or 410, and let those links drop from the index.

Conclusion: So this basically means that if you believe that a particular page on your site is  badly affecting your domain rankings due to a huge amount of poor backlinks, you might consider moving it elsewhere and 404 the url. Remember to check site headers that the 404 error is properly configured.

Warning:  Note this will wipe out all link juice to your url so be absolutely sure (seek SEO expert advice) that the url is the cause of your penalty. An hurriedly done 404 of an acceptable url might make your traffic drop further! Be careful and know exactly what you are doing. When in doubt, always seek expert advice.

Our Story with Bad Backlinks

I have particular interest in this topic because as you would be aware we were hit by multiple Google Panda and Penguin updates, and though we tried to fix a lot of issues, the  damage was already done and a never ending algorithmic penalty (though Google says there is no manual penalty) is on our site with already 90% drop in traffic since the last year.

Why this post is relevant to us is that there were thousands of bad backlinks to the 3 WordPress theme pages which could not be removed, though a simple WP theme update by these sites will remove those links (but then spam sites never update). Considering this I find it a good idea to move the 3 theme pages on our site to new urls and 404 the old urls. So all the thousands of bad backlinks will loose their effect on our site and we might recover from the Google penalty.

There is a flipside also as a loss of thousands of backlinks might also mean a very severe wipe out of rankings (and Google might have already ignored them). But considering there is already a 90% drop in search engine traffic in the last year, its a chance we might take. What are your thoughts on this?

45 comments on “Delete Urls With Bad Backlinks to Remove Google Penalty

  1. AgentWP says:

    How do you 404 a URL in WordPress? Does simply deleting that page from WP and then removing it from Google search using the GWT does the job? Kindly clarify.

  2. P. Chandra says:

    Just delete the post. The article becomes 404. You can post the content on a new page/post and build links to it.

    Note that editing the slug of the url, changes the url, but this does a 301 redirect from the old to the new url.

    You need not remove the url from GWT. Google regularly crawls you site and the url will appear in the Crawl Errors> Url Errors report as a 404.

  3. Ankur says:

    @PC: I have been following you and labnol’s blog since late 2006 (that was the time I started blogging too) and have seen it all. Sad to know that you have lost 90% of your traffic.
    As you may be aware, Google is relying more and more on social signals these days. An immediate affect can be noticed if you do a proper Google authorship for your website. A quick search and I find that your profile pic does not appear alongside Google search snippets.
    You may notice an immediate effect if you can implement it.
    Let me know if you need any help. All the best!

  4. Ninika says:

    Very nice post. I am new to blogging and recently working on creating backlinks to improve traffic. Thanks for this post, this wiill surely help me.

  5. Christopher says:

    That’s a good point about the possible adverse effect. Initial thought is that removing bad links is a good thing, but if you don’t stop to really think about how linking really works it becomes clear that it could possibly harm your ratings too. 404’ing sounds like the right answer.

  6. AjeetIPB says:


    I am also suffering google’s panda and penguin as my site also lost thousands of backlinks. Please suggest some great idea to come up.
    SEO Training Institute

  7. Siddhartha Sinha says:


    By the way also 404 error should be removed as it is not giving the user any kind of result. Earlier that page was existing but right now not existing and for that reason 404 error is coming. It is better to remove the 404 Error page and also it will help website or blog owner to manage the pages of their websites easily.

    Siddhartha Sinha

  8. Pankaj Jain says:

    Hello chandra,
    Really nice article, only few questions…
    How can I get to know that there are bad backlinks on my blog??
    How can I find those bad backlinks on my site??

    • P. Chandra says:

      We used the link detox tool to find bad backlinks

  9. Rajesh Singh says:

    Great post, for SEO.
    If any SEO doing SEO for website if he/she see this error then he/she will try to remove 404 error first then proceed further.

  10. Dean Saliba says:

    What do you guys do if you receive an email asking you to remove a link that someone has left in the comments section of your blogs? I get this a lot and it is always as a result of a link build campaign that they have done. I charge them. :)

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