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
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?