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Top 7 SEO Keyword Research Tools For Agencies

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Top 7 SEO Keyword Research Tools For Agencies

All successful SEO campaigns rely on accurate, comprehensive data. And that process starts with the right keyword research tools.

Sure, you can get away with collecting keyword data manually on your own. But while you may be saving the cost of a premium tool, manual keyword research costs you in ot

her ways:

  • Efficiency. Doing keyword research manually is time intensive. How much is an hour of your time worth?
  • Comprehensiveness. Historical and comprehensive data isn’t easy to get on your own. It’s too easy to miss out on vital information that will make your SEO strategy a success.
  • Competition. Keyword research tools allow you to understand not only what users are searching for but also what your competition focuses on. You can quickly identify gaps and find the best path to profitability and success.
  • Knowledge. Long-time SEO experts can craft their own keyword strategies with a careful analysis of the SERPs, but that requires years of practice, trial, and costly errors. Not everyone has that experience. And not everyone has made enough mistakes to avoid the pitfalls.

A good SEO keyword research tool eliminates much of the guesswork. Here are seven well-known and time-tested tools for SEO that will get you well on the way to dominating your market.

1. Google Keyword Planner

Screenshot from Google Keyword Planner, January 2023

Cost: Free.

Google Keyword Planner is a classic favorite.

It’s free, but because the information comes directly from the search engine, it’s reliable and trustworthy. It’s also flexible, allowing you to:

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  • Identify new keywords.
  • Find related keywords.
  • Estimate the number of searches for each variation.
  • Estimate competition levels.

The tool is easy to access and available as a web application and via API, and it costs nothing; it just requires a Google Ads account.

You must also be aware of a few things when using this tool.

First, these are estimates based on historical data. That means if trends change, it won’t necessarily be reflected here.

Google Keyword Planner also can’t tell you much about the SERP itself, such as what features you can capitalize on and how the feature converts.

Because it’s part of Google Ads, PPC experience can help you gain more insights. You’ll find trends broadly across a demographic or granular level, like a city, region, or major city.

Google Keyword Planner also tends to combine data for similar keywords. So, if you want to know if [keyword near me] is better than [keywords near me], you’ll need a different tool.

Lastly, the tool uses broad definitions of words like “competition,” which doesn’t tell you who is ranking for the term, how much they’re investing to hold that ranking, or how likely you are to unseat them from their coveted top 10 rankings.

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That being said, it’s an excellent tool if you just want to get a quick look or fresh ideas, if you’d like to use an API and create your own tools, or simply prefer to do the other tasks yourself.

2. Keyword.io

Cost: Free, $29 per month, and $49 per month.

If Google’s Keyword Planner isn’t quite enough, but you’re on a tight budget, Keyword.io may be the alternative you need. It also has different features.

Keyword.io uses autocomplete APIs to pull basic data for several sites and search engines, including Google, Amazon, eBay, Bing, Wikipedia, Alibaba, YouTube, Yandex, Fiverr, and Fotolia. This is perfect for niche clients and meeting specific needs.

It also has a Question/Intent Generator, an interactive topic explorer, and a topical overview tool.

In its user interface (UI), you’ll find an easy-to-use filter system and a chart that includes the competition, search volume, CPC, and a few other details about your chosen keywords.

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It does have some limits, however.

You can run up to 20,000 keywords per seed with a limit of 100 requests per day (five per minute) or 1,000 requests per day (10 per minute) on its paid plans.

Its API access, related keywords tool, Google Ad data, and other features are also limited to paid accounts.

3. Semrush

Semrush's keyword toolScreenshot from Semrush

Cost: $119.95 to $449.95 per month.

In its digital marketing suite, Semrush offers a collection of six keyword tools and four competitive analysis tools with a database of more than 21 billion keywords.

You can get a full overview of the keywords you’re watching, including paid and organic search volume, intent, competition, CPC, historical data, SERP analysis, and more.

You’ll get related keywords and questions, as well as a ton of guidance, ideas, and suggestions from the Semrush Magic, Position Tracking, and Organic Traffic Insights tools.

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The Keyword Planner, however, is where much of the magic happens.

The organic competitor tab makes it easy to spot content and keyword gaps. Expand them and develop clusters that will help you grab traffic and conversions.

You can also see long-tail keyword data and other data to see what Page 1 holds regarding competition, difficulty, and opportunities at a broad or hyperlocal level.

The full suite of tools is a huge benefit. Teams can collaborate, share insights, and plan.

The seamless integration allows you to integrate your data, meaning teams can easily collaborate, share insights, and strategize.

And when you’re done, it can track everything you need for a successful digital marketing strategy.

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Some of the tools they offer include:

  • On-page SEO tools.
  • Competitive analysis suite.
  • Log file analysis.
  • Site auditing.
  • Content marketing tools.
  • Marketing analysis.
  • Paid advertising tools.
  • Local SEO tools.
  • Rank tracking.
  • Social media management.
  • Link-building tools.
  • Amazon marketing tools.
  • Website monetization tools.

Semrush’s best features when it comes to keyword research are its historical information and PPC metrics.

You can deep dive into campaigns and keywords to unlock the secrets of the SERPs and provide agency or in-house teams with priceless information they don’t usually access.

4. Moz Keyword Explorer

Keyword Research Tool From MozScreenshot from Moz, January 2023

Cost: Free for 10 queries per month. $99-$599 per month.

With a database of more than 500 million keywords, Moz Keyword Explorer may be a great option if you’re looking to build a strategy rather than get a quick view of the data for a few keywords.

Moz has long been a leader in the SEO space.

Constantly updating and improving its Keyword Explorer Tool and its other core services, Moz keeps up with the trends and is well known for providing SEO professionals with the latest tools. And it has done so for more than a decade.

Like the Google Keyword Tool, Moz’s keyword planning tool provides information on the difficulty and monthly search volume for terms. It also lets you drill down geographically.

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When you start, you’ll find the Keyword Overview, which provides monthly search volumes, ranking difficulty, organic click-through opportunities, and an estimated priority level.

You can also:

  • Find new relevant keywords you should be targeting but aren’t.
  • Learn how your site performs for keywords.
  • Find areas where you can improve your SEO (including quick wins and larger investments).
  • Prioritize keywords for efficient strategy creation.
  • Top SERP analysis and features.
  • Competitor analysis.
  • Organic click-through rates.

Unlike the Google Keyword Tool, however, Moz supplies you with data beyond the basics. Think of it like keyword research and SERP analysis.

Moz does tend to have fewer keyword suggestions. And like Google’s Keyword Planner, it provides range estimates for search data rather than a specific number.

However, the database is updated frequently, so you can feel confident that you’re keeping up with the constant change in consumer search habits and rankings.

Plus, it’s easy to use, so teams can quickly take care of marketing tasks like finding opportunities, tracking performance, identifying problem areas, and gathering page-level details.

Moz also offers several other tools to help you get your site on track and ahead of the competition, but we really like it for its keyword research and flexibility.

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5. Ahrefs Keyword Explorer

Cost: $99-$999 per month.

If I had to describe Ahrefs in one word, it would be power.

Enter a word into the search box, and you’re presented with multiple panels that can tell you everything you want to know about that keyword.

Total search volume, clicks, difficulty, the SERP features, and even a volume-difficulty distribution. And while it may look like a lot, all the information is well-organized and clearly presented.

Ahrefs provides terms in a parent-child topic format, providing the terms with context, so you can easily learn more about the terms, such as intent, while identifying overlap and keeping it all easy to find and understand.

These topics appear when you search for a related term, including the term’s ranking on the SERP, SERP result type, first-page ranking difficulty scores, and a snapshot of the user-delivered SERP. You can stay broad or narrow it all down by city or language.

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Ahrefs can get a bit expensive. Agencies may find it difficult to scale if they prefer several user or client accounts, but it’s still one of the best and most reliable keyword research tools on the market.

What I really like about Ahrefs is that it’s thorough. It has one of the largest databases of all the tools available (19.2 billion keywords, 10 search engines, and 242 countries at the time of writing), and it’s regularly updated.

It makes international SEO strategies a breeze and includes data for everything from Google and Bing to YouTube and Amazon.

Plus, they clearly explain their metrics and database. And that level of transparency means trust.

Other tools in the suite include:

  • Site Explorer.
  • Site auditing.
  • Rank tracking.
  • Content Explorer.

6. SERanking

SERanking's Keyword Research ToolScreenshot from SERanking, November 2022.

Cost: $23.52-$239 per month, depending on the ranking check and payment frequency.

SERanking shines as a keyword research tool within an all-around SEO toolkit. SERanking helps you keep costs down while offering features that allow agencies to meet clients’ unique needs.

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One of the first things you’ll notice when you log in is its intuitive user interface. But this tool isn’t just another pretty online tool.

Its database is robust.

SERanking’s U.S. database includes 887 million keywords, 327 million U.S. domains, and 3 trillion indexed backlinks. And this doesn’t include its expansive European and Asian databases.

The overview page provides a solid look at the data, which includes search volume, the CPC, and a difficulty score.

SERanking also provides lists of related and low-volume keywords if you need inspiration or suggestions, as well as long-tail keyword suggestions with information about SERP features, competition levels, search volume, and other details you need to know to identify new opportunities.

Of course, identifying keywords is only the start of the mystery. How do you turn keywords into conversions? SERanking provides keyword tools that help you answer this question.

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You can find out who the competition is in the organic results and see who is buying search ads, as well as details like estimated traffic levels and copies of the ads they’re using.

This allows you to see what’s working, gain insights into the users searching for those terms, and generate new ideas to try.

SERanking offers agency features, such as white labeling, report builders, lead generator, and other features you’ll find helpful.

However, one of the features agencies might find most helpful in keyword research is SERanking’s bulk keyword analysis, which lets you run thousands of keywords and download full reports for all the terms that matter.

Other tools in the SERanking Suite include:

  • Keyword Rank Tracker.
  • Keyword Grouper.
  • Keyword Suggestions and Search Volume Checker.
  • Index Status checker.
  • Backlink Checker.
  • Backlink monitoring.
  • Competitive research tool.
  • Website auditing tool.
  • On-page SEO Checker.
  • Page Changes Monitor.
  • Social media analytics.
  • Traffic analysis.

SERanking is more affordable than some of the other tools out there, but it does come at a cost.

It isn’t as robust as some of its competitors and doesn’t get as granular in the same way, but it still provides the features and data you need to create a successful SEO strategy.

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And with its flexible pricing, this tool is well worth considering.

7. BrightEdge Data Cube

Cost: Custom pricing model.

If you’re looking for an AI-powered digital marketing tool suite that includes a quality research tool, BrightEdge may be the right option for you.

Unlike other tools that focus on supplying you with data and ways to analyze that data, BrightEdge looks to do much of the time-consuming analysis for you.

Among its search, content, social, local, and mobile solutions, you’ll find Data Cube – an AI-backed content and keyword tool that uses natural language processing to find related topics and keywords.

You’ll also encounter DataMind, an AI that helps you find search trends, changes in consumer behaviors, and important competitor movements you need to know about.

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The two together make it quick and easy to perform keyword research, build out topics, create content strategies, and strengthen your SEO plans.

Once you enter a topic or broad keyword, the tool will provide you with relevant keywords, the search volume, competition levels, keyword value, it’s universal listing, and the number of words in the phrase.

Filter the results by a custom set of criteria to narrow the list down and get the necessary information.

Once you have a list, select the ones you want to keep and download them or use them with BrightEdge’s other tools to create full strategies and gain more insights.

This could include competitor analysis, analyzing SERP features, intent, or other tasks.

For agencies that provide local SEO, BrightEdge also offers HyperLocal, which helps you find and track keywords and keyword performance at the local level.

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When you’re done, give the Opportunity Forecasting and tracking tools a try to monitor your progress and provide clients with the information they care about.

Perhaps the nicest feature for agencies is its Storybuilder – a reporting tool that allows you to create rich client reports that provide clients with targeted overviews and the data they’re most interested in.

If this sounds like the right tool for you, the company gives demos, but there are a few things you should consider.

First, it only updates once per month. And while the company keeps its pricing close to the chest, this digital marketing tool suite is a significant investment. It may not be the best choice if keyword research is the only thing you need.

Secondly, while the tools are highly sophisticated and refined, there is a learning curve to get started.

You’ll also discover that there are limits on features like keyword tracking, and it can be time-consuming to set up, with some adjustments requiring technical support.

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Lastly, BrightEdge’s keyword research tool doesn’t let you get too far into the weeds and doesn’t include PPC traffic.

That aside, agencies and larger brands will find that it scales easily, has a beautifully designed UI, and makes you look great to clients.

The Best Agency SEO Keyword Research Tools

This list only contains seven of the many tools available today to help you get your keyword research done to an expert degree.

But no matter how many of the tools we share with you or which ones, it’s important to understand that none are flawless.

Each tool has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, so selecting a platform is very much dependent on the types of clients that you typically work with and personal preference.

In reality, you’ll likely find that you prefer to work between a few tools to accomplish everything you’d like.

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Google Keyword Planner and Keyword.io are top choices when you want a quick look at the data, or you’d like to export the data to work on elsewhere. You may even want to use this data with the other tools mentioned in this chapter.

Ahrefs, Moz, Semrush, and BrightEdge are far more robust and are better suited to agency SEO tasks.

While not free (although they offer free plans or a trial period except BrightEdge), they allow you to really dig into the search space, ultimately resulting in higher traffic, more conversions, and stronger SEO strategies. These benefits require more time and often come with a learning curve.

By far, the most important keyword research tool you have access to is you.

Keyword research is more than simply choosing the keywords with the biggest search volume or the phrase with the lowest Cost Per Click (CPC).

It’s your expertise, experience, knowledge, and insights that transform data into digital marketing you can be proud of.

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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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Websites Created With Google Business Profiles To Shut Down In March

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Websites Created With Google Business Profiles To Shut Down In March

Do you have a website created through Google Business Profiles for your local business?

If so, you must find an alternative website solution as Google plans to shut down websites created with Google Business Profiles in March.

Websites Created With Google Business Profiles Will Redirect Until June 10, 2024

A redirect will be put in place from your GBP website to your Google Business Profile until June 10, 2024.

“Websites made with Google Business Profiles are basic websites powered by the information on your Business Profile.

In March 2024, websites made with Google Business Profiles will be turned off and customers visiting your site will be redirected to your Business Profile instead.

The redirect will work until June 10, 2024.”

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How To Find Out If You Have A Google Business Profile Website

To find out if your business has a website made with Google Business Profile, search for my business or your business name on Google. Once you find your Google Business Profile, edit your profile and check for your website in the contact section.

If you have a Google Business Profile site, it should say, “You have a website created with Google.”

Otherwise, it will allow you to add the link to your website.

Screenshot from Google, February 2024Websites Created With Google Business Profiles To Shut Down In March

Choosing An Alternative Website Builders For Small Businesses

Google suggests Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy, Google Sites, Shopify for ecommerce, Durable, Weebly, Strikingly, and WordPress as alternative website builders to create a new website or ad landing page to replace the Google Business Profiles site.

While some, like WordPress, offer a free website builder with generative AI features, its users’ content may reportedly be sold to OpenAI and Midjourney as training data unless they opt out.

Regarding Core Web Vitals, WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace showed the most improvements in performance.

It’s also worth noting that while Google Deepmind used a Google Sites website to introduce Genie, its new AI model, Google Sites may not be best for SEO.

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Updating Ad Campaigns

If you have a Google Ads campaign that links to a website created with Google Business Profiles, the ad campaign will also stop running on March 1, 2024, until the website link is updated.

There’s still time to update your business website to ensure visitors are not sent to a 404 error page after June 10, 2024. If you haven’t chosen a new website builder or hosting service, review the reviews to find the most reliable, affordable, and optimized solution for your business.

Featured image: Vladimka production/Shutterstock

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How We Built A Strong $10 Million Agency: A Proven Framework

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How We Built A Strong $10 Million Agency: A Proven Framework

Building a successful agency can be a daunting task in today’s ever-evolving space. Do you know the secrets to succeeding with yours?

Watch this informative, on-demand webinar, where link building expert Jon Ball reveals the closely guarded secrets that have propelled Page One Power to become a highly successful $10 million agency.

You’ll learn:

  • The foundational principles on which to build your business to succeed.
  • The importance of delegation, market positioning, and staffing.
  • More proven lessons learned from 14 years of experience.

With Jon, we’ll provide you with actionable insights that you can use to take your business to the next level, using foundational principles that have contributed to Page One Power’s success.

If you’re looking to establish yourself as a successful entrepreneur or grow your agency in the constantly evolving world of SEO, this webinar is for you.

Learn the secrets of establishing a thriving agency in an increasingly competitive SEO space.

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View the slides below or check out the full webinar for all the details.

Join Us For Our Next Webinar!

How An Enterprise Digital PR Firm Earns 100’s Of Links In 30 Days

Join us as we explore how to scale the very time-consuming and complicated process of earning links from digital PR, with proven case studies showing how you can earn hundreds of links in 30 days.

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SEO Woe or a Load of Baloney?

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SEO Woe or a Load of Baloney?

Toxic backlinks are links that some SEO tools say could hurt your website’s Google rankings. The implication is that you should disavow them to keep your site safe.

But there’s some disagreement and confusion among SEOs as to whether “toxic” links are actually a thing and what, if anything, you should do about them. 

If you believe Google’s John Mueller, they’re not: 

Yet, according to my poll, the majority (just!) of SEOs think they are: 

So… what’s the deal here? Are toxic backlinks actually a thing? Are they hurting your site? And if so, what should you be doing about them? 

Before we can answer those questions, we need to understand the terminology… 

Every website has some spammy backlinks that just don’t make sense. But that doesn’t necessarily make them manipulative or “toxic.”

For example, here are a couple of obviously spammy links to our site: 

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Example of spammy links, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerExample of spammy links, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

We didn’t build or buy either of these, so they’re not “manipulative” by definition. They’re just low-quality links we’ve attracted over time because the internet is rife with spammers. 

If you study Google’s link spam documentation carefully, you’ll see that, in theory, these aren’t the kind of spammy links they have a problem with. They warn only against the ill effects of spam links intended to manipulate rankings. 

Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages. Any links that are intended to manipulate rankings in Google Search results may be considered link spam. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site. 

Here are the examples Google gives of these manipulative links: 

What Google says are manipulative linksWhat Google says are manipulative links

As for “toxic backlinks,” this is just a term made up by certain SEO tools to describe backlinks they think could hurt your rankings based on several so-called “markers.”

Key takeaway

  • Spammy links are low-quality links that every site attracts through no fault of their own. 
  • Manipulative links are links built or bought solely to improve Google rankings. 
  • Toxic links are links that certain SEO tools say could hurt your website’s rankings. 

If you asked this question before September 2016, the answer would have likely been “yes.”

So what changed? 

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Penguin 4.0.

With this algorithm update, Google switched from demoting pages to a system that tries to ignore bad links.

Penguin is now more granular. Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site. 

Since then, Google’s stance has been that you can ignore spammy backlinks. 

If you’re seeing individual links that pop up and you say, “oh this looks like a spammer dropped the link” or whatever, I would completely ignore those. […] because these spammy links happen to every website and Google’s system has seen them so many times over the years that we’re very good at just ignoring them. 

John MuellerJohn Mueller

But is this true? Is Google really as good at ignoring low-level spam as we’re made to believe? 

Judging by my colleague Chris’s recent poll on LinkedIn, a good chunk of SEOs (38%) don’t think so, as they’re still disavowing them. 

Most SEOs either disavow or do nothing about spammy backlinksMost SEOs either disavow or do nothing about spammy backlinks

Does that mean they’re right to do so? Not necessarily. It just means they don’t fully trust Google that they won’t do any harm. They’re being careful. 

Personally, the person I trust most to answer this question in 2024 is Dr. Marie Haynes. I don’t think anyone’s done more research into this than her. She’s spent well over a decade working to understand Google’s search algorithms and auditing link profiles on behalf of business owners. 

Now, the interesting part of that statement (and why I actually trust her!) is the obvious conflict of interest. Until fairly recently, she made her living selling link audit and disavow file creation services—and for a pretty hefty sum at that! 

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Pricing from Marie's link audit services page in March 2023Pricing from Marie's link audit services page in March 2023
Pricing from Marie’s link audit services page in March 2023

Clearly, it would be good news for Marie if Google were still terrible at ignoring spammy backlinks because she could sell more link audits! 

Yet, these days, she no longer appears to offer such services. In fact, she’s actually been warning folks against the need to disavow low-quality, spammy backlinks for a few years. 

Here’s a quote from a 2022 blog post of hers:

While there is no harm in disavowing low quality spammy links, it likely does not help improve rankings. We believe that Google’s algorithms are already ignoring these links. […]. When we do see improvements these days after disavowing, it is always in sites where we have disavowed links that were purposely made for SEO and very little else. 

Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

It’s clear that Marie is being cautious with her words here. But overall, her opinion after digging into this for many years seems to be that, yes, Google is now pretty good at ignoring most low-quality spammy links. 

Does that mean they’re perfect? No. But it does mean that worrying about obvious low-quality link spam is probably a waste of time for most people.

If you’re buying or building the types of links that Google class as “link spam” then, yes, they can absolutely hurt your rankings.

But before you panic about that link exchange you did with your best friend’s wife’s brother, Google is likely looking for patterns of manipulation here. In other words, manipulative link profiles rather than manipulative individual links: 

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Danny Richman, founder of Richman SEO Training, agrees: 

Here’s a bit more context from Danny: 

As for Marie Haynes, she echoes a similar sentiment in this post. She states that manual actions aside, she would only recommend a client disavow links if they have “a very large number of links that [they] feel the webspam team would consider to be ‘manipulative.’ ”

In these cases, Google often slaps the worst offenders with an unnatural links manual action. If you get one of those, that’s Google telling you, “Hey… you’re being demoted in search because we think you’ve been trying to game the system with manipulative links.” 

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But this doesn’t have to happen for manipulative links to be a problem. It’s possible for Google to algorithmically demote a site if they detect a large volume of spammy and manipulative links, at least according to John Mueller.

If we see a very strong pattern [of spammy links] there, then it can happen that our algorithms say well, we really have kind of lost trust with this website and at the moment based on the bigger picture on the web, we kind of need to be more on almost a conservative side when it comes to to understanding this website’s content and ranking it in the search results. And then you can see kind of a drop in the visibility there. 

John MuellerJohn Mueller

Either way, the point remains: it’s patterns of manipulation that are likely to hurt rankings. There’s very little chance that you need to worry about the odd potentially dodgy link here and there. 

While it might be tempting to use an SEO tool that finds “toxic backlinks” for you, I’d seriously urge you to reconsider. Trusting these can do more harm than good. Way more. 

Just look at this unfortunate Redditor’s reply to John Mueller: 

Someone on Reddit's traffic tanked 60% after disavowing "toxic" backlinks in one SEO toolSomeone on Reddit's traffic tanked 60% after disavowing "toxic" backlinks in one SEO tool
A 60% drop in traffic! That’s no joke! 

Even if this is an extreme case, worrying about these links likely only wastes time because, according to Marie Haynes, they’re rarely truly toxic: 

I find that the truly toxic links…the ones that could have the potential to harm your site algorithmically (although you’d have to really overdo it, as I’ll describe below), are rarely returned by an SEO tool. 

Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

Sam McRoberts, CEO of VUVU Marketing, seems to agree: 

So… how do you find truly toxic backlinks that are likely to be hurting your site? 

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The truth? You might not even need to look for them. If you haven’t built or bought links that Google considers link spam at any reasonable scale, chances are you’re good. 

If you’re not confident about that, do a manual backlink audit with a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

The Anchors report is a good starting point if you’ve never done this. It shows you the words and phrases people use when linking to you. If they look unnatural or over-optimized (lots of exact matches of keywords you’re trying to rank for), that could be a sign you have paid or other links intended to manipulate rankings. 

Example of keyword-rich anchors, which are often a sign of paid backlinksExample of keyword-rich anchors, which are often a sign of paid backlinks

If things look fishy there, use the Backlinks report to dig deeper and check the context of those links. It’s usually quite easy to spot paid and unnatural ones. 

The Backlinks report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer showing the context of the backlinkThe Backlinks report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer showing the context of the backlink

Just remember that you’re looking for patterns of unnatural links, not just one or two. 

WARNING

If you’re not 100% sure what you’re looking for when doing a backlink audit, hire someone who knows what they’re doing. You need to be confident that the links are truly “toxic.”

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If you have a manual action for unnatural links or a bunch of what you believe to be truly toxic backlinks, yes. Google’s advice is to disavow them (assuming you can’t get the links removed). 

You should disavow backlinks only if: 

You have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, 

AND

The links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action, on your site. 

Marie Haynes advises the same: 

There are two situations where we will recommend to our clients a thorough link audit followed by filing a disavow: 

  1. The site has a manual action for unnatural links in GSC. 
  2. The site has a very large number of links that we feel the webspam team would consider to be “manipulative”.
Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

If you just have a bunch of spammy backlinks that most sites naturally attract or the odd paid backlink, probably not. Google probably ignores most, if not all, of these links, so disavowing them is likely a waste of time. 

While there is no harm in disavowing these links other than the time spent analyzing them, there is likely no benefit either. 

Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

But what about negative SEO?

Being the victim of a negative SEO attack is indeed the possible exception here. This is when a competitor sends a load of spammy or toxic backlinks your way to try to get your site penalized. 

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Google remains adamant that it basically never works, but it really comes down to what you believe. 

[I’ve] looked at hundreds of supposed cases of negative SEO, but none have actually been the real reason a website was hurt. […] While it’s easier to blame negative SEO, typically the culprit of a traffic drop is something else you don’t know about–perhaps an algorithm update or an issue with their website. 

Gary IllyesGary Illyes

If you see a traffic drop after an influx of backlinks in Site Explorer, I’d say that it’s at least worth a bit more investigation. 

Site with traffic drop coinciding with an influx of backlinksSite with traffic drop coinciding with an influx of backlinks
This site experienced a traffic drop coinciding with an influx of referring domains. Maybe there’s benefit to disavowing here… and maybe it’s something else!

As Gary said above, something else could be to blame—but you never know. There’s always a chance that Google’s algorithms rule it was you who built or bought those backlinks to try to manipulate rankings and penalize you for it. 

If you just found a bunch of so-called “toxic backlinks” in an SEO tool, probably not. Again, most of these are probably just link spam Google already ignores. 

Here’s yet another quote from Marie Haynes backing this up: 

While there is probably no harm in disavowing [links reported as toxic in SEO tools], you are not likely to see any improvement as a result. Disavowing is meant for sites trying to remove a manual action and for those who have been actively building links for the purpose of improving rankings. 

Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

There’s also the risk that you could end up disavowing links that are actually helping you… 

Patrick showed further evidence that this can absolutely happen when he experimented with disavowing links to the Ahrefs blog. Traffic dipped, then went back up after he removed the disavow. 

The impact of disavowing links to the Ahrefs blogThe impact of disavowing links to the Ahrefs blog

Final thoughts

“Toxic backlinks” is a term made up by certain SEO tools to scare you. That’s not to say bad links can’t hurt your site. They absolutely can. But fortunately for most site owners, it’s rarely a problem worth worrying all that much about. 

Got questions? Disagree? Ping me on Twitter X.

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