While backlink building and removing is not the most exciting SEO topic, it is definitely a crucial and oftentimes complicated one. Many sites have purchased links in the past that are hurting them now, and unfortunately it seems much more difficult to remove them than it was to build them in the first place.

To help anyone who may be wondering if they should remove some of their low quality backlinks, we’ve put together this 6-step guide for finding and removing “spammy” backlinks:

1. Find potentially harmful links: Moz’s new Spam Analysis functionality makes it extremely easy to identify backlinks that Google may consider to be spammy. This tool crawls through your backlinks and assigns a Spam Score to each one, based on 17 different factors that are often correlated with spam sites. Since many sites may have some of these “spam flags” but still be perfectly legitimate websites, Moz suggests not worrying about sites that have a score of 6 or lower. You can also find a list of your backlinks in Google Webmaster Tools to help you build your list. In addition to these tools, if you know of any links your company has purchased in the past, add those to your list!

2. Manually check each link in question: Since removing links is a serious step, it’s important to manually check each link with a spam score of 7 or above to make sure that each link is actually coming from a site you want to remove. If the site is clearly spam, paid, very low quality, or completely irrelevant, consider removing it.

3. Reach out to webmasters of sites: Once you are sure of the links you want to remove, you need to start manually contacting each site and asking them to remove the backlink. While this may seem like an unnecessary and time consuming task, it’s important that you try to make the effort to remove these links rather than skipping right to the disavow tool. Google wants to see that you are actually trying to put effort in when it comes to removing your past link mistakes!

4. Reach out again: Some will have contact forms, some will have email addresses, either way: many may not respond at all. As a general rule of thumb, you should try at least 2 times to contact them yourself.

5. Document everything: Make note of which ones you were able to contact, when and how many times you contacted them, and if they responded. All of these notes will also be sent along to Google.

6. Disavow: After manually removing all that you can, the final step is to use Google’s Disavow Tool to take care of the rest. Note that this is a very serious and potentially damaging move, and needs to be used correctly. You only want to take this step if you are sure of your link problems, and have manually checked and contacted each one first. Also keep in mind that Google treats this as a “strong suggestion”. This is not an automatic pardon or removal of spammy backlinks, rather a way to tell Google that you do not want these backlinks to be considered as part of your overall backlink profile. If you are using Moz’s spam tool, they will export it in a file that is basically ready to upload directly to the Disavow Tool.

Have you had to remove backlinks? Let us know how it worked for you and which steps you took!