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How to Disavow Links – The Ultimate Guide

As we know, in modern times, backlinks are one of the most important factors when it comes to SEO. In this tutorial, we are not talking about acquiring backlinks, but removing them. Why would we remove them? Well, not all links are good backlinks, bad backlinks come with a spam score which gives you a negative score or a spam score. This is why it is good to use the disavow tool to remove unwanted backlinks.

Unlike some other topics, Google has been quite forthcoming on their backlink disavowal views and its place in your search engine optimisation toolbox. Let’s look as to why you may want to disavow a link and how we go about using the tool.

Why Should We Disavow Links?

If your spam score is increasing or poor backlinks are having a negative effect on your SEO, then the disavow tool is what you should be using. If you receive a message from Google in your Webmaster Tools about having ‘Unnatural Links’, you are being penalised whether you are knowingly complicit or not.

An important role for any SEO export is addressing any Google penalties that may arise. It’s not an issue if you stick to white hat SEO, but knowing how to keep a clean backlink profile for your website is vital when it comes to your SEO strategy.

Another great tool you can use to monitor negative backlinks is Moz Domain Analysis tool. This will provide you with metrics for your PA (Page Authority), DA (Domain Authority) and a Spam Score which is all ranked between a value of 1-100. However, I am going to mention here that if we disavow links in Google’s Disavow Tool, it will not take effect on Moz. We are simply using this tool to check which links we could potentially disavow. Unfortunately, Moz doesn’t have any access as to which links have been disavowed from Google, so just within Moz; it won’t reduce your spam score.

We, unfortunately, will not detect that a link has been disavowed, this isn’t something we were able to include in the old or new DA models. Since disavowing links doesn’t actually remove a link, it just signals to Google that the links aren’t important, our crawler will continue to find the link. We are working on having something like that built into Link Explorer, where if you disavow a link in Google, you can also mark it as disavowed in Moz, but I’m afraid that option isn’t available yet.

So, what constitutes a healthy backlink profile?

In general, the majority of organic backlinks can be classified as ‘good backlinks’. They represent the ideal Internet that Google is looking for. One where the website has great content is referenced frequently, naturally and freely. A single backlink won’t really have a big impact on your website, but they will slowly be building a reputation for your website and acknowledge your website to be a trustworthy and authoritative source.

On the other hand, ‘bad backlinks’ are mostly non-organic (with few exceptions). Two of the biggest offenders of this are where people decide to purchase backlinks in a mass order from shady websites. This, and intentional backlink schemes which utilise a private backlink network (PBN). You can read more about this in this article: What do I need to know about buying backlinks in 2020?.

It is also possible to gain ‘organic’ links from spammy websites that are just lists of products and links with no real content. The link was most likely generated by a script/robot, and it is certainly not benefitting your site, in which case, these are the ones we want to be removing.

Negative SEO Attack

Just to add here, with disavowing backlinks, you have to be really careful. It is a serious action. that can significantly impact your search ranking, whether it’s for the better or worse, so be very careful with the links you wish to disavow.

Google considers it a pretty last-resort option. You can find this in Webmaster Tools > Advanced and there are 3 warning screens you have to click through before you can upload a disavowal file.

In general, you should only disavow a link that you know for sure is bringing you down. Check the Google Quality Guidelines for a more exhaustive list.

Note that a link from a low-traffic or low domain authority site is not a bad link. It probably won’t contribute much individually, but every link is a vote of confidence in your site that Google takes into account. Obviously high ranking PA / DA websites will increase your score quicker, but a thousand low-quality PA / DA websites linking to your website is also helping you as well.

So, What Happens When You Disavow a Backlink?

Essentially, this is a request for Google to ignore those links to your domain. If the link disavow is successful, it won’t be counted for or against you when determining ranking in the search results.

Do note, Google is not obligated to honour your request to disavow the links. If you have a look in their documentation, you will see that it is only a suggestion to disavow the links that you are requesting. Also, this can take up to 48 hours before it takes effect on your websites search ranking.

Is it possible to undo a link disavow?

It is indeed. You are always able to download your current disavow file and edit it to your requirements. I wouldn’t edit it too frequently, you really want to be sure that the links in which you want to disavow are the right ones and the ones you wish to stick with.

How to do I Disavow Links in Google Search Console?

If you have a Google Analytics tracking tag on your website then you will also have access to Google’s Search Console tool.

Within the Google Console, you can conduct a link audit from the Link Report page. Just click the Export External Links button on the top right of the screen then select the More Sample Links option. You can export this file if you wish as well.

Once you have determined which links you are sure you wish to disavow, you will need to create a text file (*.txt) which you can upload to the Google Disavow Tool. With this, you need to follow a specific format but it’s really simple. The format goes as follows:

  • Each entry has to be on a different link
  • Each entry needs to begin with domain:
  • You can name the filename of the text file as anything you like

Following these rules, here is an example of how you can block either a complete domain or just a specific page:


# Pages to disavow
https://spam-website.com/this-is-a-bad-link
https://spammy-website.com/oh-damn-another-bad-link

# Domains to disavow
domain:spam-website.com
domain:super-spammy.org

Blacklisting the entire domain will save you quite some time over blocking just a specific URL. However, there are few instances in which you would want to disavow a single link from a site but still allow other links from that domain, but that’s why the option is available.

Head over to the Google Disavow Tool, select your domain and click through all of the warnings prompts until you reach the dialogue box that allows you to browse your folders and choose a file to upload. Select the disavow file you already created, and select Open to upload it to the disavow tool.

Within the next day or so, Google will no longer take the listed domains into account when determining your pages’ ranking.

Conclusion

Disavowing links can be intimidating if you don’t know what to do, so be sure you know what you are doing before adding a list of domains/pages. You can potentially ruin your SEO if you abuse disavowing, so it’s crucial to get it right.

We think every site owner needs to know about disavowing. It can mean the difference between a clean link profile and a spammy one. Plus, there are so many benefits to disavowing links correctly. Why? Well, your website will most likely get a book in ranking which will result in a higher ranking and more traffic to your website.

As already mentioned though, you don’t want to disavow links if you can help it; a manual removal is always preferable.

Only disavow links when you have no other choice. In this case, don’t be afraid to use the Disavow Tool, at the end of the day, that’s why it’s readily available.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of why you should disavow links and when you should do it. It can be a bit of a daunting task, but once you get used to it, it’s super easy.

Has the disavow tool ever helped you in the past? How much did it improve your rankings? Let us know! 🙂

Nathan da Silva - Profile

Posted by: Nathan da Silva

Nathan is the Founder of Silva Web Designs. He is passionate about web development, website design and basically anything digital related. His main expertise is with WordPress, Magento, Shopify as well of many other frameworks. Whether you need responsive design, SEO, speed optimisation or anything else in the world of digital then get in touch. If you would like to work with Nathan, simply drop him an email at [email protected]

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