Have you ever wondered how to remove low-quality or spammy backlinks from your website? Google’s Disavow Tool is the answer! This free tool lets website owners notify Google about bad backlinks pointing to their websites.
But before you start banging out a list to disavow backlinks, let’s have a quick look at who should use the disavow links tool and if it’s safe to use.
TL;DR – I’ll be honest, in 2023, 99% of websites don’t need to use the Google Disavow Tool, in fact, it can do more harm than good. If you are curious to know why, continue reading below, I promise, it’s worth the read.
What is the Google Disavow Tool?
The Google Disavow Tool was created to help combat spam on the web, and help website owners regain their rankings after hiring a shady SEO company that created thousands of spammy backlinks via link-building schemes. The tool allows you to provide a list of backlinks that you want Google to ignore from an SEO ranking perspective.
You can use the free tool in the Google Search Console (previously webmaster tools) to report low-quality or spammy links to Google that are linking to your website. The intention of submitting the disavow list is that those links will be disregarded when Google evaluates the website’s overall quality.
Along with reporting bad backlinks, you can also report paid links and low-quality links that are harming the site.
And that’s the key issue, it’s to report those that are harming the site, meaning, you’ve received a manual spam action or penalty directly from google.
So, the Disavow Tool allows reporting any link that might be influencing your website rankings that you did not organically obtain. You can flag those bad links to be ignored by Google.
Why did the Disavow Tool get released?
Released in 2011, Google’s Disavow Tool was initially used by SEOs that were assisting their clients who suffered a drop in rankings due to either a manual spam action taken by Google or because of a spammy backlink profile.
Using Google’s Disavow Tool, you can sever the connection between a spam link and your website. It doesn’t remove the bad link, but it does tell Google that you don’t want that link to be associated with your website.
Since the start of the web, links have played a critical role in the ranking of websites. In the 90s and early 2000s, you could create a website, blast a few thousand backlinks pointing to specific pages on your site, and within a few weeks, your website would be in a pretty good position for rankings.
Back in 2011, the Penguin Algorithm Update was all the rage, and the update pretty much killed off the “positive” impact of creating thousands of backlinks to a site. In other words, blackhat SEO.
The days of buying bulk backlinks are gone. Do not buy thousands of backlinks. You may see a short-term gain, but overall you’ll lose. And that’s pretty much what happened in the blackhat SEO world. A lot of links were being flagged as spam, and those pages started dropping from the search results.
Not only was Google ignoring the links provided by the site owners, but they were compiling their own database. Essentially SEO practitioners helped build a giant database of known spammy sites. Google was then able to take that data and blacklist or remove the big offenders on the web. It was a massive cleanup campaign, but it helped blackhat people too.
The introduction of the tool, unfortunately, also meant that the Blackhat SEO Community were able to take advantage of the tool from Google and disavow backlinks too! It acted as a “get out of jail free” type loophole and allowed them to clean up a backlink profile and get it ready for the next quick-ranking hack.
Along with the bad backlink situation that website owners had to face, they also had the potential of someone performing a negative SEO attack on their site. After all, if a website can get delisted for having too many links, what’s to stop Joe from buying links on behalf of Bob and then blasting his site?
But for those that run a website audit and checked backlinks on their site, site owners could now run a proactive disavow submission of those recently found bad links in the hopes that Google ignores them. By submitting your own set of known spam links, you could hopefully have them discounted by Google before any damage was done to the rankings on your site.
What are the most common backlink violations that negatively affect website rankings?
While there are hundreds of factors regarding the quality of a website, backlinks play a pretty big role in website rankings. It is not as common these days, but Google still issues link-based penalties on sites.
When those happen, you must either remove links to your site through outreach campaigns to site owners or request that the links are marked with a ‘ rel=”sponsored” ‘ tag so that Google knows that it was a purchased link. Purchased links are not bad; you just have to disclose them.
Here are some of the top linking methods can hurt website rankings;
- Low-quality and unrelated links – a large amount of low-quality and irrelevant backlinks can be penalized by search engine algorithms and can lead to poor rankings in SERPs.
- Paid or sponsored links – buying or purchasing backlinks from third-party websites is considered a violation of Google’s quality guidelines and could result in website penalties.
- Link schemes – participating in link schemes, such as link exchanges, is also against Google’s policies and can lead to demotions for the website involved.
- Blog spamming – creating user profiles or posting blog comments with backlinks on other websites is generally discouraged by search engines because it tends to look spammy and can lead to negative SEO outcomes.
While these are some of the ways your website can suffer when it comes to rankings, there are many more ways to incur a manual spam action on your site. And while these are issues to be aware of, the disavow tool is not always the answer to everything either.
When should you use the disavow tool?
As a white hat SEO company, we agree with Google that you should make every attempt possible to remove bad links when you find them. In the event that removing a bad link isn’t possible, for instance, if the webmaster of the site where the offending link resides doesn’t respond to your removal requests, then you can use the Disavow Tool to tell Google that you don’t approve of the link and don’t want it associated with your website.
While we’re talking about individual links here, businesses often have to deal with thousands of spammy links, so removing or disavowing links is by no means easy.
One thing that helps is your ability to disavow all the links that come from a particular domain at once. If you find yourself swamped with many bad links from the same domain, you can disavow the entire domain instead of picking through the links individually.
Unless you’re absolutely sure that you don’t want any of the links that are coming to your website from a particular domain, it’s better to go through links individually. Otherwise, you might end up disavowing good links along with the bad!
What is involved in the Disavow Process?
We run website audits for clients regularly, and part of that process is also reviewing backlinks pointing to their sites. It is only in the most severe of cases that we ever utilize the tool to disavow backlinks.
Should you need to create and submit a disavow list, here’s what we would suggest;
- Compile a list of bad backlinks: Start by performing a link audit and creating a link profile for all the backlinks pointing to your website, both good and bad. This can be done using tools such as the Google Search Console or other online software.
- Identify and disavow spammy links: After identifying the low-quality and spammy links in the list, create a disavow file containing those links you want to be disregarded by Google (one link per line).
- Upload the disavow file: Once you have finished compiling the disavow file, you will need to provide it to Google. Here is a direct link: https://search.google.com/search-console/disavow-links
- Wait for results: This is the most frustrating part, waiting. It can take several weeks for Google to process and approve your disavow list. There is also no notice that they have done so, so the only way you can see if it worked is by watching your rankings change.
What does a disavow file look like?
Now that you know why you should use the Disavow Tool, you need to know what a disavow file looks like so that you can upload one to Google.
Creating a disavow file is actually pretty simple. The first step is opening a text file (with Notepad), and writing in it every URL in which a bad link appears, with only one URL per line. So, if you have a bad link coming from “example.com,” you would write the exact URL where the link appears in your disavow file, which would look something like this:
domain:spammyguy.com #owner of spamdomain.com removed all links except these two http://www.spamdomain.com/badfile1.php http://www.example.com/badlinkpage.html
In our example above, we are requesting that anything on the “spammyguy.com” domain be ignored. We also have individual URLs that we would like to have ignored, but the rest of the domain name is acceptable.
You’ll also notice that on the second line, we placed a comment. Any line that starts with a pound sign (#) is ignored. There are no penalties from Google if you duplicate a URL or two, but be aware that there is a maximum file size of 2MB on the disavow file.
Google doesn’t consider disavow requests unless suitable effort has been invested on your part in getting the links taken down. That means that you’ve tried to contact the webmaster of “example.com” multiple times with requests to have the link taken down, but you haven’t received a reply.
The Google Disavow Tool is only to be used in these extreme circumstances, so if you upload a disavow file with thousands of bad links and no evidence of your efforts to get them taken down yourself, then using the Disavow Tool might have no effect for you.
Once you’ve created your disavow file, simply go to the Disavow Links Tool in Google Search Console (formerly webmaster tools), choose the domain you want to disavow links on, and upload your file. If you’re in charge of multiple domains that all have several spammy backlinks that you haven’t had luck removing yourself, you’ll need to upload separate disavow files for each site and then upload them separately to each domain’s Search Console. For more information on the Disavow Tool, you can check out this blog post at Google Webmaster Central also.
So, should you use the disavow links tool?
The short answer is no. Unless you have received a manual action from Google for unnatural links or low-quality link building, I recommend that you do not use the tool for most sites. Disavowing a site’s backlinks is a high-risk maneuver. If you don’t know what you’re doing, and you haven’t fully evaluated the bad links pointing to your site, you could damage your domain authority and accidently remove good backlinks.
If you have received a manual penalty or an unnatural link warning from Google, then yes, it is probably in your best interest to use the tool and disavow those links. If you need to add to the disavow list, you will want to download the existing disavow file and then combine files before re-uploading. You can not add to an existing file of disavowed links, you must overwrite it.
Once you have submitted the link disavowal request, there’s an option to allow you to submit a reconsideration request to Google. Here, you will document what you’ve done to mitigate the spam and your plans moving forward. This area may be reviewed by Google employees but the vast majority of people won’t receive any communication from them.
Final notes about google search console and disavowing bad links
Using Google’s disavow tool is not something that you should do without an SEO Audit, a backlink audit, and a thorough understanding of what may happen by submitting the request.
Many sites should not receive a big traffic drop by submitting the list to the Google Search Console, but you’ll want to keep an eye on your Google Analytics to ensure things are on track.
The disavow txt file will report for the entire root domain (yoursite.com). You can not perform link sculpting and have it only affect certain individual pages. This is an all-or-nothing tool which can destroy a website when used incorrectly.
We strongly recommend you work with a webmaster trends analyst and have them review only links on your website. You will want to clean your entire link profile before starting the process of gathering more links.
Don’t have enough time in the day? Our SEO company can help!
At Big Red SEO, we take the time to help you understand what we do to help your business’ online presence grow. The process of removing or disavowing bad links can be difficult and time-consuming, especially when you’re trying to run a small to medium-sized business. Fill out our online contact form for us to perform a website audit!