Google Disavow Tool. How Do I Use Disavow Links Tool?
Every SEO expert knows that good external backlinks help boost the website rankings while bad backlinks may harm it or cause problems. It is impossible to completely control external links that point to your website. This is especially true when you already have 1,000+ donors and new ones keep popping up. Read more on the topic in the Build High-Quality Backlinks and What Are Bad Links? articles.
However, a link profile plays an important role in promotion, and you need to be able to distinguish and reject bad spammy links. That’s why you need Google’s Disavow Tool. This tool is able to solve the problem with poor-quality donors. However, you need to understand when to submit a disavow file and how to identify bad links.
What is Google Disavow Tool and Why It Was Created. Disavow Definition
Quality is Google’s core value. That is why this search engine has been fighting link spam for many years. The first attempt to reduce spam was taken when the nofollow attribute was introduced in January 2005. It helped fight spam in the comments.
On, April 24, 2012, the fight against link spam significantly changed when the Penguin algorithm was released. It aims to filter search results and apply sanctions to the websites that use spam backlinks. Read more in the Google Algorithms That Affect SEO article.
From then on, unscrupulous SEOists got another opportunity to oust their competitors using search results. You could simply generate link spam to your competitor’s website and hope it would fall under Penguin’s sanctions.
In October 2012, Google introduced a new tool in Google Search Console, Google Disavow Tool, which allows you to independently disavow external links leading to your website. Disavowing means the search engine will not consider these links when ranking your website. Also, as a result of these actions, the owner can speed up the website recovery from manual actions.
Google recommends submitting links to disavow if:
- There are multiple unnatural or poor-quality links to the website.
- There has been or will be a manual action applied to the website due to these links.
What Are Manual Actions?
Google employees may sanction a website for not following quality guidelines. The purpose is to discourage attempts to influence Google indexing. Typically, the website may be downgraded or completely removed from the search results.
When manual actions are applied to a website, Google Search Console sends you a notification.
What Links Does Google Consider Unnatural?
Unnatural links are any links created to impact the website’s ranking and the PageRank algorithm, such as:
- Purchased backlinks.
- Links from bookmarking services.
- Link exchange by the agreement of site owners.
- Global advertising in articles or comments that contains links to the website or with the text saturated with keywords.
- Links automatically affixed using special programs.
- Footer links.
- Text ads with a link placed on a website without its owner’s knowledge.
- Advertisements and articles with paid links.
- Links in SEO-optimized texts.
- Links from directories.
- Hidden links in widgets.
- Links in website templates.
- Comments on the forums.
- End-to-end links from all (or most) pages of one resource.
During the first three Penguin iterations, many SEO experts thought that link disavow would help protect their websites from being downgraded in search results. In September 2016, the situation has changed after Penguin had been updated. It now works in real time, disavows and does not consider spam, adjusts ranking based on spam signals, not impacting the ranking of the entire website.
Does this mean that you do not need to disavow links anymore? Or If so, when?
When Is It Necessary to Submit Links to Disavow?
As we said, links can be good or bad.
When you build up your own link mass and see for yourself what the quality of the donors you use is. What if you hired a link builder? In this case, there is a risk of poor links.
If you have a good website with useful content, other websites are likely to link to it. This way, you get a natural link. Are such links always good?
What Are the Sources of Poor-Quality Links?
Promotion results depend on the link profile quality, so you need to distinguish between the sources of bad links:
1. Paid links
Google is well-versed in paid links. Usually, these are dofollow links clearly designed to boost the weight and contribute to PageRank. Although some paid links are hard to recognize, there are several key metrics of paid links:
- Dofollow links to a website with its URL in the anchor;
- Dofollow links from non-related websites or from the content unrelated to your niche;
- Dofollow links to content pages with obvious labels such as “Sponsored Post”.
2. Private Blogging Networks (PBN)
Private blog networks, or PBNs, are typically groups of blogs or websites developed for creating links. PBNs help to boost the ranking of specific content on Google. However, if used improperly, they may worsen it, for example, if a network includes poor-quality websites.
3. Low-quality catalogs
If by looking at the catalog, you realize you should not expect any referral traffic from it, this demonstrates its poor quality, and a dofollow link will not be beneficial to your website.
4. Spam in comments or forums
Posting links in comments is not prohibited, but if you scale or automate it, or use same comments on dozens of different websites, it will be considered spam. Many commenting systems now create nofollow links by default, so there is little risk or benefit.
5. Hacked websites
Owners oftentimes do not notice suspicious changes on their websites. This is especially true for resources with a huge number of pages. So, you can hack a website that has a good performance and get a backlink from it. However, if this gets noticed and the owner complains, this almost 100% guarantees you sanctions from Google.
6. Spammy links from competitors
The most common type of negative SEO is backlink spam—an intentional link to a competitor’s website from hundreds or thousands of poor-quality websites. If you notice an unreasonable boost in links or anchors not related to your niche, this may indicate your website has been attacked. Learn more about spam and how to deal with it in the What is SPAM article.
7. Websites created solely to monetize links
For this type of link donors, the number of outbound links is much higher than the number of inbound links. Even a one-to-one ratio is critical.
If you find many links from the sources listed above on your website, there is a risk that it might fall under Google’s sanctions.
Is It Worth It to Immediately Disavow Such Links?
Even if you clearly understand which links are bad and which are good, rejecting them is risky. A link that looks harmful can still benefit your website.
Google warns of risks of using its Disavow Tool.
Despite the warning, many SEO experts continue to disavow links fearing sanctions. Only Google can fully evaluate the quality of a donor, and we cannot be 100% sure that we reject harmful links.
When Is It Worth Submitting Links to Disavow?
Why submit a disavow file if Penguin is now capable of recognizing link spam and simply discounts such links?
For websites that have already been sanctioned by a poor link profile, Google’s Disavow Tool was the only way to show Google that you’ve corrected and stopped using bad links.
Of course, it would be better to completely remove the mention of your website from a bad resource. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.
After updating Penguin 4.0, the SEO world started wondering about the need to use the Disavow Tool.
John Muller said that the disavow file should be used as it was before.
If manual actions applied to your website due to a poor link profile, you will have to get rid of harmful links.
In addition, there are a few more cases when it is desirable to submit links to disavow:
- A surge in poor-quality links accompanied by a drop in position and ranking. These may not be interconnected, but still are not beneficial. In order to protect yourself, it is better to reject low-quality links.
- If you know for sure that the website purchased links in mass. Such attempts to manipulate its rating are likely to lead to sanctions. In this case, the link disavow is reasonable.
How to Identify Bad Links and Disavow Them
Link auditing is the only way to understand if any donors are to be disavowed. A convenient tool for this is Semrush. In Backlinks Report, you can find all the information you need to analyze your link profile.
1. Link report
It shows you if there was a surge in the donors referring to your website. A sharp increase in the links will be a signal for further research.
2. Anchor analysis
An anchor list should look natural and not contain prohibited spam text (porn, gambling, pharma).
A large number of conversion keys in the anchor text is undesirable.
3. Analysis of donor domain zones
If the target audience of your website is Americans, it will be odd if there are backlinks from China, Japan, Russia, Indonesia, etc. Their large number indicates that they could have been paid for.
4. Low-rated donors
If your link profile contains the overwhelming majority of poor-ranking donors, you should check their quality.
5. dofollow/nofollow link ratio
A large number of dofollow links can harm the website if there is a prevailing number of spam donors.
By evaluating your link profile this way, you can figure out if it needs a more detailed analysis.
I already mentioned above what the sources of bad links look like. Therefore, if your link profile looks suspicious, it makes sense to analyze it in more detail.
When working on link auditing, do not make decisions based on common metrics. Do not draw conclusions solely from the authority of the domain, the amount of spam, or any other parameters. Take a look at each domain and think, “If the webspam team looked at this link, would they think it was created only to manipulate the website’s rating, or does it have a real purpose not related to SEO?”
How to Create and Upload Disavow File Correctly
Link disavow is the last resort. After all, submitting a link donor to disavow tells Google that it is harmful to your website. Do not disavow links without the need if you do not want to accidentally harm your website.
Before sending a disavow file, try manually requesting the removal of the link from the owners of the donor websites. The best way to do this is to send them an email. Usually, you can find a support email or contact address at the bottom of the website or on the contact page. You can also find it on About Us or on the sidebar.
It should be located on the website or on a social network. if you can’t find it, try using the service Whois.com.
Enter the domain name in the search bar at the top of the website.
Whois.com will give you the information about the site owner with their contact info.
How to Disavow Backlinks
If you decide to disavow the backlinks, first you need to download their list. Using Semrush, filter the links you need and download the report.
After having compiled a list of links for disavow, you need to decide what exactly you want to reject— URLs or domains. By rejecting a domain, you lose all links on it that lead to your resource. When rejecting a specific link, the remaining links from the same domain will still contribute to the link weight.
After compiling the list, compile a disavow file that meets the requirements of Google:
- .txt file
- 7-bit ASCII or UTF-8 coding.
- Each new URL or domain begins with a new line.
- In order to disavow a specific domain or subdomain, start its name without https:// and with “domain:” in the front. Example: domain:example.com
- In order to disavow the URL, enter it into the document as it is: http://spam.example.com/paid-links.html
- You can add comments in the document, starting the line with #. All lines starting with # will be ignored by Google.
Here’s an example:
After creating the file, upload it to the Disavow Tool. After switching to the tool, you can select the website where you want to submit the file to.
Select the website and click the button ”Disavow links”. You will see the warning again.
Next, you will go directly to the disavow file submission form.
Were any links on the website previously disavowed? If yes, download the existing file and add links from it to the new document you made.
Otherwise, the old file is automatically deleted when you upload a new one. Links and domains in it will be considered again by the search engine when PageRank is created.
If you think that donors and URLs from the previous file do not need to be submitted to disavow, just upload your new disavow file and click Done. A search engine needs up to 2 weeks before it stops considering the links you’ve rejected.
Check out this YouTube video to learn about submitting a disavow file:
Even if, for some reason, you decide to allow Google to consider these donors again, they will already be given less value in PageRank. By rejecting a good link, it will no longer be as useful to your website as before. This will happen because the search engine will remember that this donor was in your disavow file, which means that something is wrong with it.
Do not be afraid of the mass disavow of external links. You only risking good domains and URLs that benefit your site being listed. Otherwise, this action is safe.
Do SEO experts need to continue to use Google’s Disavow Tool? If you have links that clearly exist mainly for SEO reasons, it’s better to disavow them so that they don’t lead to manual actions.
Disavowing some links may be uncomfortable if you don’t know what to do. After all, it may lead to downgrading SEO promotion results if you abuse link rejection. So, it is important to do it right.
Each website owner should be aware of the disavow function and of how to say a bad link profile from a good one. With proper handling of a disavow file, you can improve the website ratings (by disavowing poor-quality spam links). You need to carefully analyze link donors that raise your doubts.
As we mentioned earlier, manually deleting links is always preferable. If that is not possible, feel free to disavow spammy links using Google’s Disavow Tool.