When & How To Disavow Backlinks

Do you want to disavow backlinks that are harming your SEO efforts? Then check out our guide that will protect your website from link-related penalties.

Stephanie Salud

Stephanie Salud — 13 minute read.

Have inbound marketing strategies left you scratching your head? If yes, then you’re not alone!

In the SEO world, backlinks are one of the most important strategies businesses need to follow to boost their online visibility.

Backlinks indeed have the power to make or break your SEO strategy, which is why you must be careful while buying backlinks. While a good backlink can drive traffic to your website and generate a significant profit, investing in a bad one can do more harm than good.

Disavow Backlinks

Now, the question that most people ask is, “when and how to disavow backlinks?” Surprisingly, even marketing experts find it tricky to answer this question.

But don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with our guide, where we’ll walk you through the nitty-gritty of backlinks and how to disavow them.

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The Truth About Links

Let’s say you can choose between one link from a respected website and two or three low-quality links from spammy or off-topic websites. As a small business owner, which one will you choose? Of course, you’ll go for one quality link rather than multiple poor-quality ones.

For those unaware, let us tell you that most websites follow one dyed-in-the-wool rule regarding backlinks: sponsored or advertising links should be labelled as “NoFollow”. By doing so, the search engine will not regard them as recommendations.

Seo Gold Noindex Nofollow

One of the perks of using “NoFollow” tags is that you’ll have more control over your website, and spammers won’t be able to target your website. At the same time, adding backlinks to your website can affect your ranking in the Google search console. And that’s why having “NoFollow” tags will let search engines know that your natural links are genuine and trustworthy.

Alternatively, unnatural links violate the quality guidelines of Google and manipulate the ranking of a brand in search results.

What Is The Google Disavow Tool, And Why Was It Created?

Without a doubt, spammy links can affect your ranking and result in penalties. Thankfully, site owners can use the disavow links tool for instructing the search engine to neglect certain backlinks to rank the site higher.

So, anytime website owners submit a disavow file, they request Google not to pay attention to certain links pointing to their site. Of course, Google is under no obligation to accept such requests, but in case it does, those disavowing links won’t affect your ranking in the search engine results.

However, as a website owner, you must remember that disavowing links will not erase them from your backlink profile.

Do Website Owners Need The Disavow Tool?

Surprisingly, business owners have no compulsion to use the Google Disavow Tool. Now, the question is, how do you know when you should use the Disavow Tool? Of course, if you’re a newbie, understanding it is slightly tricky. But don’t worry; we’ll break it down for you.

In the past, you’ve participated in link-building strategies, most of which are bad backlinks, and now they are harming your website. That’s when the Disavow Tool will come in handy for disavowing links. Alternatively, if you’ve been penalised by Google, you’ll have to use this tool.

So, what is the best way to understand whether you should use the Disavow Tool or not? By analysing your backlink profile, you can determine if your business will benefit from using the tool or not.

Also, anyone who participated in unethical backlink strategies intentionally will benefit from using them.

What Is Considered As A Bad Backlink?

As a site owner, you need to know what a bad backlink is to plan your SEO strategy accordingly.

According to Google, any link created to control the ranking of a website is considered a bad backlink. The reason is that it wants you to focus on making content that gets linked organically.

If you’re already using backlinks to drive traffic to your website, you’re likely to have bad backlinks. Some of the examples of bad backlinks are:

  • Footer links
  • Link schemes
  • Purchased backlinks
  • Link exchanges
  • Product for backlinks

You should get rid of any spammy backlinks as soon as possible if you come across them. The good news is that sometimes Google recognises such backlinks and disregards them.

Bad Backlinks Ahrefs

Sources Of Bad Links That Can Get You Penalised By Google

Though an essential part of SEO, link building has a dark side. While good links can make your website rank high in the SERPs, bad backlinks can hurt your ranking.

On that note, we’ve mentioned four clear-cut sources of harmful backlinks. So, let’s take a look at them.

1. Private Blogging Networks (PBNs)

In 2014, Google began removing PBNs from its index or system. For those who aren’t aware of PBNs, let us tell you that it is a group of websites used to generate backlinks for a single website.

Even though it still exists, its links are no longer considered part of any white-hat link-building technique.

No matter how effort SEO experts make to hide their actions, such tactics never work for long. As a result, you’ll only be penalised, and your site's ranking will plummet.

2. Comment And Forum Spam

It isn’t surprising that people link to their or someone else’s website in the comments section on articles and blogs in the most organic way.

Initially, you might not face any issues, but later, when the comments box of various websites is stuffed with links leading to a site, the search engine starts to recognise it. Thus, we suggest you keep keyword-optimised links away from the comments section of forums and blogs.

3. Paid Links

You're safe from penalties as long as you sell or buy pay-per-click (PPC) that carry links that don’t supply PageRank to the buyer. But you might land in trouble when you sell or pay for links that pass the PageRank.

4. Negative SEO

It isn’t surprising that backlink spamming is the most common type of negative SEO attack. For those unversed, let us tell you that most businesses use these tactics to link thousands of low-quality websites to their competitor intentionally.

Nevertheless, if you receive plenty of spammy links in a short period, then Google will become suspicious and impose a penalty.

Link Quality Diagram

Why Disavow Links?

The only reason Google recommends using link disavowal is to tackle penalties imposed on your website. So, in case you’re receiving notifications from Google regarding “unnatural” or artificial links, then know that you’re being penalised, knowingly or unknowingly.

And, of course, if you’re a webmaster or a site owner, then you’ll have to deal with penalties as and when they arise. You wouldn't have to deal with such penalties as long as you stick to white hat SEO strategies. Nevertheless, site owners must maintain a clean backlink profile, critical to a long-term SEO plan.

What Happens When You Disavow A Backlink?

You might be wondering what happens when you disavow a backlink or several backlinks.

By disavowing backlinks, you’re requesting Google to brush aside all such links that lead to your website. Once you’re successful in disavowing backlinks, Google won’t penalise you, and it won’t have any adverse effects on your ranking.

But, here’s something every website owner must remember — Google is in no way obligated to accept your request for backlink disavowal. Consequently, it has mentioned in its documentation that you’re only making a suggestion when you submit a disavowal file.

At the same time, it also mentions that the Disavow Tool is created to correct unethical linking activities. However, you can also use it to reverse the damage caused by an inexperienced SEO strategist hired previously. And so, you can expect Google to accept the disavow file rather than penalise you for the same.

Revoking A Link Disavow

Have you accidentally rejected a good-quality link to your domain? The good news is that you can revoke or undo it easily.

One such method is to delete the uploaded file; however, nobody knows if Google restores the links and their impact on your ranking immediately or not. Also, we aren’t sure if they keep a list copy.

For this reason, we advise against experimenting with link disavowal as it can hurt your ranking.

When Should You Disavow Links?

You must have understood that disavowing backlinks isn’t something you can do on a whim. It is one of the most critical inbound marketing strategies and can positively and negatively affect your ranking.

As a rule of thumb, web admins should consider disavowing links only when utterly sure of bringing them down in the Google search results.

However, you must also keep in mind that one link from a low-domain authority and low-quality site isn’t considered a bad link. Though one doesn’t make much of a difference, Google does pay attention to every link. So, it is like a vote of confidence; hence, business owners must be mindful of backlinks. You can check the Google quality guidelines to be on the safe side.

How To Disavow Backlinks In Google Search Console?

If your website has a Google Analytics tracking tag, you’re likely to have access to its search console that consists of the date of the site structure.

To disavow backlinks, it’s essential to know what bad backlinks are, and once you understand that, the rest of the process will be easy. Here we have mentioned the right ways to disavow backlinks:

Step 1: Conduct A Link Audit

Regularly monitoring high-level links can help web admins identify if you need to dive in deep or not.

The “Referring Domains” graph, the “CTLDs distribution” map, and the “Anchors cloud” — are the three reports in Site Explorer that make this process easy and efficient. Instead of absolute, these reports provide a relative assessment. No matter the size of the backlink, examining it takes more or less the same amount of time, so you can rest assured that the results will be accurate.

A. Referring Domain Graphs

The referring domain graphs can detect a link surge, most often caused by spammy links that are either a part of a negative SEO attack or self-directed. Not only that, but it may also disclose the time when a chunk of linkbait was circulated widely on the internet.

B. CTLDs Distribution Map

Another quick way to check your backlink profile is the country code top-level domain (CTLD) map.

For instance, let’s consider that a website is for a SaaS firm that deals exclusively with US clientele. However, their most popular CTLDs are not from the US; rather, they are from Russia, Libya and Columbia.

C. Anchors Cloud

If you want to figure out whether your links appear to be over-optimised or not, then anchors cloud will help you do the same.

Step 2: Carry Out A Full Link Audit (If Necessary)

As long as everything appears perfect in the above three reports, you can consider carrying out a full link audit.

Not to deny, the comprehensiveness of the material has a significant impact on the link audit quality. Make sure you use Google Search Console information in your backlink to gain clarity.

More often than not, the Ahrefs link profile can act as a stand-alone source and here’s how you can do it:

  • Go to Site Explorer
  • Enter the name of your domain
  • Add your backlink profile and referring domains
  • Sort for dofollow links
  • Filter by DR (low to high)

Unusual TLDs and low DR are the two best places to kick off link evaluation. Even though neither of the two attests that a link is bad, the metrics together provide a helpful approach to sorting links.

Step 3: Prepare Your List And Upload It To The Disavow Links Tool

As soon as you find out all the domains you wish to disavow, prepare a list and send it to Google Search Console. Fortunately, Google has explained the step-by-step process, including formatting the text file, which you can follow to disavow links.

Before creating a new disavow file, download the most recent one from the console. The disavow tool is collaborative, so the agency or the former webmaster has likely made a file previously.

In addition, formatting a file is simple and easy, and in case of any errors upon submission, Google Search Console will inform you regarding the same.

Step 4: Record Your Changes And Track Your Progress

If you think that you’ll be able to see your progress right after uploading the file, then you’re wrong. To update your site's backlink profile, Google will have to recrawl the links and only then will it make adjustments.

Using Google Disavow Tool: Frequently Asked Questions

Ahrefs Disavowing Backlinks

Q. How Do I Know If The Disavow Tool Is Necessary For My Site?

Of course, the easiest way to determine if the Disavow Tool is for you or not is the link penalty. So, if you’ve been penalised by Google or there is a drop in your website traffic, you should start using the tool.

Q. How To Remove Bad Backlinks From Google?

Before you set out to remove bad backlinks, you must identify them and approach the site to remove them. As soon as they are taken down, you are free to use the tools you want.

Q. How Long Does It Take For Google Disavow Tool To Work?

Google takes a long time to trust websites again, and it will take a few days for the results to show up. However, you must keep in mind that it can also take up to two to three months for the effects to be visible. So, if you notice less traffic on your website, it’s better to respond quickly.

Getting Your Linking Strategy Right!

So that’s about it on “When and how to disavow backlinks?”

To sum it up, bad backlinks can affect your ranking negatively, reduce website traffic and, of course, hurt your SEO efforts. And that’s why website owners need to use the Google Disavow Tool to clean up their backlink profile.

Thankfully, the Disavow tool lets web admins enjoy more control over how Google considers links referring to their site.

On that note, it’s time to wrap up today’s guide; hopefully, we were able to answer your query and clear your doubts about disavowing backlinks. But, before we sign off, here’s a last piece of advice — if you’re not confident in your digital marketing skills, do speak to an SEO expert.

Our team at sitecentre® strives to help small businesses succeed in the digital world. We utilise knowledge, skills, and technology to deliver outstanding and lasting results with customised strategies. So, if you require assistance with your linking plan, please call us.

With that, we’ll call the curtains for the day; till we meet again!

Stephanie Salud

Stephanie Salud

Stephanie comes from a background specialising in off-page SEO, from link building, citations and strategic brand placements to increase search rankings. Stephanie brings to the team a unique approach to off-page and on-page optimisations for our clients.

Find them on their website: sitecentre® and LinkedIn.

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