How To Disavow Backlinks [without hurting your site]


How To Disavow Backlinks

Backlinks play a pivotal role in enhancing your website’s visibility in search engine results, making them a crucial factor in driving organic traffic. These valuable connections are instrumental in establishing your site’s credibility and trustworthiness, ultimately influencing its ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).

However, it’s important to recognize that not all backlinks are beneficial; some can actually harm your website’s SEO efforts. In such cases, the process of disavowing these links comes into play. Disavowing should be viewed as a last-resort tactic in your SEO strategy and should be exercised judiciously.

Let’s delve into a comprehensive guide on how and when to disavow a backlink, highlighting the circumstances where disavowing is necessary and, equally important, the situations where it’s best to avoid this drastic measure.

Key Takeaways

  • Backlink disavowal is the process of asking Google to disregard specific links pointing to your website.
  • Identifying the appropriate links for disavowal is a critical aspect of maintaining your website’s well-being.
  • It’s important to note that disavowing backlinks can potentially have adverse effects on your website’s traffic.
  • In cases where black hat link-building tactics have been employed, creating a disavow file can aid Google in distinguishing and flagging the questionable links you’ve acquired.

What Is a Backlink Disavow and Why Would You Use It?

Disavowing a backlink is the process of signaling to search engines, primarily Google, that you would like certain links to your website to be disregarded or not factored into their ranking algorithms.

When Google successfully processes your disavow request, it essentially means that those specific backlinks will not be considered when determining the ranking of your website in search results. In other words, they won’t positively or negatively impact your site’s position.

It’s important to note that while you can request this action from Google, they are not bound to accept or act upon your request. They treat these requests as suggestions, and the final decision is at their discretion.

But why might you want to disavow certain links in the first place?

The reason lies in the diversity of backlinks. Most backlinks are a valuable asset to your website, acting as a vote of confidence from other online sources. They essentially vouch for the quality and trustworthiness of your content and contribute positively to your site’s search engine rankings.

However, not all backlinks are created equal. Some can actually harm your ranking rather than help it. These detrimental links may come from low-quality or spammy websites, or they might be the result of link schemes or manipulative SEO practices. By disavowing such harmful links, you can safeguard your website’s SEO health and protect it from potential penalties or ranking drops.

Google is good at ignoring bad links

While Google’s algorithms have evolved to an impressive level of sophistication, enabling them to discern and disregard low-quality links, there remains a possibility that certain links pointing to your website might be negatively affecting your search engine ranking. Consequently, it is advisable to consider disavowing links as a measure of last resort.

What Are Spammy Links?

Often referred to as detrimental backlinks, these are undesirable links that can tarnish your website’s reputation in the eyes of Google.

A considerable portion of these unfavorable links is a result of employing unethical black hat SEO tactics, which aim to manipulate search engine algorithms for higher rankings.

Google possesses a keen ability to identify websites employing black hat link-building methods, and it routinely disregards their content or may even impose penalties on their rankings. Notably, Google has recently unveiled its cutting-edge SpamBrain link update, designed to completely devalue and disregard such links.

The majority of toxic backlinks are acquired through the following means:

  • Purchasing backlinks from dubious SEO websites.
  • Orchestrating deliberate backlinking schemes using a private network of backlinks (PBN).
  • Engaging with link farms, which generate an abundance of low-quality links.
  • Acquiring links from exceedingly spammy websites.
  • Falling victim to negative SEO attacks aimed at damaging your website’s online reputation.

Negative SEO attacks

While infrequent, negative SEO attacks entail efforts to undermine a rival’s website’s search engine rankings. One illustration of this practice involves the creation of websites solely for the purpose of hosting irrelevant, spammy, and detrimental links that are directed towards a competitor’s site.

How to Find Spammy Links

Identifying the correct links to disavow can significantly impact your website’s well-being. Hence, it’s imperative to possess effective backlink auditing tools.

SEMRush, Moz, Ahrefs, and Majestic all provide backlink audit functionalities, each with its unique offerings. SEMRush and Moz go the extra mile by incorporating a Spam Score feature. These tools meticulously evaluate all the domains linked to your site, singling out those deemed potentially harmful.

Detecting toxic backlinks is crucial, and here are some telltale indicators:

  • Low-Quality Sites: Links originating from websites with poor content or dubious reputations should be scrutinized.
  • Unnatural Links: When the linkage between sites seems forced or manipulative, it could be a sign of a toxic backlink.
  • Keyword Match Anchor Text: An abundance of backlinks with anchor text closely matching your target keywords may raise red flags.
  • Unrelated Anchor Text: If the anchor text used for linking is irrelevant to your content, it may indicate a toxic link.
  • Low Organic Traffic: Backlinks from websites with minimal organic traffic might not contribute positively to your SEO efforts.

For a deeper dive into the realm of toxic backlinks, explore our dedicated article on this subject.

When to Disavow Links

It’s crucial to bear in mind that disavowing backlinks should not be taken lightly, as it carries the potential to adversely affect your website’s traffic. This is primarily because disavowing backlinks can lead to the removal of links that play a vital role in enhancing your site’s overall authority and search engine rankings.

So, under what circumstances should you consider disavowing backlinks?

You Have a Manual action

While quite uncommon in contemporary times, encountering a manual action from Google serves as a clear signal to commence the disavowal of detrimental links.

A manual action transpires when a Google Search evaluator meticulously evaluates the links associated with your website, subsequently concluding that they contravene the company’s established quality guidelines.

This outcome represents the most adverse consequence of having previously employed questionable backlink building techniques.

For websites that find themselves in this unfortunate situation, the ramifications are severe, manifesting in a significant decline in both rankings and traffic.

To assist webmasters in rectifying this situation, Google Search Console offers explicit examples outlining the reasons behind the manual action, as well as recommendations for the necessary corrective actions.

Sudden traffic or ranking drop

Search engines have the capacity to quietly impose penalties on your website for engaging in link building strategies that violate their guidelines. Should you observe a sudden decline in your website’s traffic and rankings, particularly if your link profile appears questionable, there’s a strong probability that you’re facing repercussions due to harmful backlinks.

It is essential to exercise caution and explore other potential factors contributing to your website’s reduced performance, such as recent algorithm updates or the possibility that your competitors have enhanced their websites and are consequently diverting traffic away from your own.

Proactive disavow

While your website might be performing reasonably well, there could be lingering concerns about the quality of your backlink profile, fearing potential repercussions. Perhaps you previously engaged in link-building strategies that you now regret, as they have left you with a collection of questionable and spammy links.

On the other hand, you might suspect that someone is intentionally creating spammy backlinks to harm your site’s reputation. In either case, if you anticipate having toxic backlinks that could draw Google’s attention in the future, it’s advisable to adopt a proactive approach and consider disavowing them.

Nonetheless, it’s crucial to exercise restraint in your actions. The age-old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” holds merit. Therefore, it’s prudent to limit your disavowal efforts to the most concerning backlinks.

In situations where you recognize your own involvement in bad SEO practices, reaching out to the webmasters of the linking sites and requesting the removal of these links should be your initial step. Disavowing links should be regarded as a last resort, employed only when all other avenues have been exhausted.

How to Disavow Backlinks Using Google Search Console

Ensure disavowal only occurs when it’s absolutely indispensable.

When you’ve firmly committed to moving forward, follow these simple steps. They’re remarkably straightforward and won’t consume much time!

Step 1 – Create a list of links to disavow

Write a list of pages and domains you want to disavow and put it into a simple .txt file. You will upload this to Google Search Console.

Here’s how to assemble your disavow list:

  • Put each page or domain that you want to disavow on a separate line.
  • You cannot disavow entire subpaths, like:
  • Prefix domains and subdomains with “domain:”, for example:
  • Include any comments you have by starting a line with a hash symbol. Google will ignore these lines.

Notes on creating a disavow file:

  • Ensure that the disavow file is saved in either UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII encoding.
  • Make certain that the disavow file bears the .txt file extension.
  • Keep in mind that the disavow file should not exceed 2,048 characters in URL length.
  • When working with a disavow file, be mindful of its size, as it must not surpass 2 megabytes or contain more than 100,000 lines. This limit encompasses both empty lines and comment lines.

Step 2 – Upload the disavow list

After you’ve prepared your disavow link file, head over to Google Search Console’s disavow links tool.

Next, pick your website or “property” from the dropdown menu.

Now, it’s time to upload the disavow backlinks file you meticulously crafted in the earlier step.

Once you’ve uploaded the file, your disavowed links will gracefully populate the disavow links tool interface, and you’re officially in the clear.

Should you have a history of disavowing backlinks for a particular site, introducing a fresh list will seamlessly replace the existing one.

How Long Does It Take to Disavow a Link?

The process of uploading your disavow file is typically quite swift. After you’ve completed this step, it might take up to three months for Google to begin disavowing the identified backlinks, although, occasionally, the process can be expedited and show results in as little as a few days.

You can anticipate experiencing an improvement in your rankings within approximately one month after submitting your disavow file.

However, if four months elapse, and you haven’t observed any positive changes, it’s probable that Google has opted to disregard your disavow request.

Considerations Before Using the Disavow Tool

Utilizing Google’s disavow tool presents several challenges, primarily stemming from the uncertainty surrounding its outcomes. One of the key issues is the difficulty in identifying which of your links are genuinely harmful. Paradoxically, some seemingly detrimental links might be contributing positively to your search engine rankings.

Moreover, when you submit a disavow file, you run the risk of alerting Google to any dubious link-building practices you may have employed in the past. This might lead Google to perceive all your backlinks as questionable, complicating your efforts to enhance your backlink profile in the future.

The benefits derived from disavowing backlinks remain elusive, with limited documentation and inherent difficulties in testing its effectiveness. Another problem is the potential for false attribution. Disavowing certain bad links may coincide with improvements in your backlink profile, but these positive changes could be due to various other factors, such as Google Core Updates, alterations made by competitors, offline marketing efforts, or the introduction of fresh content.

The core issue lies in the intricacy of attributing specific alterations in a webpage’s rankings to a single cause, making it a complex and uncertain endeavor.

Can You Undo Disavow Links?

Reversing a disavowed link is a relatively straightforward process, but it’s essential to exercise caution and prudence when deciding to reinstate a link. Here’s how you can reinstate a previously disavowed link, along with some important considerations:

  • Access Google Search Console: To reinstate a disavowed link, start by accessing your Google Search Console account.
  • Locate the Disavow File: Within the Search Console, locate the disavow file where you initially listed the link you want to reinstate.
  • Delete the Link: Open the disavow file and remove the entry for the link you wish to reinstate. This effectively means you are retracting your disavowal of the link.
  • Be Cautious: Before proceeding, it’s crucial to emphasize the need for caution when disavowing links. Disavowing should only be done when necessary, as Google may retain a record of your disavowal, even if it’s not visible in the Search Console.
  • Suggestion, Not Guarantee: Understand that Google Search Console treats requests to undo disavowed links as suggestions. This means that the reinstatement of the link is not guaranteed. Google’s algorithms will still evaluate the link’s quality and relevance to your site.

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