Links can make or break your site. If you have authoritative, relevant links to your site, you’re on the right track to ranking in the search engine results pages (SERPs). But even with all the ethical practices and trying to abide by Google’s guidelines, you may end up with backlinks you don’t want on your site.
How do you get rid of spammy or toxic links in your backlink profile? There are two ways:
- You can ask the site owner to remove the link. Google requires this step when you’re looking to remove links.
- You disavow them.
Google designed a tool called the Disavow Links tool that can help you manage your inbound links. However, this tool should be used with discretion and the utmost care. In this article, we’ll cover how and when to use the tool, as well as tips and mistakes to avoid.
What Does it Mean to Disavow Links?
When you disavow a link, you remove it from your backlink profile. This means that any link equity coming from that link is removed. This can be good or bad.
On one hand, it’s good to remove toxic links because they can hurt your website’s SEO. You may receive a penalty or a manual action for going against Google’s guidelines.
On the other hand, disavowing links could be bad because you may accidentally remove links that help your SEO. That is why the Disavow Links Tool should be used with caution.
When to Disavow Links
Should you disavow links? Google says not unless it’s absolutely necessary.
With every spam update, Google gets better at detecting what is and is not spammy backlinks. Typically, the search engine can automatically assess which links to trust without you taking any action. Google goes on to state,
“You should disavow backlinks only if:
- You have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, AND
- The Links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action, on your site."
While Google does everything possible to negate spammy links, conducting a backlink audit is still essential to ensure your profile remains clean. In addition, by doing the occasional backlink audit, you can avoid future penalties and any negative impact on your rankings.
Steps to Use the Disavow Links Tool
To disavow links, you must have a Google Search Console account. Then, import a text file containing the toxic links to Google's Disavow Links tool.
You can input specific URLs, or if you find many toxic links from a single domain, you can ask Google to ignore links from a particular domain.
After creating the list, go to the Disavow Links Tool and select a property. Click the button to upload your list. You will then choose the text file you just made. If the file has any errors, you will see them immediately. You can fix the list and upload it again.
Google also states that if you want to remove the disavowals for a property, you can do so in the tool. Just select a property and click cancel disavowals.
Remember to be very thorough when using this tool. Double-check that there are no high-quality backlinks in the disavow list.
It may take time for Google to reexamine your backlink profile and incorporate the disavows. Therefore, keep track of your rankings and backlinks by frequently auditing your site. This process can help ensure your site is on the right path to higher rankings.
Tips to Using the Disavow Tool
The links you want to disavow should be assembled in a text file, which will then be uploaded to Google. Google lists the link file format:
- Specify one URL or domain to disavow per line. You cannot disavow an entire subpath, such as example.com/en/
- To disavow a domain (or subdomain), prefix it with "domain:", for example: domain:example.com
- The file must be a text file encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII
- The file name must end in .txt
- Maximum URL length is 2,048 characters
- The maximum file size is 100,000 lines (including blank lines and comment lines) and 2MB.
- You can include comments if you like by starting a line with a # mark. Any lines that begin with # will be ignored by Google.
Tips for Finding Toxic Links
Identifying toxic links in a backlink profile is crucial for maintaining a healthy website. Here are some tips to help you find and deal with toxic links:
- Check for Unnatural Anchor Text:
Look for over-optimized anchor text or irrelevant keywords that don't match your content. A natural link profile has a variety of anchor texts.
- Examine the Source Website:
Evaluate the quality of the websites linking to you. Low-quality, spammy, or irrelevant sites can be indicators of toxic links.
- Monitor Link Relevance:
Ensure that the content on the linking page is relevant to your website. Irrelevant links may be considered suspicious.
- Look for Sudden Spikes in Link Growth:
Unnatural patterns of link growth, especially sudden spikes, may indicate manipulative link-building practices.
- Check for No-Follow Attributes:
While no-follow links are not necessarily toxic, many might suggest a less trustworthy link profile.
- Use Google Search Console:
Check for manual actions or warnings in Google Search Console. Google may notify you if it detects suspicious links.
- Monitor Referral Traffic:
Analyze your website's referral traffic. If you notice an influx of low-quality traffic, it might be linked to toxic backlinks.
- Utilize Backlink Analysis Tools:
Employ tools like Ahrefs, Moz, Semrush, or Majestic to conduct a comprehensive backlink analysis. These tools provide insights into the quality of links.
- Look for Duplicate Content:
Duplicate content across multiple domains may indicate a network of low-quality sites linking to you.
- Check for Redirects and Cloaking:
Regularly monitoring and cleaning up your backlink profile is an ongoing process to ensure the health and credibility of your website.
Mistakes to Avoid
As stated before, disavowing links requires careful handling. You don’t want to accidentally disavow authoritative links and lose link equity to your site. Here are common mistakes to avoid when disavowing links:
- Make sure the file you upload is a text file. Uploading a Word or PDF file can cause the tool to reject your file.
- When you have numerous spammy links from a domain, use the “domain:” instead of picking individual links. This can help save you valuable time and ensure you don’t miss any spammy links.
- Pair the correct syntax with the correct property. For example, if you want to disavow a domain, it should read “domain: domain.com.” Do not include “https” or “www.”
- If you want to add context to your disavow file, put it in the reconsideration request, not the text file. While you can add comments to your disavow file, all comment lines must be preceded with a “#.” If you have multiple lines of comments, you may miss identifying a line, and the tool will throw out the file. It’s safer to put comments in the reconsideration request instead.
- If you want to make comments in your disavow file, keep them short to avoid mislabeling a line.
In the end, Google wants to see that you’ve cleaned up as many links as possible, not only in your backlink profile but also off the actual web. This means that while disavowing links is a good idea, it’s only a start. You should also try to correct any spammy strategies so that this situation won’t happen again.
Disavowing links should be a last resort. This tool should be used with precision and caution while looking through your backlink profile because you could accidentally delete authoritative links and damage your SEO. And once you do, allow Google enough time to reconcile the disavowed links with your website.