Disavowing backlinks is a practice used to tell search engines to ignore certain backlinks to your site. This becomes necessary when there are backlinks that could be harmful to the site’s search engine rankings. These harmful links might include those from spammy, low-quality websites, sites that are not relevant to your content, or any links that appear unnatural or manipulative.
The primary reason for disavowing links is to protect a website from the negative implications of these bad backlinks. Google, for instance, may penalize sites that appear to have a large number of artificial or low-quality backlinks, as this could indicate attempts to manipulate search rankings. In such cases, the disavow tool allows website owners to proactively address these issues by informing search engines which links should not be considered in assessing the site’s ranking.
However, it’s important to note that disavowing backlinks should be done cautiously. Inappropriate use of the disavow tool can potentially harm a site's SEO performance rather than help it. Therefore, it is usually recommended only when there's a clear indication that certain backlinks are having a negative impact on a site's search engine ranking, especially if there's been a manual action penalty from search engines like Google.
What does it mean to Disavow Backlinks?
Simply put, to disavow backlinks means to do away with links you believe can cause damages to your site's ranking on SERPs. Whenever substandard links are affecting how a site ranks, the next often step is to disavow such links. When that is done, Google will not consider those links when examining your site.
Why Disavow Backlinks?
It is no news item that backlinks are a vital part of SEO. Backlinks convince search engines that your site is relevant and impactful. Thus, giving search engine reasons to help your site rank higher. However, bad backlinks are bad news, they can cause your site lasting harm. Google could penalize you if spammy links are detected whether you are complicit in it or not. You would not want that, would you?
Scenarios for Disavowing Backlinks
The truth is, disavowing backlinks is not one of those processes you carry out by impulse. It is an important step that could build or destroy your ranking. Thus, it is vital to know when to disavow backlinks. It is advisably considered a right time to disavow links when:
Penalty or Warning from Search Engines: If you've received a manual penalty from Google or another search engine for unnatural links, it's crucial to disavow those links.
Low-Quality or Spammy Links: Backlinks from low-quality, spammy, or irrelevant sites can harm your site's reputation and rankings. These include links from link farms, adult sites, or those that are clearly spam.
Unnatural Link Patterns: If you notice a sudden influx of backlinks that look artificial or manipulative, it could be a negative SEO attack. Disavowing these links can help protect your site.
Paid Links or Link Schemes: If you have previously engaged in buying links or participating in link schemes that are against search engine guidelines, it’s wise to disavow these links.
Irrelevant or Off-Topic Links: Links from sites that have no relevance to your site's content or industry might not be beneficial and can sometimes be harmful.
Links from Penalized Sites: If the linking site has been penalized or seems to be engaging in questionable SEO practices, it's safer to disavow their links.
Over-Optimized Anchor Text: If many backlinks have overly optimized anchor text (especially with commercial keywords), they can look manipulative and should be disavowed.
For further clarification on when to disavow links, you should digest this article fully for a breakdown.
So, your traffic reduces drastically, should you consider disavowing links pointing to your site? Well, if Google was to provide an answer, it will be no. Google does not very much encourage disavowing links. Nonetheless, you are suffering a loss of traffic, so yes, you would want to explore all the possible ways to gain back your traffic and even more. So, what are you to do? A backlink Review is what you need at this point. It is essential you carefully examine your backlinks profile. If after a thorough review of backlinks you find spammy links referring to your site, you can file for a disavow.
How to Disavow Backlinks?
Identifying Harmful Links
Tools and Methods for Assessing Backlink Quality: The first step in the disavowal process is to identify harmful backlinks. This can be done using SEO tools like Google Search Console, Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Moz. These tools help in analyzing the backlink profile by providing insights into the quality, relevance, and trustworthiness of linking sites. Look for indicators like low domain authority, relevance to your site's content, and signs of spammy or artificial behavior. Manual examination of these links is also recommended to ensure accuracy in identification.
Attempt to Remove Links
Steps for Contacting Webmasters to Remove Links: Before proceeding to disavow links, it’s advisable to attempt their removal manually. This involves contacting the webmasters of the linking sites and requesting them to remove the links. You can typically find contact information in the website's contact page or through WHOIS directories. Draft a polite and concise email requesting the removal of the specific links. Keep records of these communications as they may be needed if you later decide to use Google's Disavow Tool.
Creating a Disavow File
Formatting and Compiling a Disavow File: If the manual removal of links is unsuccessful, the next step is to create a disavow file. This is a simple text file (.txt) where you list the URLs or domains of the harmful backlinks. Each line of the file should contain only one URL or domain. For disavowing an entire domain, add “domain:” before the domain name. Ensure the file follows the format specified by Google, as errors can lead to the file being rejected or not processed correctly.
Using Google's disavow tool, you can disavow harmful backlinks following these three steps.
Take a thorough link audit. Thoroughly review all the backlinks to your site.
Make a list of links or domains you want to disavow. The list should be compiled in a text file. And this file should not be greater than 2 megabytes. The link limit is 2,048 characters. You could also simply export the links report on your site, then remove the links you do not want to disavow.
Post your compiled list. Open Google's disavow links tool. The list will only apply to one property, so you choose the property you want to apply the list. Then, you can upload the list. It will only take a few weeks for Google to start ignoring those pages while processing your site. Note that links you have disavowed will continue appearing on your links report.
You can read more here on how to disavow your links on Google.
Caution and Consequences
Potential Impact of Disavowing on Site Performance: It's critical to approach the disavow process with caution. Disavowing the wrong links can negatively impact your site's SEO performance. It can potentially remove valuable backlinks that contribute positively to your site's search engine ranking. Therefore, thorough analysis and certainty that the links are harmful are essential before proceeding. It’s also important to recognize that disavowing is not a routine maintenance task but a corrective measure for specific issues.
Periodic Review and Update
Importance of Regular Backlink Profile Monitoring: SEO is an ongoing process, and so is managing your backlink profile. Regular monitoring of your backlink profile is essential to identify any new potentially harmful links. Using SEO tools, you should periodically review your backlinks to ensure that your profile remains healthy and to take action if necessary. It’s also advisable to review and update your disavow file periodically, removing disavowals for domains that have cleaned up their act or adding new ones as needed.
Waiting for Results
Understanding the Timeline and Expectations: After submitting a disavow file, it's important to have realistic expectations regarding the timeline and the results. The effects of disavowing links are not immediate. Search engines like Google take time to process the file and re-crawl the web to update their index. This process can take several weeks or even months. Additionally, the impact on your site’s ranking and traffic may vary and is not always immediately noticeable. Continuous monitoring and patience are key to understanding the full impact of your disavow actions.
This article discusses the what, why, when, and how associated with disavowing backlinks. Disavowing links is not often recommended, and it is considered a last option. It is because you may end up removing backlinks that actually help you rank. However, it will be more refreshing to disavow bad links than to leave them because you are not sure if they are problematic. Also, if your site relies on these links, after disavowing them you need effective link building. You will need to put up worthy content to earn backlinks.
The disavow tool is a powerful but nuanced instrument in the SEO toolkit. Its strategic use should be reserved for clear-cut cases where the negative impact of certain backlinks is evident and detrimental to a site's search engine performance. This tool is not a first line of defense against bad backlinks but rather a last resort when all other avenues (like manual removal requests) have been exhausted. The key lies in careful analysis, prudent decision-making, and regular monitoring to ensure that the actions taken align with the overarching goal of maintaining and improving a site’s search engine visibility and ranking. By understanding and respecting the power of the disavow tool, website owners and SEO professionals can more effectively safeguard and enhance their site's SEO health.