Is there anything so satisfying as disavowing links that don’t belong? We’ve been tightening up our backlink profiles for years by disavowing links unrelated to our business. Only the best, most relevant links for your site, right?
Well, now Google’s John Mueller is saying something a little different.
Don’t get us wrong—disavowing links is still crucial to a website’s overall health. But some users haven’t been using the disavow tool in the most optimal way.
Knowing which links are terrible is something you only learn with experience. It’s not always easy, but that’s what we’re here for. Our SEO services include a thorough inspection of your backlink profile. It’s the only way to discover which links are genuinely deserving of getting disavowed.
What Google Said About Disavowing Links
During a recent Google Hangout, Mueller answered a question about disavowing links. A user explained how his eCommerce website’s rankings and traffic decreased after his SEO agency disavowed many links. These links were related to products the company no longer sold. The user asked if he should add the links back to help restore his rankings.
Mueller responded that the user should add them back, saying, “If you are just doing site maintenance, changing things on your website, that wouldn’t be a case where you’d need to disavow your backlinks.”
He said, “Disavowing backlinks is mostly for cases where problematic links are pointing to your page.”
Get that? Problematic links. Changes to your website do not warrant an entire link disavowing spree.
Mueller’s advice is sound, but we thought it could use more explanation. So we decided to go into more detail, laying out three key takeaways from the interaction. Remember these when you’re hovering over the “Submit” button on a brand new disavow file, and you’ll make the most of your links.
1. “Problematic” links are the highest priority.
It’s easy to get carried away with the disavow tool. In theory, it removes bad links in one fell swoop, makes your good links more prominent, and restores your rankings. But in reality, the tool is much more involved than that.
For example, let’s say you disavow a link. It wasn’t that offensive, but you still saw it as unrelated to your business. Then, much to your surprise, your rankings dipped. Isn’t that the exact opposite effect you wanted the disavow to have?
According to Mueller, the disavow tool shouldn’t be used indiscriminately. Instead, you should place a high priority on disavowing the worst offenders. Links from content farms, et cetera—links you know are coming from bad sources—these are the ones you need to disavow immediately. Not only are they likely to be unrelated to your core business, which Mueller has said isn’t necessarily a problem, but they likely come from an untrusted source. Linking for linking’s sake is as blackhat as it gets.
Remember that Google PageRank scores pages based on the quality of the links pointing back to you. That means links from disreputable sources are prime targets for being disavowed.
2. Companies change, but your site’s value should not.
For many sites, especially eCommerce sites, there comes a time when they have to change their offerings to meet the evolving needs of their customers. When these changes happen, you may find that many of your backlinks are no longer as relevant as they once were since you don’t offer those products anymore. So what do you do? First, disavow the unrelated links, as the user’s SEO agency did for him.
This is the question Mueller answered above, where he said NOT to disavow the links.
Just because your site has changed slightly doesn’t mean its rankings do. And since it isn’t imperative that you disavow every unrelated link to your website, your rankings should stick near to their current state—but only if you leave those links alone.
Remember: Mueller said it’s normal for companies to “change their focus.” Google sees it as a natural part of running an online business and that, over time, your site “builds value.” So when you do something drastic like getting rid of months’ and years’ worth of links just because they are related to something you no longer offer, you’re shooting your site right in the footer.
3. Pay close attention to earned links.
So we know terrible links should still be disavowed. And we know not all unrelated links need to be disavowed, as that can hurt your rankings.
This should tell you that you must carefully keep an eye on your backlink profile.
Google says on its Disavow Backlinks page that you should be “confident that the links are causing issues for you” before disavowing them. The disavow tool should only be used in severe cases; Google can handle the rest.
So, yes—you can leave those now-unrelated links alone. You don’t have to disavow them as long as they’re from legit sources and not just a part of some link scheme or link farm. You’ll continue to get some good link juice from these links, and they won’t negatively affect your site.
Still, aren’t sure how to tell the difference between bad and terrible links?
We have removed over 20 Google manual penalties from our client base, so we know links well. Our methodology involves scrutinizing each link on your site to tell whether it’s legit or not. Admittedly, the process has gotten a little easier over the years; however, combatting black hat SEO is still challenging. Even links that appear to be from quality sources may not be.
It can be challenging to tell a good link from a bad one, so it’s best to leave disavowing links to the experts. Leave it to SEO Inc.