How and Why to Disavow Toxic Links

It’s often said that the most significant factor of how search engines rank sites is your backlink profile. So, what can help more to improve your backlink profile than by removing bad or toxic ones?

Well, now Google’s John Mueller is saying something a little different.

While disavowing links is still a significant part of a website’s rank, there are still some ways to use the disavow tool more effectively.

Knowing which links need to be disavowed is where professional SEO companies can come in to help you out. Contacting us to analyze which links you should keep and which ones need to go, could establish a significant lift for your brand.

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What Google Has to Say About Disavowing Links

During a recent Google announcement, Mueller answered a question about disavowing links. After a user disavowed links to old products on his eCommerce site, he experienced a drop in rankings and traffic. He wanted to know if adding the links back would improve his ranks.

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 went on to say that “disavowing backlinks is mostly for the case where problematic links are pointing to your page.”

But what does he mean by problematic links? Allow us to delve into this more, to provide an actionable guide to how you can effectively disavow links to improve your web ranks.

Google has a new suggestion for disavowing links: not every unrelated link has to be disavowed.

1. Focus On “Problematic” links

The disavow tool can be a potent tool that Google offers, allowing you to increase your site’s rankings. It can potentially remove tons of toxic links that are weighing your site’s rankings down from reaching the top.

It’s easy to get carried away with the disavow tool. Finding links that are only somewhat appropriate for your site and disavowing them could harm your rankings instead of the expected positive affect.

Let’s take, for example, a link on a blog that wasn’t purely spam. The blog contained articles related to your business, but yet you felt they included too many links on the page, and you asked Google to disavow it. This could lead to a drop in rankings.

Conversely, say there was a blog that contained spammy topics and links that you didn’t want your brand to be associated with, and you asked Google to disavow that link. This would usually lead to increased rankings.

According to Mueller, the disavow tool shouldn’t be used indiscriminately. Links made from content farms or are just pure spam pages should be a high priority. They should be removed without hesitation of the benefit that can directly affect your potential to rank or worse by getting a penalty. You don’t want to be involved in black hat linking projects at all, no matter how many links you could get. One thing to note is that although a link may be on a page that isn’t directly related to the content on your site if it’s from a trusted source, this doesn’t mean it’s a bad link, and it should not be disavowed.

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.

It’s normal for the direction of a company to change over time. As this happens, links that once were related to the content of your site now become outdated. So the question remains, what do I do with these obsolete links?

This is the question Mueller answered above and said NOT to disavow the links.

There is link juice coming from these unrelated links because they are from trusted sources. So, the value of them remains even though they are linking to outdated content. They explain the history of your company and build value, so you should, therefore, leave them alone.

Don’t remove months or years worth of value by disavowing old links. It’s normal for companies to “change their focus” as Mueller put it. If you do disavow the links, you can expect a drop in your rankings.

3. Pay close attention to earned links.

So we know links that appear to be from black hat sources such as link schemes and content farms should be disavowed and that links from trusted sources, though they may be unrelated to your company’s current focus, should be left.

What this means is that you need to very carefully monitor your backlink profile.

Google states 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 cases where the links are causing penalties; Google can figure out what to do with the rest of the links.

How We Remove a Google Link Penalty

Now that we know which links need to remove, let’s get down to how to go about the process of eliminating them.

The first thing we do is assess your backlink profile using tools such as Google Webmaster Tools. This provides us with a full list of all the links pointing to your site. Then we look at the links, including their URLs and the anchor text, prioritizing which links should be removed first.

The next step is to reach out to the site owners with the offending links and ask them to either remove or disavow the links. Doing this shows Google that we have put in some effort to remove the links already before we create the disavow request. After we do this, and before we disavow the links, we reach out two more times if they have not gotten back to us. This gives the site owners plenty of time to remove the links.

How to Use the Disavow Tool

Warning: this guide is for web experts only. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could severely ruin your rankings on Google. We suggest contacting us to receive a free quote on how we can perform this service for you.

First, head over to Google Search Console and click links. Click export external links in the top right. Then click on either sample links or the latest links or even both. You want to get as many links as possible, so it’s also good to use other tools such as Majestic, Moz, or ahrefs.

Next, combine the links into one file and go through them one at a time. If you want to keep a link, you can write, keep next to it. If you want to remove a link, put it in a separate file, and you can even write remove next to it. You’ll want only to write the domain such as example.com without www. replacing it with “domain:” in front of the toxic domains, you want to remove. The file needs to be in plaintext, so you can copy the file into Notepad if needed and save it.

To enter your new domain’s file into the disavow tool, select the domain you wish to remove links. Then click disavow links and upload your text file.

You’ll want to save this file because if you wish to add links to your disavow list, you’ll need all the original links as the disavow file completely rewrites all the disavowed domains in your list.

The disavowing process doesn’t happen instantly. Google needs to recrawl all the URLs for the update to take effect. This process can take up to a year, but usually not more than a few months.

If you accidentally disavow a URL you would like to include later, simply remove it from the disavow file and reupload it. This process takes even longer with the purpose being to prevent people from cheating the system.

Still not sure how to tell the difference between a bad link and a terrible link?

We have removed over 20 Google manual penalties from our client base, so we have developed a methodology that involves scrutinizing each link to your site to tell whether it’s causing harm to your site’s health.

It can be challenging to tell a useful link from a bad one, so it’s best to leave disavowing links to the experts. Leave it to SEO Inc.

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