In order to discover spam content and defend its users, Google’s web algorithm sifts through billions of pages and backlinks each year.
The ugly head of algorithm-assigned link penalties rears its head, converting successful, good-faith websites into a desolate wasteland.
An online retailer’s career can be made or broken by a single link penalty. If your website plays a significant role in your company, you should routinely review your link profile to prevent costly errors.
Take a deep breath if you have already been hit by bad links or are reasonably concerned that you could be. There is a way to protect yourself, using a disavow file that you simply have to re-upload to Google’s disavow tool.
With the help of Google’s Disavow Tool, you can manually lessen the influence of some inbound links and prevent the demise of your website from an influx of spammy links pointing to your innocent website.
Table of Contents
- What is Google’s “Disavow Links Tool” and why was it created?
- Why Should You Disavow Links?
- What Is a Bad Backlink?
- How to Determine Which Backlinks to Remove
- How to disavow backlinks from your website in Google Search Console
- How to get Google Search Console to stop disavowing backlinks
- How to access your disavow file
- Using the Disavow Tool following a domain migration
- Pros and Cons of Google’s disavow tool
- Conclusion: Disavowing spammy backlinks is easy
- Frequently Asked Questions
Google’s Disavow Links Tool allows you to tell Google to ignore particular backlinks for ranking purposes. This is usually used when you are struggling with bad backlinks or spammy links that are damaging your reputation, such as paid links unscrupulously bought by a competitor to harm you.
A disavow file, like a rel=”canonical” tag, is a “strong suggestion rather than a directive.”
The technical procedure is straightforward: You use Google Search Console to submit a text file containing the connecting pages or domains that you want to disavow.
The decision-making process—whether to include domains in the disavow file or whether to disavow at all – is more challenging.
To make that judgment, you must first understand why Google built the Disavow Links Tool and how its significance has evolved over time with algorithm updates.
What motivated Google to develop the Disavow Links Tool?
Google has been fighting fraudulent link-building for over a decade.
Its initial attempt to reduce link spam was the January 2005 introduction of the “nofollow” property, which was intended to combat comment spam.
While Google continued to tweak its algorithm over the years, the next substantial modification targeting link schemes did not happen until April 2012, when Google released the first Penguin algorithm.
Penguin was an “external filter” that passed search results through. Because of this technological element, an algorithmic penalty could last for months after a comprehensive site cleanup.
Google augmented algorithmic penalties with Manual Actions, which were issued to webmasters if a pattern of unnatural, fake, misleading, or manipulative outbound links was found by Google employees. Manual spam action-based penalties are harder to deal with than algorithmic penalties, but you can still try a reconsideration request for link disavowal.
The Disavow Tool allowed webmasters more control over the links Google utilized to rank (or potentially penalize) a site.
Even when it was first released in October 2012, Google assumed the disavow tool only applied to a small number of webmasters and a small number of sites.
The tool was never designed to be a first line of defense against link-based penalties, and it still is not. Your site should have other defenses in place.
Most people in the SEO community believed that disavowing links was necessary to prevent sites from lengthy demotions in the search engines’ results during the first three Penguin editions.
With the release of Penguin 4.0 by Google in September 2016, the consensus shifted.
Penguin 4.0 marked Google’s transition to a “real-time” Penguin algorithm, allowing Google to target link spam on a page-by-page basis. This means more regular updates to rankings and more scope for taking manual action to fix problems.
The only situation in which Google recommends using link disavowal is regarding penalties imposed on your web page. Whether you are intentionally complicit or not, if you receive a notice from Google concerning “unnatural links,” you are being penalized, either by an algorithm or by a manual action.
Being a webmaster includes responding to Google penalties when they occur. If you use white hat SEO, that should not be a problem, but maintaining a clean backlink profile is crucial to your long-term SEO plan.
Various websites provide tools to manage the entire process of disavowing links from beginning to end to make your life a little easier. With an effective Backlinks Audit Tool, you can integrate your Google Analytics and Search Console accounts. You can obtain more accurate backlink data in this manner.
The great majority of organic backlinks are “good backlinks”—they embody Google’s ideal internet, one in which good material is regularly and freely cited. Most of them will not have a significant impact on your site, but they will help to establish your reputation as a reliable, authoritative resource.
“Bad backlinks,” on the other hand, are usually generally inorganic (though exceptions exist). Links purchased in bulk from dubious SEO sites and purposeful backlinking methods utilizing a private backlink network (PBN) are two of the worst offenders.
It is also feasible to “organically” obtain a link from one of those really spammy-looking sites that are simply lists of random links of products and links with no actual content. The link was most likely not posted by a human, and it is surely not beneficial to your site, therefore, remove it as well.
Negative SEO Attacks
Bad backlinks are also the target of a particularly shady approach known as a Negative SEO Attack. At this point, anyone with even a basic understanding of SEO knows that purchasing hundreds or thousands of backlinks will almost surely result in a penalty on your site.
Instead, you can go after your competitors by acquiring all of those backlinks and directing them to their entire domain name, ensuring that they are penalized.
A victim of a negative SEO campaign has no choice except to disavow all of the bad links that targeted their site, damaging their search rankings.
Before you can disavow backlinks in Google Search Console, you must first decide which links to remove from your backlink profile and then compile them into a text file.
You have two choices when it comes to disavowing backlink sources:
- To disavow backlinks from a certain page, provide the full URL.
- You can disavow all backlinks from any place on that site by targeting entire domains.
You cannot disavow a subpath; instead, you must target specific URLs or entire domains.
Using one of the various SEO research tools to locate specific pages and domains for site owners to disavow is the simplest option.
All of these services provide tools for viewing your site’s backlinks. You may then often filter for “spamminess” to find only unfavorable backlinks.
You might not need a tool for small-scale tasks. If you only want to remove backlinks from a single domain, for example, you do not need a tool because Google allows you to exclude a whole domain name.
Let’s get started with the detailed instructions for utilizing Google Search Console to remove backlinks. This guide assumes you are already fully verified with Google Search Console.
If you are not verified, you will need to get fully set up with google search console before you can use the google disavow tool generally.
1. Make a file called “disavow backlinks.txt”
The first step is to compile all the backlinks you want to disavow into a .txt file.
Each disavow rule will have its own line.
Paste the entire URL—including the HTTPS portion—to the page you want to target into the .txt file.
Use the following format to target full domains: “domain:targetsite.com”
Here are some additional crucial specifics regarding the .txt file:
- The name of the file must finish in .txt. Other formats are not permitted.
- Ensure that the file is encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII.
- 100,000 lines are the maximum file size, including blank lines and comments. You can therefore disavow up to 100,000 links or sites. The maximum file size is 2 MB.
- Adding comments is possible by using the # symbol. While working on the file, you could find these helpful. There is no need to worry about this confusing matters: Google ignores comments.
2. Use the Google Search Console to submit a .txt file
Go to the Google Search Console disavow links tool once you have your disavow link file.
Choose your website (“property”) from the drop-down menu after that.
Finally, upload the disavow backlinks file you prepared in the previous step by clicking the Upload disavow list button.
You are done when all the links show up in the UI after you upload the file. If you have previously forbidden this site from having any backlinks, uploading this new list will take the place of the old one. Only links on the most recent version will be affected.
Important information regarding the disavow links tool:
The disavow list will only be applicable to the particular property you selected. You must upload the disavow list for both the HTTP and HTTPS versions of your site if they have distinct properties.
Alternatively, you can build domain properties that allow you to include both HTTP and HTTPS in a single property. Both the primary root domain name and any subdomains will be impacted by your disavow list.
Any disavowed links will also apply to the primary domain if you have a separate property for your subdomain.
Google will merge the disavow lists for both properties if you submitted different disavow lists to the subdomain and the primary domain name.
Does this seem confusing at all? Not to worry! Since it is rare that you will have separate properties for a subdomain, most people will not need to bother about this.
If you have distinct properties for HTTP and HTTPS, the only thing that is actually crucial to grasp is that you must upload the list to both of them.
3. Wait patiently for a few weeks.
Google’s disavow tool takes some time to use. You will need to wait a few weeks after your upload is successful for Google to start incorporating this data into its results.
Google allows you to cancel your backlink disavows if you feel that you made a mistake and you no longer wish to disavow part or all of the backlinks that you published.
Start by visiting Google’s disavow tool website. Select your website from the drop-down menu after that, and then click Cancel Disavowals.
You will not see a change right away because it will take a few weeks for your modifications to take effect.
How to access your disavow file
If you have access to Google Search Console for your sites, you can always retrieve your existing disavow file.
It is a good idea to look at what this contains because many sites now have historical disavow files, frequently with notes indicating why any connections were posted in the first place.
You can access the tool by clicking here and choosing your website from the dropdown. The disavow tool is outdated and does not support domain properties, so be aware of this. You must instead focus on prefixes.
You must ensure that your HTTP:// and HTTP://WWW. attributes are checked because it is quite likely that any old disavow file was submitted in the HTTP rather than HTTPS era.
Using the Disavow Tool following a domain migration
In principle, you only need to disavow on the new target domain; there is no need to update disavow files on previous properties that now 301 to the current canonical version.
That means that if you already have a disavow file that you are comfortable with and are planning a migration, you should bring it with you and re-upload it on the new property.
Pros and Cons of Google’s disavow tool
The risk of using the Disavow Tool is that you do not know which of your links are causing more harm than good.
Furthermore, if you are engaging in malicious link building practices, there is a significant likelihood that a disavow file is assisting Google in labeling the links you construct as bad, making it much more difficult for you to succeed on your next project.
The easy solution here is to avoid committing a negative SEO attack. Most people find this easy, as buying bad links to target a rival site is unscrupulous and generally reprehensible behavior. Keep your link building clean and respectable.
Use the Disavow Tool sparingly and cautiously. If you have links that you are convinced are hurting you, disavowing them may set your mind at peace.
If you regret building spammy backlinks or if a rival attacked you with a negative SEO campaign, you may want to disavow those backlinks to prevent issues with Google, either through the algorithm or a manual penalty.
A proactive disavow approach can save you from a big traffic drop!
Google, thankfully, makes this simple. Simply list the URLs or domains for which you want to disavow backlinks in a.txt file.
Then, you may send that list to Google Search Console, and after a few weeks, Google will stop taking those connections into account when determining the rankings of your site.
If you use this to remove links that are harming your sites, you will be able to pass PageRank limiting checks with ease.
Remember, more links are not always better. You will want good links to your site, and even a single bad link can have a negative impact.
Whether you are a webmaster, trends analyst, or something else, it is important for most sites to pay attention to their backlink profile.
There are plenty of webmaster tools that allow you to perform a link audit, so you should be proactive about your link audit and keep your site clean and free from low-quality links.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of Google’s Disavow Tool?
You can devalue backlinks to your website using Google’s Disavow Tool. If their algorithm flags a link penalty, you risk losing visitors to your site.
Google’s Disavow Tool is a manual method for mitigating the effects of link penalties.
How can I send a Disavow file?
To begin, compile a list of links to be removed. Specify one URL per line and make sure your document is a .txt file.
Because you can only submit a 2MB document, make sure to split your folder up if you have additional backlinks to remove. After that, you can upload your list through the tool, which will then disavow backlinks for you.
How long does it take Google’s Disavow Tool to function?
It takes time for Google’s algorithm to trust your website again. The effect of a disavow link can take a few days to process and up to 2-3 months before you see improvements.
If you have been dealing with harmful spam links that are hurting your traffic, you need to act swiftly to remove the bad links that you want to disavow.
How can I get rid of harmful Google links?
First, you must fully comprehend what a ‘bad link’ is. The initial action should always be to contact the source site of the poor backlink and request that it be removed.
Only then should you employ available tools, such as those discussed in this article.
Scott Calland is a highly regarded content specialist with an English Degree. He has a passion for creating compelling content as a UK journalist that engages, informs, and entertains readers. With over 10 years of experience in creating news publications as a reporter, Scott has developed a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of how to craft content that resonates with audiences. Working closely with data analysts Scott’s research on topics is unrivalled for latest news updates.
Scott is also an investor in Searcharoo.