Bad links can cause a website to lose search ranking and even be removed from search results. The penalties from Google are usually algorithmic but it is still possible to get a manual action from Google’s webspam team. Either way, the consequences can be bad news for your website.
Google gives you an out; you can disavow links.
But whilst disavowing links can be beneficial, the accepted wisdom around toxic links has changed and recent information from Google is suggesting that in almost all cases, disavowing links may well be a waste of time. Indeed, in most cases it is not necessary.
In this article, I take a deep dive into disavowing links, separating the myths from the facts and looking at how and when to disavow those ugly looking links.
When to Disavow Links
Low quality links can be auto-generated by bots, or sites that publish website stats but Google can ignore these, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. In fact there are many cases where disavowing links can hurt rather than help. Google does not recommend the link Disavow tool except in specific circumstances.
Before you decide to disavow links, get a comprehensive understanding of the link profile of the website. If possible, combine several tools and compare their data to get a good idea of what links to disavow. Never paste a list of toxic domains from a single tool and then disavow all the links.
Note that the link disavow tool only works for website properties. It does not work for domain properties.
To disavow links, first, you need to list them in a .txt file. Then go to the link disavow tool in Google Search Console. Then you need to choose the property and upload the list.
If you have separate properties for the HTTP and HTTPS versions of your website, you need to upload the list to both properties. This means you first submit the list for one property and then submit it again for the second property.
If you upload links for a subdomain property, the list will automatically apply to the main domain property. So you needn’t submit the same list twice.
Inbound links that use rel=”nofollow” and rel=”sponsored” tags are usually safe. This is because they block ranking credit from being passed on to your website. Such links will not positively or negatively impact your website search engine rankings.
Let’s take a deeper dive into which links that Google recommends you disavow and shouldn’t disavow now.
1. Links that Google recommends to disavow
According to Google, you should only disavow links if they are a considerable number and they have resulted in a manual action. Below is a screenshot of their exact instructions;
2. Disavow links that you or an SEO consultant bought for ranking purposes
Here’s a quote from John Mueller, a webmaster trend analyst at Google and their general spokesperson on all these matters:
So if you paid for links and can’t “clean them up”, it is a good idea to disavow them. To “clean them up” means to qualify them to Google and get the rel=”sponsored” tags added to them.
The other way to clean them up is of course to get the links removed by speaking to the webmaster or site owner.
Bought links are those that were exchanged for money, goods, or services. You can add affiliate links and aggressive link exchanges to that list.
3. Unexplained ranking loss after update
If Google has rolled out an update recently and you have lost rankings, the first thing to do is find out why. If all other factors cannot explain the loss of ranking you might want to take a deep look at your backlinks.
Also, if the update was link-based, and you lost ranking, you’ll need to identify the offending links and try to fix them by getting the rel=”nofollow” and rel=”sponsored” tags added or the links removed.
If none of those options can materialise it’s a good idea to disavow such links.
4. Proactive disavowal
There’s another way to decide whether to disavow links. Consider if links are within the spectrum that can get your site penalised with manual actions, or hurt your rankings in any way. Culprits can include:
- All unnatural links
- Links created with the sole purpose of manipulating the ranking of the website, especially where you’ve done link building campaigns at scale
- Links in guest posts that were designed to increase ranking
So called private blog networks (PBNs) violate Google’s webmaster guidelines since they’re purpose-built for link building to manipulate search results. Link building like this falls under black hat tactics and isn’t encouraged. You can read all about white hat vs black hat SEO here.
Other examples of links that you may want to disavow:
- When a referring domain sends an unnaturally high number of links to your website (this can be fine if it’s natural like a credit to a web design agency in a footer)
- Where too many links come from low “domain authority” websites that could be construed as link farms
- Where the anchor texts are keyword rich and unnatural. Even worse is where all linking domains use the same keyword-rich anchors (avoid this at all costs as it will get you penalised)
After disavowing links, monitor performance to see if the result is better rankings, worse rankings, or no change. It will take several weeks before you can see any changes.
In case the result is worse rankings, you can reverse the disavowal, but it will also take several weeks for the reversal to take effect.
5. Negative SEO attack
A negative SEO attack is where another party purposely builds a lot of toxic links to your website in order to get it penalised. This is quite rare, and there’s a chance that Google will ignore. Just to be safe you can disavow such links since there’s not much risk that it will negatively affect website performance.
The most important thing to remember is that there are many white hat ways to get good links, so you don’t even have to deal with the extra work of disavowing links if you do your homework and keep on the right side of Google’s algorithm.
If a link to your website is relevant and helpful to the audience of the website linking to you, it is a good link. If not, generally speaking, it could be seen as a bad link.
Google is determined to perfect its understanding of good and bad links. You can future-proof your link-building efforts by ensuring all inbound links to your website are helpful and relevant to visitors of the source websites and pages.
Or better yet, get in touch with an agency like Superb Digital, who knows how to stay on the right side of Google when it comes to building those all important backlinks to get your web pages ranking and your online revenue rocketing.