Google’s Disavow Links Tool: What You Need to Know
You probably already know that backlinks can play a crucial role in your SEO strategy. Strong backlinks direct more traffic to your site, while also communicating to search engines that your content is worthy of ranking high in SERPs.
That doesn’t mean all backlinks have a positive impact on rankings. Your site could incur penalties that will actually have a negative impact on your performance in SERPs if you acquire too many spammy links.
There are several reasons this might happen. For instance, perhaps an earlier SEO strategist for your business chose to buy links instead of generating them naturally. Even if you adjust your strategy in the future, the damage has already been done.
This might also occur if spammers use software to “link blast” your site. In one case, spammers link blasted to a WordPress podcast site thousands of times, using the anchor text “porn movie.”
You can see the effect this had on rankings (and thus, site traffic) below:
Although there are instances when you can remove bad backlinks on your own, you can’t control whether a previous SEO strategist tried to cut corners or a spammer links to your site thousands of times. Luckily, you can identify and address negative backlinks with Google’s “Disavow Links” tool.
When you click on the link to the tool above, you’re brought to the following page:
Using the tool involves the following steps:
- Select Your Site: Sites you own or manage will be shown as options in a drop-down list. Select which one you want to disavow links to. If you don’t see a specific property you manage, Google allows you to add a property to the list.
- Create a Text File: You don’t need to disavow one link at a time. This would be very cumbersome if you have thousands of negative backlinks to address. Instead, Google lets you upload a text file listing all the backlinks you wish to disavow. The following image displays how to format your list (and explains Google’s requirements) to ensure the tool works:
- Upload Your File: Once you’ve chosen your site and created a text file according to Google’s specifications, simply click “Choose file” and upload it. Keep in mind, however, that you shouldn’t expect immediate results. Processing all the uploaded information can take weeks.
Obviously, knowing how to use this tool is important. It gives webmasters greater control over which backlinks Google references when determining your site’s ranking. That’s the primary reason Google created it.
However, you also need to know when it’s necessary to use this tool. Google recommends cleaning up your backlinks via other methods instead of relying solely on this one. For example, if a spammy site is consistently backlinking to yours, reach out to the site owner and ask them to stop. They may be willing to do so.
Additionally, you need to understand what types of links Google considers negative. Google’s general definition of negative backlinks is “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.” Google provides the following examples to help webmasters identify negative backlinks:
Google also states “Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.” The following are examples of this behavior:
While you should thoroughly review Google’s criteria when assessing the quality of backlinks to your site, to simplify the concept, ask yourself if a backlink serves a genuine purpose that would benefit a user. If its only function is to direct traffic to a page on your site, it’s a link you should disavow.
Consider the “optimized anchor text” example in the image above. It’s clear those links are not directing users to a page because its content is actually valuable to them. Instead, they are using keywords solely to attract guests.
This is why you need to consistently monitor your traffic. If you notice a sudden drop in traffic and rankings, although there are several reasons this could occur, it may be due to negative backlinks.
You also need to review the SEO strategies of anyone who managed your site or developed your site’s SEO strategy in the past. If you find they often paid for links or engaged in similar behavior, you will likely want to disavow those links.
Take advantage of the Moz Link Explorer tool as well. With this tool, you can get key data about inbound links to your domain:
The data will provide you with a “Spam Score” to let you know whether a backlink is worthy of suspicion.
Keep in mind that you will learn from experience as you begin using the Disavow Links tool. It’s true that there are some instances when it can be difficult to fully determine the quality of a backlink. For example, link-sharing partnerships with other site owners can help you generate quality backlinks, despite the fact that Google may penalize you if the partnership merely serves to direct traffic to a site. Are the links your partner is including in their content actually valuable to a reader, or are they merely fulfilling a partnership agreement? You need to ask yourself these questions when evaluating backlinks.
Again, you also need to monitor your performance. Don’t assume you’ll never encounter problems again once you disavow several negative backlinks. More negative backlinks can develop in the future. By staying vigilant, you’ll be more likely to notice when this happens.