Determine if a link disavow is necessary and avoid costly mistakes. Google's Link Disavow Tool was launched nearly a decade ago on October 16, 2012.
As we approach the tenth anniversary, webmasters still have confusion and disagreements about how to approach a link analysis (Backlinks) and how to properly use backlink data when considering a disavow. A lot has changed since 2012!
Whether you're disavowing as a preventative measure or to recover your ranking after a penalty, we'll review current approaches to take based on our experience disavowing links over the past decade.
Let's start by answering who probably doesn't need a disavowal, and that's most of you. If you've stuck with natural link acquisition and your SEO traffic is on the rise, a link disavow is unlikely to help you. This is especially true if your site already has a relatively low number of backlinks or is in a less competitive situation .
Submitting a disavow file to Google can even hurt the rankings of otherwise healthy websites if the tool is not used wisely.
Consider analyzing your backlinks and submitting a disavow file if:
- You have a notice of "unnatural links" in Google Search section: manual actions).
- You know that unnatural links have been acquired to your website, either recently or at any time in the past. Even links from years ago can come back to bite you as Google continues to track and adjust its algorithms to counter artificial link networks.
- You experienced an inexplicable loss of traffic/ranking or loss of traffic in the run up to a known Google update. Likewise, if traffic remains stable over long periods of SEO initiatives and on-page content creation, and you suspect off-page factors may be the reason.
- You regularly see many new spammy links pointing to your website and you think you are the target of a negative SEO attack.
- You don't fully trust the algorithm and want to better understand your current link profile and risk level.
Links from scrapers and other obvious spam are likely to be filtered out and ignored by Google, they do n't add any value to your site but do n't cause you any problems either. Almost every website has them, and you can usually ignore them or include them in your disavow file if you're worried. But links from known link sellers and link networks can become a big problem. Common link building tactics that require link disavowal include:
- Buying guest blog posts or "sponsored content" without the proper link attributes.
- Buy links with a minimum level of "authority".
- Get keyword-rich anchor links pointing directly to SEO landing pages.
- Buy links at all, for that matter, especially from anyone offering pre-screened placements.
- Participate in link farms (exchanges for example)
To have a global and complete view of your backlinks profile, the combined use of tools such as Google Search Console, Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic, Semrush, etc. can be of great help, but it takes a little time and a minimum of knowledge. Alternatively, you can hire an SEO professional to help you track your Off-Page SEO if you're not fully confident in your approach. If you choose to do this alone, downloading the links provided in Google Search Console will probably suffice, even if it only shows a small "sample" of your overall link profile.
Once you get your link data, you will need to make decisions on how to analyze your backlinks. Most webmasters take shortcuts, relying on software to tell them how "allowable" or "toxic" a link might be. This is a quick but dangerous way to build your list of links to disavow from this list without analyzing it.
Although practical, we do not recommend that you rely on:
- Third-party link metrics from SEO software listing the “authority”, “trust” or “rating” of your links. These scores better represent a site's ability to rank than its ability to pass link equity (or harm) to you. None of the companies providing these metrics are Google, Google does not use their data, their rating is based on their unique and often limited crawling, their data and link values all vary from each other, and they do not consider generally not if a website linking to you has disavowed one of its own links or has been penalized by Google for selling links. Ironically, many penalized sites will receive "authority",
- Blindly paste any software's "toxic" or "spam" link list into your disavow list. We've seen webmasters rely on this too often, resulting in further loss of traffic. A third reminder: a disallowance can do more harm than good if it is done incorrectly.
Make decisions based on a linking site's traffic levels. A link can be natural and relevant, even if it comes from a public library, a local non-profit website or a hobbyist. These sites likely have low levels of traffic because they typically don't rank for large amounts of business phrases. However, links from them are always natural and freely given to support your overall link profile. Do not disavow them!
Instead, ask yourself:
Does the site that refers you seem like a good resource, put online to bring value to its audience? Is it maintained by someone who has subject matter expertise or a strong interest in the topic in question? Do they relate to you in a natural way, as an extension of their own content and compiled resources? If so, it's probably a great link to have and you won't have to worry about causing any problems.
What does the link profile of the linking site itself look like? Are the backlinks natural or do they seem manipulated for SEO purposes? Are the external links on the website there to provide more information on the topic being discussed and are they consistent with the theme of the site? If both the site's internal and external links pass the test, you can probably safely exclude that link from your disavow file.
Is the website linking to you filled with varied content and lots of unrelated external links? Is it a blog you've never heard of with posts about everything , always linking to a business website in every post? Links from sites that fit this pattern are likely in a link network or database, can potentially harm your SEO performance, and have been a prime target for update link spam from Google last summer. you mustconsider links from websites that fit that mold for your disavowal, especially if they've never sent you direct traffic through someone who actually clicks on your link.
If your site is subject to manual action due to unnatural links to it or if you are concerned that it is subject to manual action (due to paid links or other linking systems that violate our Quality Guidelines ), you should try to remove those links from the offending site. If this is not possible, you should disavow the URLs of dubious pages or domains that redirect to your website.
This is an advanced feature that should be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature may adversely affect your site's performance in Google search results.
In most cases, Google is able to assess which links you can trust without further guidance. Therefore, this tool is not useful for the majority of sites.
Only disavow inbound links under the following conditions:
- A considerable number of artificial links, of poor quality or associated with spam leading to your site.
- These links have caused or are likely to cause a manual action against your site.
We make every effort to ensure that actions taken on third-party sites do not harm a website. In some cases, inbound links may influence our rating of a site or page. For example, you or an SEO you used may have created inappropriate links to your site through paid links or other linking schemes that violate our Quality Guidelines . First of all, we advise you to remove from the web as many links as possible that are associated with spam or of poor quality.
The "Disavow Links" tool is not compatible with domain properties. If you are using a domain property, this page does not apply to you.
Like most SEO efforts, staying on top of your link profile is rarely a one-off initiative and more often feels like a game of cat and mouse, depending on the scenario. If your website and its traffic levels are healthy and growing, reviewing your backlink profile can be done less frequently. Semi-annual or annual frequency may be appropriate depending on your level of concern.
A preventive disallowance may make sense in this situation; if problems arise, Google is months behind on reconsideration requests, and that's not a situation you want to find yourself in. usually the best approach.
On the other hand, webmasters may find it useful to review their backlinks and update their disavow files more regularly if they have been affected by manual action or link-based updates in the past, or s 'they suspect they are being targeted by a negative SEO campaign. More frequent reviews can help ensure you're ahead of the algorithm when unlinking from links that may cause short- or long-term problems.
Here's an infographic from MOZ that sums you up on whether you need to disavow links and when to do so:
Since its debut a decade ago, Google's Link Disavow Tool has remained an often misunderstood part of its Search Console (GSC) for webmasters. Initially needed only in response to the deployment of the "Penguin" algorithm in 2012 and as a way to resolve manual actions, its use cases have evolved for both preemptive and reactive scenarios. Likewise, the way webmasters review their links for various purposes has changed over the past decade.
Regardless of your need to visit the disavow tool, it is important to keep in mind that getting natural and trusted links can be one of the main engines of SEO growth, contributing directly to the increase traffic and ranking over time. Obtaining safe and effective links reduces risk in your backlink profile and helps avoid the need to disavow.