As every savvy webmaster knows, a perfect backlink profile is key in boosting rankings and gaining online visibility. This means that you should have a good amount of links coming from websites that are relevant for your industry, local links, and there should be a balance between links from small and high authority sites. Building this kind of profile takes time and sometimes, many poor-quality links can slow you down. Therefore Google has introduced the Disavow Links Tool in their Search Console.
This tool lets you manually select which links Google should ignore, and thus avoid potential penalties. Keep in mind, however, that this is an advanced tool and if you don’t use it correctly, it will do more harm than good.
Here are the steps for disavowing backlinks in Google Search Console:
1. Download your backlink profile
Before you disavow any links, you need to find out what websites are linking back to you and if these links are harming your profile. To do that, start by downloading your full backlink profile using tools such as Ahrefs, Majestic, or Moz Open Site Explorer. When you use these tools, you can select the links gained after a specific date, so if you’ve done an audit before, you don’t have to do the work all over again.
2. Conduct a full backlink audit
Now that you have the full report, it’s time to look at all the links and evaluate them. This part can be a bit tricky and if you’re not sure of the quality of referring domains, it’s best to contact an SEO expert and ask them to conduct an audit. Google themselves have said that you should only use the Disavow Tool if you know what you’re doing, otherwise it may end up harming your site.
To put it simply, the Disavow Tool was created to help webmasters get rid of spammy, unnatural, low-quality or irrelevant backlinks. Google defines low-quality links as sites that are part of a link scheme or that are trying to manipulate rankings in any way. More specifically, these are the things you should be looking for:
- Links that aren’t in any way relevant to your niche
- Links from sites that look spammy and contain malware
- Comment and forum spam
- Links from private blog networks, link farms, low quality web directories
- Links from websites that have been hacked
- Links from websites that aren’t indexed in Google search
- Paid links
- Links from low quality press release directories
- Links that are widely distributed through footers, widgets, or embedded in signatures on forums
Remember the general rule: Google doesn’t like schemes and if you engaged in shady SEO practices in the past, disavowing those links might be worth your time.
Keep in mind that domain authority alone may not be a relevant factor because many spammy websites have high DA. Also, simply because you don’t recognize a link, that doesn’t mean the link is bad for you or that the domain is cheating. You must be very careful when conducting the audit, since reavowing a link takes time and reavowed links don’t have the same weight, according to Matt Cutts.
3. Create and upload your disavow file
After you’ve pinpointed the links that may harm your backlink profile, you can start considering ways to remove them. In theory, you should always attempt to contact the owner of the site first and let them know you want your link removed but this is rarely possible, since spammy websites don’t exactly have good customer support. If you can control the link, and know the webmaster, then attempting to remove the link completely is always preferable, though.
To get rid of those bad links, you can then move on to creating a disavow file. The good news is that the process isn’t too technical or complicated and you don’t need to be an IT engineer to do it.
All you need to do is create a list of domains you want to disavow links from and export it into .txt format. Make sure you disavow links at a domain level, so that no links count from that one bad website.
Once your list is complete, log in to Google Search Console, head over to the Disavow Tool, then upload the file you created earlier.
If you’ve previously disavowed other links, you’ll need to download the initial disavow file, update it with the new links, and then re-upload it to the Google Search Console.
If you did everything correctly, you should see a message from Google saying that you successfully submitted a disavow links file and that there are zero errors. If you do see an error message, then that’s probably because of these common errors:
- You added “domain:http://www.example.com“. Remove the http://www.
- You have forbidden characters in the disavow file, such as â_µ„Û
Next time Google crawls your website (this can take up to a few weeks), it won’t take into account the links you included in the disavow file – it’s as if those sites didn’t link to you at all!
4. Monitor your site’s performance
Once the file is uploaded and the links have been disavowed, you may be tempted to think that it’s all over, the bad links are gone, and it’s just smooth sailing to #1 in SERPs from here. Well, not really. SEO is complicated and no one really knows how Google’s algorithm works, so you should continue to monitor your site’s performance to see if disavowing the links had a positive impact, if any at all.
Make sure you annotate the file into Google Analytics, Ahrefs, or any other analytics platform you might be using, and ask your SEO expert to monitor the website.