Disavow links is a Google search console feature which allows you to explicitly tell Google which links to your website should not be counted for measuring the authority of your website. Links do play a critical role in determining the usefulness of a webpage, which sometimes encourages people to follow shady link building techniques. If you have followed any shady link building techniques in the past or there is a situation wherein another spammy website is linking to you and you don’t want them to link to you, you can use the Disavow links tool to explicitly tell Google not to count links from specific websites or domains.
In short, you can tell Google to completely ignore the links from a specific website for whatever reason. You being the owner of the website have to submit the request from your Google search console account. This will help reduce the number of spammy incoming links to your website which in turn may help with search rankings for other pages of your website which were otherwise not ranking well in Google search.
When should you use the Disavow links feature from Google?
Typically, you don’t need to use the Disavow links feature at all, if you have not practiced any shady link building practices in the past. Some examples of shady link building are as follows
- Spammy Signature Links from Forums You have posted a lot of signature links on different forum websites, which created a free backlink from that forum page to your website. Eventually, your website has been hit by an algorithmic update from Google and now you want to clean up those old links. In this situation, you can use the Google’s Disavow links feature to exclude all the links from that specific domain. Removing spammy incoming links can sometimes help to improve search rankings of existing pages with high-quality content.
- Links from Guest Posts – You have done guest blogging on other websites in past and build backlinks to key pages of your site. Eventually, your website was flagged by Google web spam team for “Unnatural incoming Links” and now you want to take those links down. You have emailed most of the website owners and some of them have not replied back. In this situation, you can use the “Disavow Links” feature to explicitly tell Google not to consider those links for evaluating your website’s authority and relevance.
- Paid Links – You have purchased links from article directories, blogs and other websites in past. Sometime back, you observed a sharp drop in search rankings and your website being flagged by Google web spam team for unnatural link building. Now you want to clean up what you had done in past and remove those backlinks from other websites whom you paid money. Some of these website owners used the rel=nofollow on links after you requested them through email (to ensure those links no longer flow pagerank)/ Unfortunately, not everything is under your control and some people denied making any changes. In this case, you can use the Disavow tool to explicitly tell Google not to consider those paid links to measure the authority and relevance of your website for Google search.
- Incoming Spammy Links – Some spam sites are linking to you without any purpose and there is no way you can stop them to create unnatural links to your website. Since the number of spammy websites is quite and it is quite a lot of effort to keep tabs on spammers, it becomes really problematic to keep track of who is linking to you, who is a spammer and who is a legitimate source. In that case, you can do a quarterly SEO audit of your website and clean up a spammy incoming link to your domain. You can download a list of spammy domains linking to you and then use Google’s disavow tool to tell Google to ignore these links to your website.
There can be other scenarios when you would want to disavow incoming links to your site but in general, these are the main scenarios which affect most of the sites.
Why Should You Consider Disavowing Unnatural Links To Your Website Very Seriously?
Not many website owners take the Disavow tool that seriously.
The main reason – they think the more the number of incoming links to your website, the better are the search rankings.
This assumption is not true and in some cases, it is exactly the opposite.
Just because you have more links to your website, does not mean the rankings will come. The rankings will come when the links are high quality, editorial in nature, from authority websites and not created artificially. If you buy tons of links from low-quality websites, blogs and article directories and want to keep those links forever, it’s not going to help your website gain better search rankings at all.
In fact, it is exactly the opposite.
A website which buys links from other sites has a ton of low-quality links coming to different pages which looks unnatural will eventually lose search rankings because Google will classify this website as involved with spammy link building. Hence, it is better not to have any links at all compared to having low-quality spammy backlinks which are not natural. This is to ensure you stay clean and not get caught in Google’s next algorithmic update.
Google’s Advice on Using the Disavow Links Tool
Here is a nice video ex-Google employee Matt Cutts on how to use Google’s disavow links feature to remove unnatural spammy backlinks towards your website.
Here is what Matt suggests
- First of all, it is always a good idea to email all the website owners who link to you and request them to take the links down. While disavowing links is certainly a good idea but it helps if you can completely take those links down from the originating site, to ensure Google and other search engines do not crawl those links again and again.
- Only after you have emailed several times and not heard back from the website owner, you should use the Disavow links tool in your Google search console account to tell Google which links you do not want Google to consider for evaluating your website.
- Most people do not need to use this tool. Only if your website has tons of spam links which you had proactively built in the past and see that your search rankings have dropped, or you have received a message in Google search console regarding unnatural links, only then you should be using the Disavow links feature in Google search console.If you are just an average website owner with no suspicious or spammy link activities in past, you have not explicitly built links through guest posts, forum posts or bought links from article directories, there is nothing you need to do. You should completely ignore the Disavow links tool and focus your efforts in building a high-quality website which people love to read.
To use the Disavow links tool, log in to your Google Search console account and then open the Disavow links page
Choose the domain for which you want to disavow links and then create a simple text file which includes the list of all the links which you want to Disavow and then upload the text file. You can use the following format to mark specific links from a domain or mark all links from a domain
# This is just a sample comment which you can keep or remove http://example.com/page.html http://example.com/another_page.html domain:www.spamsite.com
If you want to disavow all the links from a specific domain, you can use the format – domain:www.example.com. This will disavow all the links from Example.com to your website. You can also add comments in the text file, to tell Google employees what actions you have taken on your side to remove the links from the source site. It is completely optional, you can ignore it as well.
After you have uploaded the Google Disavow tool, a member of the Google webspam team will mark these links and they will no longer be counted in passing PageRank towards your website. If your website has been affected by a manual penalty by Google webspam team, it would help to have specific comments for specific domains. These comments help the Google web spam team better understand what actions you have taken to clean up these spammy backlinks and only after you have failed to take them off, you are using the Disavow links tool.
Once links are disavowed and PageRank is no longer passed from spammy sources to your site, you can expect some positive results with respect to search rankings of your existing pages with high-quality relevant content which used to rank well earlier.
Please note that there is no guarantee in an improvement of search rankings. Just because you have disavowed a bunch of incoming links does not necessarily mean that your ranks are going to improve in coming days. However, it has been observed that for large sites with thousands and thousands of spammy links, it really helps if you do a thorough clean up and tell Google which links are legitimate and which links are not.
Be Sure to read our SEO Guide which contains useful information about SEO and we have discussed in detail key SEO Concepts with examples.