Guide to Backlink Disavow in Google Search Consoles
Backlinks represent a “vote of confidence” in the world of SEO. But not all backlinks are the same.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of backlinks – good backlinks and bad backlinks. While good backlinks will increase your SEO score and probably get you ranked, bad ones will only hamper your SEO growth.
Because of this, part of your SEO strategy should involve identifying all the bad links to your site and neutralizing them before they send the wrong signal to search engines bots.
The process of neutralizing these links to make search engines bots ignore them is what’s widely referred to as link disavowing on this side of the street.
What’s Link Disavow?
Link disavow is how you tell Google and other search engines to ignore a list of links when ranking your website.
Well, this isn’t as simple or straightforward as it seems. It’s a fairly serious task that could negatively impact your organic search ranking.
Generally speaking, you’re to only disavow links that are likely to hurt or harm your ranking.
The links you get from a low domain authority (DA) or low traffic sites aren’t necessarily bad. They might not contribute much in terms of link juice or search traffic, but they still count as a vote of confidence, enough to propel your search engine ranking a few notches high.
So, What’s a Bad Link Exactly?
The majority of organic backlinks that you’re likely to get are “good links.” They represent the ideal, or the internet that Google and other search engines are striving for.
Most of them won’t move the search engine needle, but they’ll gradually build your online reputation not only as a trustworthy site but also as an authoritative resource.
Bad links refer to any in-organic link, gained through black hat SEO stratagems or negative SEO attack.
The biggest offenders are the people who purchase these links en masse from shady sites (such as Fiverr and Seo Clerk) or anyone using a private backlink network.
It’s also possible to receive these links organically from ultra-spammy sites that just list links and products with no content. These links are usually placed by bots and have absolutely no SEO value to your site. So, it helps to just remove them whenever you spot one.
Negative SEO Attack
Bad backlinks can be used as a subject of unscrupulous SEO strategy called negative SEO attack.
Anyone with the barest SEO knowledge understands that purchasing thousands of backlinks for a few dollars is a recipe for disaster.
But instead of purchasing these links for themselves, some of your competitors may choose to play dirty by pointing all those backlinks to your site in the hopes that Google will end up penalising you.
In the case of a negative SEO attack, you want to disavow all the low-quality backlinks pointing to your site.
When Should You Disavow Links?
As we said, link disavow isn’t something you just wake up one morning and decide to do. It’s a serious action that could impact your search ranking either positively or negatively.
So, when is it justly to disavow a link?
Note that disavowing a link should be the last resort. The first thing you want to do is to reach out to the site owner and ask them if they can manually disavow the links for you.
You can find their contact details on WHOIS or find them on social media.
Here’s an example of an email message to send them:
“Hello (the name of the site owner),”
I am (your name) and I work for (your website’s URL). We’ve been trying to remove some of the backlinks pointing to our site as created by our previous SEO company.
We just found out that they used some really shady methods to build the backlinks. They have also spammed your comment section with these links.
I’d like to apologise for this on behalf of my company, and hopefully ask you to help us remove these backlinks.
Here’s the page with a link to our site ([page’s URL), linked by the anchor text “the anchor text used” and with this URL (your page’s URL).
I’d be really grateful if you helped me with this.
If you can’t find the owner’s contact details on WHOIS, consider reaching out to them on social media or by commenting on the post or by directly messaging them via their contact box.
When Your Site Traffic Drops
When your site traffic drops and you do not have a proper manual plan on how to proceed, one thing you can do is disavow any link that appears suspect.
You’ll rarely see an increase in traffic after disavowing your link. And if it occurs, it will be a case of correlation other than causation.
If you’re experiencing a massive traffic drop, then you want to start by covering all the bases and experimenting with everything you think might reasonably work.
You can begin by peeking through your link profile to see if there’s anything suspicious.
If you spot any bad link, then be sure to disavow it immediately.
Part of Your Regular Clean up Routine
Your traffic might be doing fine. But if you’re worried that an accident might happen, then it helps to always keep your link profile clean.
You can do this during your regular link clean up routine. Go through your link profile and disavow all the bad links. An even better approach would be to try replacing them with more legitimate links, especially where your site happens to rely on them.
What’s Likely to Happen When You Disavow Links?
Note that by disavowing a link you’re essentially suggesting to Google not to use those links to rank your site.
That means those links can’t be used for or against you when ranking your site.
You’re simply suggesting and not instructing, considering Google isn’t obligated to honour your request. In this document, they make it clear that a request to disavow a link is nothing more than a suggestion, which they’re not obligated to honour.
They also go on to describe it as a tool or a way to fix bad links or undo the work of a shady SEO service you hired.
However, they’ll likely honour your request instead of maintaining a punitive stance.
Can You Undo a Link Disavowal?
You can delete the link disavow file you submit to Google. That’s the same as undoing the disavowal request you sent.
This will see to it that every link that’s in the file (and which was consequently disavowed) is reinstated.
It’s more like having the bot tapping on the shoulder of Google’s Algorithm and saying, “hey,” it’s now clear. You don’t have to keep on ignoring these links.”
Say you accidentally disavowed a good link, removing it from your disavowal file will automatically get it reinstated and probably regain its initial value.
Google will reinstate the links and revert any loss of rank position or penalty if you need one.
What Links Should You Disavow?
So, what links should you disavow? How exactly do you tell which link to disavow?
Links from Sites with High Spam Score: Always check the spam score of every site that links to you. The highest spam score is 17. Any site with a spam score of 17 out of the possible 17 is a red alert.
The safest site has a spam score of 0. But in our case, you’re to disavow any link with a spam score of 5 and above.
Unrelated Anchor Text: The link has to occur naturally. The anchor text used must be relevant and connected to your page or post. If the anchor text appears to be off or not related to your industry, then the most logical thing to do would be to disavow it immediately.
The same applies if the link is from a site in a foreign language or unrelated industry.
Low Domain Authority: This should be the first thing you check. Try to disavow any link from a site with a domain authority of less than 5.
Hidden Links: These are sites that use spaces or white text as the anchor text.
Must You Delete Your Old Disavow File Every Time You Upload a New One
Here’s the thing: every time you upload a new disavow file, it automatically replaces the old one.
Say you want to remove a link or a handful of them from your disavow file. All you need to do is open the file and delete them before reuploading it.
The links you’ve removed will be reinstated and the new links you’ve added will be disavowed.
In other words, you don’t have to delete your old disavow file every time you upload a new one.
The justifiable reason to delete an old disavow file is when you accidentally included a good link in the file. When Google disavows any of these backlinks, your ranking may take a nosedive. If you can’t figure out why this is happening, then perhaps you should consider looking into your disavow file to see if you accidentally disavowed a good link.
When Is It Justifiable to Delete a Disavow File?
It’s justifiable to delete a disavow file when it’s pretty obvious the file is the reason your search engine ranking tanked.
That’s a clear indication that one of the links in the file was providing value, and disavowing it might have hurt your ranking.
The problem comes in figuring out the exact link. Instead of going through the file one by one trying to trace the link, it helps to just delete the entire file and rebuilt the file from scratch.
When Is It Justifiable Not to Delete a Disavow File?
After you’re slapped with a link-related search penalty, disavowing the links should be the final step in your link auditing journey.
It’s the last resort for links that you can’t remove manually.
However, if you disavow a handful of links and the penalty gets lifted, then there’s no point in removing the disavow file.
So, why is this so?
If disavowing the links got the penalty lifted, then take that as a clear indication that they were the primary cause.
Deleting the disavow file will only bring back the penalty.
It could be that the penalty was caused by the links that you removed manually or those that you removed as a group or in a bunch. Either way, it wouldn’t be wise on your part to delete the disavow file.
After performing a link audit, you want to continue monitoring your search engine ranking.
A link audit is much more than disavowing your links. There’s a lot of action involved.
So, expect to see your search ranking fluctuating from time to time, plummeting mostly.
When you’re removing these links manually or using a disavow file, then chances are your ranking will not remain still.
You’ll be tempted to restore the links you disavowed once your ranking starts to dip.
Well, we suggest you don’t. Just give Google enough time to process the changes you’ve made and rank them appropriately.
It might take several weeks before everything stabilises.
By restoring disavowed links, what you’re doing is undoing all the work you’ve done. You’re second-guessing everything and jeopardizing your efforts.
Give Google time to do their work. As for you, wait for a month or two and if nothing changes or if your ranking is still lower than it was, then go through your disavowal file and figure out which good link did you add into the file.
How to Check Your Disavowal File
Checking your disavowal file on Google Search Console (GSC) is a snap.
All you have to do is head over to your GSC account and download the file.
Once you have downloaded the file, you want to go through it and check out what it contains.
In the disavow file, you’ll find all the disavowed links, together with their reasoning and the time the links were originally added.
Here’s a link for navigating the GSC tool. Note that this disavowal tool is a bit old, and doesn’t, as such, support web properties. So, be sure to add prefixes (such as https://www.mediaonemarketing.com.sg instead of mediaonemarketing.com.sg).
How to Remove a Link from a Disavow File
What if you accidentally add a good domain name into your disavow file? Even with our site, this happens quite a lot.
It could be that you created the file out of panic, and ended up adding some of the cleanest links you have.
So, how do you correct the error? Simple, just open your disavow file and remove the link. That’s enough to reinstate the link and revert to your previous rank position.
How Disavowal Tools Work
A link disavowal is a robot hooked to Google’s algorithm. Its job is to process any link presented to it and inform Google not to bother using it for ranking.
Only a little processing goes on from there. The thing is, Google doesn’t really care if you’re flagging the link for being bad, neutral or if it’s good. It only does what’s asked to do – and that is, not to care about those links.
Common Sources of Toxic Links
Bailing the water isn’t enough. You have to seal the leak.
So, how about we help you trace where these bad links are coming from?
Here are a few common sources of poor-quality links:
1# Purchased Links
Google will only rank you for a small sub-category of purchased links. They’re interested in the non-editorial, do-follow links.
Some links are hard to detect, but here are three that might leave you in the red:
- Do-Follow Links that match your anchor text to a T
- Do-Follow Links from unconnected sites or content
- Do-Follow Links from Sponsored posts or any page with an obvious footprint
2# Public Blogging Networks
Google began de-indexing PBN links in 2014.
The links are still in use. But they’re no longer considered white hat.
That means, using them as part of your link strategy could potentially land you in trouble.
PBNs should be among the links you disavow.
3# Poor Quality Directories
So, how do you recognise a poor-quality listing or directory?
Simple, just ask yourself if the listing is providing any referral traffic.
If you can’t answer in the affirmative, then the odds are, that’s a low-grade directory.
Submitting your links to low-quality directories is a link building strategy so many people still use, and which hasn’t worked for many years. As a matter of fact, many of them use no-follow links. Meaning you don’t necessarily have to disavow them.
However, some ethical SEOs that know so little about how this operates, leverage it to sell their agencies or services.
It’s totally fine to invest in getting your links on niche-targeted directories, provided they’re good-quality. It’s, however, not that much of a great strategy to grow your website’s authority.
4# Forum and Comment Spam
Dropping a comment on relevant, high authority forums and sites and linking to your website or blog is highly recommended by Google.
It’s only an issue when marketers decide to automate the whole process.
Plus, most marketers have by default made all their links no-follow.
Suffice it to say there’s little to gain from commenting on random forums and other people’s comments.
5# Hacked Site
You can hack your way into a high DA site
While this might seem like an easy way to snag a link from a high-DA site, there’s a high possibility that this might get you penalised by Google. Not to mention the illegal implications involved.
6# Malicious Competitors
Not all marketers are couth. Some may decide to use Negative SEO by performing backlink spamming on your site.
You intentionally link your competitor’s site to thousands of shoddy websites, just to get them on the wrong side of Google.
The Potential Risks of Link Disavow
It’s not just a matter of “good” or “bad” link. A bad link doesn’t necessarily translate to useless.
A bad link might be risky, but that’s not to say it’s not going to boost your SEO score.
Google is always cautioning users against disavowing links.
According to Google, the link disavow tool is an advanced feature that should be used with the utmost caution, and only as a last resort.
If not used right, this tool can potentially hurt your site’s performance in search results.
They only advise you to disavow artificial, spammy, and low-quality links, and only when you suspect they’re likely to hurt your ranking.
But despite this strong warning, many SEOs are still pruning links aggressively.
Google also goes on to encourage a domain-level disavowing instead of a URL-level one.
In other words, instead of disavowing individual URLs one by one, Google advises you to disavow all the links from that particular domain, machete-style.
How to Disavow Bad Links in Google Search Console
If you suspect your link profile may be infested with poor backlinks, the first step to right the error would be to conduct a backlink audit.
This is something you want to do fairly regularly, so you can spot potential problems and fix them before they become unmanageable.
The process of submitting a disavow file in GSC is both straightforward and simple. But the mistakes can be costly.
So, if possible, we’d suggest you talk to a professional SEO first before you can proceed with anything.
That being said, here’s a simple, 4-step guide on how to disavow your links in Google Search Console:
Step 1: Download Your Link Profile
The first and most obvious step to disavowing your links is to download your link profile to see which sites are linking back to you.
Here are a few tools to help you out with this:
There’s an ongoing debate around which of the tools is most reliable and accurate.
But that’s a non-issue to today’s topic, considering each of the tools is more than capable to help you take a comprehensive look into your link profile.
A better approach would be to download your link profile report from each of these tools and cross-reference them.
You can add them all in an excel sheet, and use the “remove duplicates” feature to get rid of similar links.
If you had previously conducted a link audit, and only want to use the tools to check up your new links, then you can use these tools to only check the links that you’ve gained after that time, say, in the past one month or so.
Step 2: Backlink Audit
After you’ve downloaded your link profile, the next thing you want to do is to audit it. All you’ll be doing is identifying all the poor sites linking back to you.
Here are the links you want to look for and highlight during the backlink audit:
- Any link from a non-indexed site: Simple, just copy-paste the link on Google search. If Google returns the link in the result, then it’s indexed. If it shows “no result,” then that’s a clear indication that it’s not indexed.
- Any link from a completely irrelevant site: If you can’t find any connection between your site and the site linking back to you, then that’s reason enough to disavow it. Your goal should be to earn and build backlinks from sites that are within your niche or at least affiliate or connected to it.
- If the link is from a site that appears spammy or suspect: Always pay a visit to your links and try to learn something more about them. If the website appears as if it contains malware or is spammy in any way, then the most logical thing to do would be to go ahead and disavow it.
- Any link from a low domain authority site: You can use Moz’s and Ahrefs’ DA metric to fish out spammy links.
Note that having a high DA doesn’t always translate to a high-quality site. There are so many spammy sites with high DA scores.
- Links from forum or comment spam: Any comment that was deliberately made with the sole purpose of building backlinks should be disavowed.
For no-follow backlinks from forums, then you do not necessarily have to disavow them. That’s because Google is already ignoring them.
- Links from link farms or link networks: A link network refers to a list of websites that have been specifically created to build backlinks.
They often fall in the category of paid or irrelevant links.
Performing a Backlink Audit in GSC
Go to GSC ~> “Site-Explorer” ~> “Enter-Your-Domain” ~> “Backlink-Profile” ~> “Referring-Domains” ~> Filter for “dofollow” links ~> “Sort-by-Domain-Rating” (DR – from low to high).
If you prefer editing the links an excel spreadsheet, then go ahead and import the list on Google spreadsheet.
You can start your evaluation process by checking out the following:
- Low domain rating (DR)
- Unusual TLDs, e.g .ru, .cn etc.
Neither translates to a bad link. But together, they can be a useful metric for sorting out links.
You would have already sorted the links based on the DR. What’s left is for you to use a built-in filter to narrow down to specific TLDs.
For the URLs, you want to check them up for spammy domain names, exact match anchor text, and webpage title.
These links are to be disavowed at the domain level. But if the offending link is coming from a high-quality domain, then you might want to disavow it using individual domains.
The thing is, don’t make the mistake of disavowing a major domain because of one misbehaving backlink.
For instance, you do not want to disavow all CNN links simply because one CNN backlink turned out to be offensive.
Step 3: Creating a Disavow File
At this point, you must be already leery about creating your site’s disavow file.
But before you proceed with anything, you might want to first contact the sites linking back to you to manually help you remove the links.
Note that Google wants you to use a link disavow tool only as a last resort when you’ve tried every other option but to no avail.
The chances are high that you will not receive a response from Google. And if that’s the case, the only option you’re left with would be to go ahead and disavow the link.
By disavowing a list of links, we simply mean submitting the list to Google and asking them to consider ignoring these links. That way, Google will not be using these links to determine your site’s rankings and authority.
It bears repeating that you should always disavow backlinks at the domain level (instead of the URL level) to ensure that Google ignores all the links coming from that site.
You, however, want to edit your list so that all the URLs associated with that domain are included.
Instead of using abcedefg.com as the URL, use the specific page URL, https://www.abcdefg.com/yourpage/post.
You’re to copy all these links on a Google spreadsheet.
The best way is to specify each link. Something like this:This is a bad way to copy the links.
Add domain: before the URLs
The next thing to do is to go to the next column and add the word domain before each URL – this is the required format for disavow files.
A quick and easy way to do this is to use this excel formula: =” domain:”&A1
Use this formula on the first row and then drag it down so it can also change the other URLs.
Now, let’s try to get rid of this formula. All you need to do is highlight the entire column B and copy and then paste everything in the same column again.
This will insert the text into the column but without the formula.
Change the URLs into .txt format
Your file must be in .txt format.
So, be sure to change the format of everything in column B to .txt format.
No need to fret. All you need to do is copy all the files in column B and paste them in notepad for windows or TextEdit for Mac users.
Now, save this file under the most appropriate file name, such as “My Company’s Disavow Links for the date.”
Step 4: Submit the Disavow File
The final step is to submit the disavow file you’ve just created to Google Search Console.
At this point, we’d like to assume you already have a Google Search Console Account.
After logging into your account, the next thing would be to select your web property from the drop-down menu.
Now, go ahead and click on “Disavow Links” and you’ll receive a warning message from Google.
Click on “Disavow Links” again. You’ll be directed to a page where you’re to upload your disavow file. Click on “Choose” and then proceed to upload the disavow file you save.
Click “Submit” after that, and that’s pretty much like it.
How to Edit or Update Your Disavow File
When updating your disavow file, you have to note that uploading a new file automatically nullifies the old file. Meaning, only the links in your new file will be disavowed.
So, the best way to edit your disavow file is to find the last disavow file you uploaded and edit it. You can go through the links and delete some or add more to the list before reuploading the file in GSC.
Where you can’t find the file, you have the option of downloading your old file and editing it.
Here’s the procedure for editing your disavow file:
- You can begin by downloading your old disavow file
- Add the new URLs that you want to disavow or delete the ones that you wish to reinstate
- Make sure all these links are preceded by “domain:”
- Copy the links in a notepad or TextEdit and save them with whatever name you prefer.
- Head back to the disavow tool and click on “choose file.”
- Proceed to upload the edited disavow file and that’s it.