A Complete Guide to Google’s Disavow Links Tool
Link building is one of the main pillars of search engine optimisation (SEO), but that doesn’t mean it’s straightforward. There are many ‘toxic’ links from spam blogs, low-quality directories and irrelevant web pages that can cause harm to your site.
‘Disavowing links’ gives you a second chance with Google search engines, providing one final attempt to decide if a link should be counted or not based on your opinion. It gives you higher control over who is linking to your website, whether an auto-generated RSS feed or a directory using spammy links and demonstrates your ability to police negative SEO tactics.
Disavowing links may sound like a daunting task but It’s important to recognise that by disavowing the bad backlinks pointing to your site, you will improve your site rankings and domain authority.
It’s no secret: Google hates spammy links! In this article, we will talk you through the ins and outs of disavowing backlinks, including:
- What is link building?
- What are toxic links?
- What does it mean to disavow links?
- Who is the disavow tool for?
- How do I know which links to disavow?
- How do you disavow toxic links?
- Step 1: Review your links
- Step 2: Create a disavow file
- Step 3: Upload your disavow file
- How long does it take for a disavow tool to work?
What Is Link Building?
Link building is a fundamental aspect of SEO; it’s the process of attracting links to your website from other sites.
The greater quantity and diversity of these inbound links, the more credible your website will appear to search engines, resulting in improved page rankings and visibility.
For backlinks to be valuable, the backlink profile must hold “authority”, meaning they have high value by producing relevant and trusted content.
What are Toxic Links?
Toxic links are something every link builder has to take control of at some point, but what are toxic links?
Toxic backlinks are unnatural links that harm your Google search engine rankings, provide no value and can also lead to penalties from search engines that rank your site further down search results pages.
Google’s link schemes guide states:
Manually removing links can be a tedious process, and it isn’t always possible! Some sites don’t have contact details, while others refuse to respond.
In these cases, Webmasters have been asking for the ability to ‘disown’ certain links; this is where “disavowing” plays its part.
What Does It Mean To Disavow Links?
Google’s disavow links tool is a great way for webmasters to essentially ‘disown’ or disavow the links pointing back to their website from other sites.
It allows you to remove toxic links that are damaging your website’s credibility, submitting a disavow link informs Google analytics that you feel a specific link should not be considered as part of your site’s rankings.
Backlinks that Google analytics does not take into account when determining your website’s ranking are considered “no-follow” links, making them unable to pass their poor domain authority onto your site and helping you to maintain high search rankings.
Who is the Disavow Tool for?
Google was open in saying that for most people, this tool will be irrelevant. But this will be an important tool for:
- Businesses who were penalised as the result of spammy link building by an SEO agency
- Businesses and websites that I’ve been the victim of negative SEO and have been penalised by Google as a result
- Businesses who hold their hands up to historic ‘less than savoury’ link building methods including paid links and want to just clean up!
How Do I Know Which Links To Disavow?
After you identify the links that Google is telling you to disavow, you need to figure out which bad links are causing your problems. Your disavow list should include:
- Sites and content which aren’t topically relevant.
- Sites that aren’t indexed by Google.
- Poor-quality links forced into blog comments.
- Sites with an excessive quantity of external links.
- Sites with low traffic and domain authority.
Even if you’re certain that a link is good or bad, it can still be risky. You may be surprised by how many seemingly bad links help your website! Google provides a caution to all disavow tool users:
How To Disavow Toxic Links
Thanks to Google, the process is simple to submit a disavow.
STEP 1: REVIEW YOUR LINKS
For example, SEMrush has a backlink audit tool that shows all of your backlinks and provides a toxicity score based on a variety of factors. You can then assess the links and determine if they are toxic or not to your web pages.STEP 2: CREATE A DISAVOW FILE
You must assemble a list of domains with low authority you would like to disavow in a text file that can be uploaded to Google Search Console.
Once you have identified a toxic link, you can automatically add it to your disavow list. Once you have completed the review, you can then download the formatted disavow.txt text file.
Below are the guidelines from Google when creating your .txt file.
- The file name must end in .txt
- File size can be no larger than 2MB and 100,000 lines
- Each URL should be on its line
- If you want to disavow a whole domain you should start the line with the domain
- If you want to disavow a URL you can just enter the URL
If you would like to test your disavow file before uploading it, you can use the Disavow File Testing Tool which was created by former Google Engineer, Fili Wiese.
STEP 3: UPLOAD YOUR DISAVOW FILE
Your next step is to upload the disavow .txt file to Google Disavow Tool within Google Search Console.
Below are the easy steps to upload your disavow.
- Login to Google Search Console
- Go to https://search.google.com/search-console/disavow-links
- Select the property you wish to add a disavow file to
- Click the upload disavow list button and find your .txt file to add
If you have previously submitted a disavow .txt file, the new file will completely override the old file.
How Long Does It Take for a Disavow Tool to Work?
There is no fixed timeframe for results to show. Periods vary from days to weeks.
In a Google Webmaster Office Hours, the question was raised about how long it takes for links to be processed and reflected in an update.
“So if you submit a large disavow file or a disavow file that includes a lot of domain entries or just generally includes a lot of different URLs, then that is something that’s going to take quite a bit of time to kind of re-crawl all of those URLs naturally and reprocess all of that information.”
Why Should You Care?
Monitoring your backlinks is a crucial aspect of SEO, and there is no time like the present to disavow your toxic links. While it’s important to attract quality links, it’s just as important to remove bad ones, therefore ensuring the backlinks to your site are high-quality and trustworthy will encourage Google to improve your search engine ranking.
Still wary of your disavow links file? Our SEO agency can help turn your backlink profile around. Get In touch to learn more about our link building and technical SEO services.