Have you heard the news? Google Penguin is officially part of core search algorithm.
That’s actually great news having in mind that we’ve been waiting for this Penguin update for nearly 2 years.
In this article I’ll talk about disavowing bad or unnatural links and keeping your link profile clean and secure.
How to recognize bad links and disavow them?
Not every link is a good link.
Yet there are crucial for web marketing forcing you to work overtime and take risks. And this is where the entire issue starts.
Some backlinks can be quite harmful to your website, connecting you to some spammy URL that has nothing to do with your content. Even though you didn’t solicit such a link, there is no way that Google can know this. Instead, the search engine sees it as a bad link building practice and is prepared to penalize you because of it.
In order to prevent this from happening, you should find a way to remove it.
First thing which person should do is to contact webmaster of a website. Through direct communication, you should ask a person to remove problematic link from one of their posts.
I’ll show you a sample of such an email template later in the article so stay tuned!
Unfortunately, even with our best attempts, this is not always possible. You have to have in mind that some individuals are intentionally linking to your website as a way to penalize you. Luckily for us, Google has given us another option. By disavowing links Google doesn’t wish to see, we are able to solve the issue.
What is disavow file and disavow tool?
You are probably wondering now what is disavow and how to disavow links by uploading a disavow file to the disavow tool.
Disavow file is type of a document that gives instructions to Google. We use it as a way to notify the search engine which links we would like to ignore by putting them on a disavow list.
There are numerous ways to present it. However, I always recommend that you are thorough.
Disavow file should either list root domains or precise links to your website. Generally speaking, I recommend that you use root domains. If you disavow domain as a whole, you avoid future spammy links from that website.
In case of a manual penalty, it is good if you add description of your previous attempts to remove problematic links. It is good if you mention your previous communication with webmaster which will show Google your determination to resolve the issue.
After creating a file, it needs to be uploaded to the disavow tool. By doing this, Google is able to access your file.
One of the potential problems is removal of links that are actually beneficial to us.
But, how can you differentiate good links from bad ones? I will tell you in a bit.
What are the top 3 reasons to disavow links?
As I mentioned previously, disavow tool is a great way to get rid of all those toxic backlinks which represent a potential hazard to your website. Nevertheless, we need to be very conservative with this. Disavowing links is something that you should do according to a present need. Based on the number of spammy links you are getting, you will have to be more or less active.
In fact, this is one of the main reasons why the tool was launched back in 2012.
Back in the day, you could be attacked by any black hat SEO expert. After pointing numerous bad links to your website, Google would notice such a behavior and perceive it as a spammy link building method. Although you are not to blame in this case, you would still get penalized.
As a way to prevent negative SEO, Google invented this tool. Now, you are able to remove anything that looks suspicious.Here are the three situations where you should use:
- Use the tool in case of a manual penalty (One of the more harmful things that can happen to your website, it can have enormous negative effect on your traffic and it is given manually after Google notices malpractice. More about this in a bit!)
- Use the tool in case of an algorithmic penalty (In this case, penalty is automated, considerably easier to handle and milder than the manual penalty)
- Use the tool if you notice an excessive amount of spammy links (Sometimes, other webmasters and SEO experts will start a negative campaign against your website. As a way to protect yourself, you will have to use the disavow tool to clean up some of the links pointing to your website)
According to this, the main use of the disavow tool is to remove any type of penalty which happened due to a bad link profile. Also, it is a great way to prevent any penalty from occurring in the first place.
By using it, you are able to eliminate any suspicious behavior making sure that our optimization is 100 % white hat.
Here are some important things you should know about the disavow file:
- Disavow file has 2 MB size
- There is no need to disavow nofollow links given that they don’t pass link juice
- All disavowed links can be seen in Webmaster Tools
- Comments placed in disavow file are not read by Google’s team
- You can modify your disavow file adding more links/domains or removing links/domains from the list
Some words about manual penalties
Let’s face it; most of you probably started disavowing links due to a manual penalty received in Google search console. There is nothing to be ashamed of given that even the most successful websites were using shady techniques just a few years ago.
Even if you did everything seemingly right there might be a part of Google’s terms and agreement that you missed.
Majority of webmasters know what a manual penalty is. For those that are not aware of it, let’s describe it briefly.
This is a penalty imposed directly by Google as a way to punish spammy behavior.
Have in mind that it has no connection to algorithmic changes. Google usually penalizes website as a whole by removing it or demoting it. You can get punished for numerous things including: various types of spam, content manipulation, unnatural links, cloaking, redirects etc.
Occasionally competitor may place links to site just to get you penalized.
But, in case of a manual penalty, the procedure is more complex.
Not only do you have to disavow the unnatural links (if that was the main reason for the penalty) but you should also send a reconsideration request. This request is created in order to notify the Google that you have made the necessary changes and adapted your website according to Google’s webmasters guidelines. If they think that the changes are good enough, penalty will be lifted.
Here are some tips that might help you write a reconsideration request:
- Admit responsibility (just be honest, Google knows what you did wrong)
- List all the violations and how you addressed them
- What kind of measures have you imposed to prevent any issues in future? (this is optional but can help)
- Show that you are willing to continue using Google’s webmasters guidelines (again optional)
Drawbacks of using the disavow tool
There are some issues with disavowing links as well as with the disavow tool as a whole.
First and foremost, disavowing links can lead to elimination of some good links that are potentially beneficial to your site. This is especially common in case of a penalty. As a way to appease Google, website owners are willing to completely clear their link profile. Often, this will backfire.
You need to be very selective when choosing which links you wish to keep and which ones you wish to disavow. For this, you need to have at least some basic SEO knowledge. Otherwise, it will lead to disaster.
Anyway, I will talk more about this in forthcoming chapters so keep on reading.
Another problem with disavow tool is that it sends a negative feedback regarding certain website (this is controversial but you should keep it in mind).
For example, let’s say someone decided to disavow all the links coming from your website. It is OK if this is a sole example. However, if numerous webmasters decided to do it, it can be a negative signal regarding your content and links that you give to people.
Luckily, this is something that rarely happens.
Lastly, all these uploaded disavow files are information. Imagine if someone tapped into this vast source?
As you can see, there are quite a few concerns regarding this tool and information which we place within it. Be careful!
Preparing your link profile audit (and tools you should use)
You have all the info regarding the disavow tool, disavow file as well as why you should use them. But, you still need to differentiate bad links from good links.
In order to do this, we need to perform a thorough link profile audit.
First of all, you should extract all the link info by using one of the best SEO tools on the market.
One of these tools can help you find toxic backlinks:
- Google Webmaster Tools
John Mueller has said that Google Webmaster Tools is generally enough in case of a manual penalty. Nevertheless, if you are checking your links on a continuous basis, you can also opt for one of the best tools on the market.
Once you get the data, you should extract it in an excel sheet. You need to have all the info right in front of you before you can start the analysis.
Rule of thumb: if you have several links coming from one and the same website, make sure to reduce them to one or two. You need to make quick checks and decide which ones are good for your website and which ones you should disavow. There is no point in checking tons of different links on the same domain.
Use one column for domain names and the second one for the links coming from that domain. You can also create a third column where you should mark whether a link should be kept or eliminated. If you wish to be a bit quicker, you can just eliminate all the good links and keep the ones that need to be disavowed. This will help you create disavow file a bit faster. It should be pretty straightforward.
Performing a link audit
When performing a link audit, you have to ask yourself: “Does this link make sense?”
You always start by checking the domain itself.
If your website is about gardening, it is highly unnatural for you to get a link from a car tire company. Have in mind that you do not necessarily have to get a backlink from exactly the same niche but there needs to be at least some connection between the sites.
Why would anyone link to you if it isn’t somewhat related to their content?
Same goes with the country.
Authoritative websites get links from all over the place. In that regard, it is not surprising to see a domain with foreign extension or a website written in a foreign language linking to your piece. Nevertheless, you will need to approach it with caution.
Additionally, check their pages.
Visit a couple of their pages. Make sure they are writing on the same topic and that there is enough quality content on their website. If there is anything suspicious about it, it is much better to place domain on disavow file than risk getting a bad link.
If everything looks OK with the domain, you can start with the second phase of the process – assessing the link itself.
How to assess the quality of a link?
There are several things you need to check:
- Page itself – does it look like a high quality, informative article? If yes, keep the link.
- Neighbourhood links – are there some other links on the page that look spammy? If yes, disavow the link.
- Use of a link – does it make sense for the page to link to your page? If yes, keep it.
- Anchor text – is anchor text a good fit for your linked page? If yes, keep it.
If we talk about specific types of links, some of them have become notorious over time. Here is what you have to look out for:
- Website directory links (Back in the day, website directories were really popular. They were used as a way for people to find your website on the Internet. At the same time, you could get some links from them. In time, people started doing link building campaigns by using these directories. Unfortunately, most of these websites were of low quality and soon, this strategy has been seen as a spammy one. Unless the link is from one of the biggest directories, it is better to disavow it)
- Article directories (such directories are similar to websites directories. The main difference is that they are used for publishing articles not just links. Given that Google hates article directories, regardless of their quality, perhaps it is better not to get any links from them)
- PBN links (Private Blogging Networks or PBNs have been and still are quite popular. They represent a network of websites, mostly owned by the same person, which have a sole purpose of linking out to other websites and improving their rankings. Usually PBNs are created based on expired domains with good SEO stats)
- .info spam (Unlike .com domains, .info gTLD are much cheaper. Registering such a website is a few times cheaper which means that you are able to create lots of website for a low price and link out from them. Professional organizations always prefer .com, .net or .org domain so it is much better to stay clear from .info links)
- Automated spam (Automated spam represents a part of negative campaign. Here, a spambot program will start using creating links and point them to your website. This spam can easily be spotted and disavowed)
Have in mind that you should have a little bit of leniency.
It is completely normal to have some strange looking links or links that seem unrelated at the first glance. However, there are also those that are completely out of place and make no sense whatsoever. These links are the ones that get us into trouble.
If you have any doubts and are not certain what to do, check the domain SEO stats and its content. If the link is coming from a medium or a large website, perhaps it is not so bad to keep it. Instead, make a compromise and eliminate suspicious links coming from fishy domains.
When some of Google’s webspam engineers see that the link is coming from an authoritative website, we will have more leniency thinking there is a reason for that link to be in place. Big websites will never jeopardize their reputation by linking out to crappy websites.
How to create a disavow file?
If you did everything correctly so far, you should have a list of toxic domains (links) that should be disavowed.
According to Google, you need to use a txt.file in UTF-8 format or 7-bit ASCII. Place all the troublesome domains within a txt.file and save it.
Two important details you should keep in mind:
- In case you’re adding comments, you need to add hashtag (#) in front of it
- If you wish to disavow a link on a domain level, you need to use “domain:” function
Once your file is ready, this is how you submit a disavow file:
I will guide you through the process step-by-step:
- Log into Google Webmaster Tools and find disavow links section (you’ll see the following screen)
2. Choose the website for which you are disavowing links (in my case it’s my own blog NikSto.com)
3. Click “Disavow Links” (read Google’s warning before that)
4. Click “Choose file” (you will see data about your previous submission if any)
5. Upload .txt file and click “Submit”
And you’re set!
Note of caution:
Each time you wish to add some more links, the file will have to be modified. Always keep the previous version of the disavow file and simply add more links to it! Do not just replace it with new links otherwise the removed ones might get indexed once again.
Therefore, disavow backlinks on domains only if you decided that you want to keep those previously disavowed links.
Once you submit your disavow file you should be patient. Usually it takes 4-6 weeks till the disavow file is processed. Once it does you will notice that Google will gradually deindex the ignored links which you’ll be able to notice by using tools like Ahrefs, LinkResearchTools or Moz.
Every website owner should learn how to use Google disavow tool. Sooner than later, you will get some spammy or unnatural links which you will have to eliminate. Even if you weren’t penalized, this nifty tool can be a great way to clean up your link profile.
So go and create your free account!
But, make sure to disavow only links that are highly suspicious and can lead to Penguin problems. According to the latest news, Google suggest caution and conservatism while disavowing links.
Here’s what John Muller says:
How often do you use Google disavow tool? Do you find it easy to use?
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