How to Disavow Bad Backlinks and Clean Up Your Link Profile

By Tatyana LevinJuly 30, 2015

Over the years, Google’s algorithm for search engine results has changed drastically. What was once effective for getting your site on the first page of the results page later became harmful, dropping your ranking significantly.

Constant changes make it difficult for webmasters to consistently rank well. Even when they follow Google’s rules, one day Google will just change them. The only things that webmasters can do to stay in the game is to create quality websites that visitors want to visit and to keep up with Google’s rules to make sure they aren’t making any egregious mistakes that the search engine will penalize.

One of these mistakes is having backlinks from bad quality sites and sites that aren’t relevant to your website. They send the message that you are trying to outsmart Google through subterfuge and deceptive practices.

If you received a message from Google that you have spammy links going to your site or you’re afraid you will receive a message soon, here’s what you should do:

Audit Your Links
Get a list of all the links that point to your website. It’s entirely possible that you have links from the days of yore when any link was considered a good link. Now links are analyzed by the search engine and websites are penalized bad links that go to them.

There are sites and services, like Link Detox, that will analyze your links for you, but it could be worth it for you to do it yourself. Choosing what links to keep and what links to delete can be tricky. Just because a link seems strange to you doesn’t necessarily mean that it is spammy or that it hurts your ranking.

When to Use the Disavow Tool
If Google points out a problematic link to you or emails you explaining that your site’s link profile is riddled with bad, spammy links, then a link audit and disavowing the worst of the worse may be necessary.

And if your ranking hasn’t dropped but you’ve found some highly questionable links and you’re afraid that they will affect your ranking, a date with disavow might just be the preventative measure that the doctor ordered. Some links, like links from gambling sites, you just know are bad.

But before you go crazy and ask Google to remove any link that you think might be suspicious, know that Google’s disavow link tool should be your last resort. Your first resort should be to contact the webmasters of websites that have spammy links that lead to your site. Do so multiple times, and make an honest effort to get those links taken down yourself. If that doesn’t work, then use Google’s tool. Google wants to see that you’re making an effort and that you won’t repeat these negative SEO tactics. Keep in mind that this tool will only apply to Google and won’t affect your ranking on other search engines.

Google’s Matt Cutts wants to remind you that this tool isn’t for most webmasters. It is only to be used at the end of the line and only in worst case scenarios. Here are some tips and tricks for you to get the most out of the disavow tool:

  • Be sure to send a txt file and not a doc file with the links that you want to disavow.
  • The links should be in the form of URLs, comments, or domain:
  • You can request Google to ignore all links from a certain domain by using in that exact format. This can by much faster than going through every link individually.
  • Don’t give any context in your disavow document. Instead, explain in your reconsideration request.
  • Google treats these disavow requests like strong suggestions, so there is no guarantee that they will ignore the links you want them to ignore.
  • It takes a couple of weeks for links to be disavowed and even longer for them to be reavowed.

The disavow tool isn’t the end all and be all, and on its own it won’t put you on the first page, but cleaning your link profile is a great place to start.


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