Backlinks are the backbone of SEO, and because they matter, so many unscrupulous practices give rise to bad and toxic links. Toxic links are spam links that don’t belong to the niche you are in, don’t add value to your website or blog, and confuse the readers when they click on them, diluting their experience on your website. In the long run, it hampers your reputation as visitors will lose their trust in you, which hits your credibility and conversions.
There are many ways to remove bad links from your website or blog. First, you need to audit the links on your website. Use tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz to identify the toxic links embedded in your website. They tell you the source of these links and can be downloaded into an excel sheet. Once you identify the source website, contact the owners of these websites and ask them to remove these links from your website. When they don’t comply, then you can use the Google disavow tool for the same.
The mighty Google Disavow tool
Google launched this powerful tool in 2012 to stop the spamming of backlinks and bring in some control and quality to its search engine. Most of the time, when you ask website owners to remove spammy backlinks, they don’t comply. But Google requires you to send them a mail and inform them. And in 90% of the cases, you won’t be able to find the website owner’s contact to ask them to remove the toxic links.
So, it is a very likely scenario that you will end up using the Google disavow tool to weed out the spam links on your website. It takes some time for Google to take action on the spammy links, but they usually get back to you. Depending on the level of toxic links you have, the time taken to help ranges anywhere from 3 days to many months. As I have used the tool many times myself, I have noticed Google disavowing links with low toxicity and getting back to me really quick.
Let’s discuss the frequency of using the Disavow tool
If you experience a huge traffic drop to your site and haven’t received any manual penalty from Google, it would be best to investigate your backlink profile. There might be some spam links on your website, but you need to ascertain whether it is toxic or harming your website. Are they the cause behind the vast traffic drop? If that is the case, then it would be wise to use the Google disavow tool to weed them out from your website completely.
At certain times Google levies a manual penalty on your website for having toxic links and manipulating the search engine’s results. Using the Google disavow tool becomes necessary to notify Google in weeding out the harmful links. You can then show the same to the Google penalty team and make them aware of the actions you have taken to comply with the guidelines of Google.
You can find many tools on the Internet, like the Moz spam score, which scans your backlink portfolio and reports how many toxic links are embedded in your website through an excel sheet for your convenience.
When you find too many toxic links on your website and cannot contact the site owners regarding this, you can ask the hosting company to remove the toxic links you have identified. You can easily find the hosting website by using the tool ‘who is hosting this.’
If you feel that there might be toxic links on your website and it may come back to bite you, you can proactively disavow them. Even if the traffic to your site hasn’t dropped, it is never too late to take action. Before you start taking any action, there is no hard and fast rule that you need something to happen to your website (like the traffic dropping to abysmal levels). Better be cautious and use the tool when necessary.
But that doesn’t mean that you can use the tool every day, and further Disavowal does not happen overnight. Google needs to read your list, analyze it and then start the disavowal process. If you keep uploading your file repeatedly, you end up being at the back of the line. As a person who has done this, I can say being prudent with Google is the key.
The Google disavow tool is considered a weapon of last resort by many website owners and SEO specialists. They first try to remove the toxic links by contacting site owners of the same. If that doesn’t work, they will likely ask the website hosting company to remove them. It is possible to use the Google disavow tool to remove all the bad links identified by the website hosting company if they cannot do so or cannot remove all the bad links.
How to use Google disavow tool?
Using the tool is very user-friendly. First, you need to make a list of all the toxic links on your website. For that, you can use any tool like Moz or Ahref that will audit your backlink profile and compile a list. You can also use the Webmaster tool to pull up a report and compile a list over several days. It is considered a best practice, and I have done this many times to compile a very comprehensive list myself.
Remove any duplicates and no-follow links from the list. Prune down your list further so that you include only main domain pages. Disavowing at the domain level pages can get rid of the toxic links at subdomain and page levels.
Once the list is compiled and pasted into a text file, go to the Google Disavow tool and add your property if it isn’t there. And, if it is there, then select that property and upload the text file. Please keep a copy of the text file handy to be helpful when you have to repeat this exercise. After that, Google will look into your submission and take the necessary action. It will take some time, depending on the severity of the toxic links.
But there are some things to keep in mind when using the Google disavow tool. It is considered a weapon of last resort for a reason. This is because the tool has some quirks which you should acknowledge before relying on it entirely.
The quirks of the Google Disavow tool
Never disavow the links one link at a time, for this is an exercise in futility. It is better to add the new link to the old list instead. In case you remove any link from the list, then Google stops disavowing that link. Also, please note Google doesn’t keep a record of links disavowed. If you upload a new list without any of the links in the first list, the new file will replace the old one, and the old links will become active. Google stops disavowing them.
Matt Cutts from the Google team throws light on how the Google to disavow tool works, and from the excerpt seen below, you can get a better understanding of how to create and upload your text file of backlinks.
The second quirk is that when Google disavows links, they don’t disappear from your website. They are very much in existence and show up on the webmaster tools. Google keeps a list of links that shouldn’t count and makes them not count after receiving your text file and pretends that they never existed. So, in a nutshell, disavowing a link means you are telling Google that you want specific links to be not followed.
Lastly, you cannot use Google’s disavow tool to find spam sites. Otherwise, people would use this tool to report legitimate sites as spam, creating a lot of confusion and increasing the workload of Google because it needs to monitor the intent behind screening the spam links. Google in itself is very good at monitoring and taking action on spam sites without the need for any tertiary input.
Let’s check what we have understood so far
There is no hard and fast rule regarding when to use the Google disavow tool. It depends on the nature of your website, how proactive you are, how many toxic links are on your site, which niche you are in, etc. Many website owners take action only when a manual penalty has been levied on them. Some take action proactively and monitor their backlink profile.
Many SEO specialists believe that you shouldn’t report every single link to the disavow tool as Google can’t discern the good links from the bad links nullifying your entire link profile, leaving you to start from square one. In such cases, I verify the origin or the source of the backlinks before labeling them as toxic.
That is why a backlink audit is necessary and needs to be done regularly at regular intervals. The audit will mention any toxic links embedded on your website compared to the last time you checked and whether you are at risk. It also gives a spam score on the toxicity level. Using this, you can compile a list and disavow accordingly. I recommend being proactive as I believe that a stitch in time saves nine, and do not wait till a manual penalty is levied on my website to take action.