Google’s Disavow Tool: What To Do Before You Start

  • What is Google’s Disavow Tool?
  • When and how to invalidate backlinks
  • How do you determine what inbound links are harmful?
  • The types of toxic links you should disavow
 

Google’s Penguin algorithm crawls through billions of pages, domains and backlinks each year to pinpoint suspicious content and safeguard web users.

Algorithm-assigned link penalties can turn successful, harmless websites into a deserted set of pages containing information on the internet.

Google link penalties can make or break your site, with one website reportedly going from 1,500 visits per month to 0 within a few days of being penalised.

If your business has a significant online presence and most of your revenue is generated on your website, ensure you regularly check your link profile to avoid pitfalls.

For our readers who have already suffered or are concerned about their links being flagged, fear not – there is a way to prevent link-based penalties.

Google’s Disavow Tool allows administrators to tell the search engine to ignore specific inbound links, helping to prevent your website from link-based penalties.

Link Building

Why and when should you disavow backlinks?

Generally speaking, the more links a website has pointing towards it, the higher the page rank as inbound links help to increase domain authority.

However, it’s not all about quantity.

Have you assessed whether links pointing towards your site hold any value?

Some backlinks can damage your site’s reputation, especially if they have nofollow tags, are spam-like or unnatural.

To avoid falling victim to Google’s punishing algorithm, take advantage of the tech giant’s Disavow Tool, which allows publishers to tell Google to discount the value of an inbound link.

Types of harmful inbound links:

  • webpages that solely collect links
  • pages created to improve rankings without any regard for offering value to the user
  • links in spam comments
  • backlinks from pages that are don’t relate to your target country (e.g. a link from Russia, although your target group resides in China)

Good backlinks can improve your domain and page authority, increasing your website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). On the other hand, bad inbound links damage your site’s search engine optimisation (SEO), leading to underperforming pages and poor rankings.

However, you should use the Disavow Tool with caution as Google notes that “the links on your pages are proof of the quality of your content and website.”

Links create referrals, brand awareness and engagement opportunities, so invalidating every link pointing towards your page would be counterproductive.

Google even warns against inappropriate use of its Disavow Tool, reminding you not to invalidate the wrong links when looking for a solution to concerns about link penalties.

So, if you want to build high-quality backlinks, you need to be smart about the number of links you want to invalidate.

Link cleaning: When should you tell Google to ignore an inbound link?

As time goes on, Google relies more on its algorithm and less on manual actions in handling harmful inbound links, which has ignited talks about whether the new system will render link penalties ineffective.

The second phase of Google Penguin 4.0 – the algorithm that assesses backlinks – saw all of the previous Penguin’s penalties reversed. In addition, the “gentler” Penguin was upgraded to devalue bad links rather than penalise sites, giving rise to speculation that Google’s Disavow Tool could have little value moving forward.

However, no algorithm is perfect, and bad backlinks will still harm your site, penalty or no penalty.

Furthermore, while the Google Penguin algorithm might not penalise your site, employees manually reviewing backlinks continue to issue sanctions, hence the benefits of the Google Disavow Tool.

Steps to take before you invalidate a backlink

While Google’s Disavow Tool could save your website from a disaster, disproving a link should always be your last resort.

Essentially you’re telling the search engine that this inbound link is threatening your website. Using the tool haphazardly could result in unnecessary, costly mistakes, so you must understand what you’re dealing with before invalidating any links.

It would be best if you never invalidated links at random. Before you even think about invalidating a link, approach the source and request to remove the link.

The best way to go about this is contacting the owner of the site, which should be relatively easy in today’s digital world, given that most websites have contact pages or contact forms that are easily accessible to users.

If you can’t find the site owners contact information on the website, you could try getting in touch with them by:

  • Reaching out to them on social media such as LinkedIn as this is an employment-oriented network
  • Leaving a comment on a blog post
  • Searching for their contact details via search engines

If, at this point, you are still unable to find the website owner’s contact information, then consider using Google’s Disavow Tool.

How do you determine what links are bad?

It’s important to conduct an extensive backlink analysis before invalidating any inbound links with the Disavow Tool.

If you’ve got an active website and produce engaging content, you’ll probably find that you’ve got a significant number of inbound links.

While most of these will be valuable, there will probably be a few undesirable links in the mix. So, how do you determine which ones are toxic and which ones boost your rankings in SERPs?

First, create a list of all the links pointing to your website, then identify which links negatively impact your site SEO.

Link Building 2

Fortunately, you don’t have to do this manually, and you can use a link analysis tool such as SEMRush, which has a highly comprehensive auditing tool.

SEMRush analyses each link against thirty “toxic factors” to distinguish the good links from the bad. You can currently access the backlink tool for free on the platform, so what are you waiting for? Import your links, sit back and let SEMRush do the work.

There are similar tools available on other platforms such as Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz and Ubersuggest if you’re more comfortable with these software suites.

No matter which link analysis tool you opt to use, each should produce a page of poor quality backlinks after running a test on the list you imported.

If you only have a few bad inbound links, make sure you dedicate some to visit each link to gain insight into the cause of your link penalty. Following this approach will allow you to futureproof your applications.

Suppose you have poor-quality links in abundance, skim through these to see if you can identify any legitimate-looking URLs and then carry out an inspection of those pages.

If you have many bad backlinks, it’s worth checking whether you have good antivirus software before clicking on anything suspicious.

Invalidate irrelevant backlinks

Suppose you have a hospitality website and find links from bicycle products or chess blogs; that would explain the need to use the Google Disavow Tool. 

What do bicycles and chess have in common with hospitality? Relatively nothing, so these would be irrelevant backlinks to have as they add no value to your site.

Irrelevant backlinks also serve as a warning sign for further trouble. For example, suppose you follow through to the website, and it’s linked to a foreign domain, and the content is written in another language unless your target audience speaks that language; this link is devaluing your site based on that reason alone.

If the links to your site have no relevance to your industry and the content is of little or no interest to your target audience, you don’t want your website to be associated with theirs.

These are the type of links that you want to invalidate with the Google Disavow Tool, as irrelevance is terrible for your brand.

You should also beware of any spam-like URLs when reviewing your list of backlinks.

Beware of suspicious-looking links

Be cautious of any links that look spam-like, especially top-level domains (TLD) such as .click or .xyz, as these tend to be inferior sites. It would also help to look for URLs from certain countries, including .ru or .cn, as these tend to have ill repute with search engines.

There are hundreds of spam sites on the web, most of which tend to have malicious intentions. Some are “warez” pages, which are malware download sites that appear legitimate and helpful to mislead innocent and unsuspecting users.

Some spam links are easier to find, such as those with the .xyz extension, making them easily identifiable. 

Unless your irrelevant inbound link is coming from a reputable industry-leading website, you should consider invalidating any backlinks that don’t belong to your industry or belong to dubious TLDs.

The most effective way to protect yourself from suspicious sites is to set up a spam filter in an analytical tool such as Google Analytics (GA). If you’ve already got spam-like URLs pointing towards your site, remove them immediately.

Once you’ve gathered all your poor-quality backlinks, insert them into a .txt document, then upload them to the Google Disavow Tool.

How to remove toxic links from your site using the Google Disavow Tool

Fortunately, removing damaging inbound links with the Google Disavow Tool is relatively straightforward.

Ensure that you have your list of bad backlinks at hand and labelled before getting started with the Disavow Tool. 

Once in Google’s Disavow Tool, select the site you want to use and click “Invalidate Link”. You’ll receive two warnings from the service about proceeding with the decision to invalidate your backlinks. Ignore these; go to “Choose File”, select your labelled backlink document and “Send”.

Google will then process your submission, and the links should be deemed invalid within several days.

While disavowing your files can be daunting due to the consequences of getting them wrong, it’s advantageous if you know how to invalidate links correctly.

All webmasters should learn how to invalidate links accurately, as this could help you transform your site from a spam-like profile to a high-quality, authoritative website.

When used appropriately, your site could experience a significant ranking boost in SERPs, and increased visibility leads to more opportunities for conversion. Your website SEO should also improve as your site will see higher influxes of traffic.

Still, it’s best practice not to rely on the Google Disavow Tool and remove any poor-quality backlinks manually, where possible.

Frequently Asked Questions: Google Disavow Tool

How does Google’s Disavow Tool work?

It works by allowing publishers to inform Google about any devaluing backlinks pointing to their site that they no longer want to be associated with to minimise the impact of link penalties.

How do I submit a Disavow file to Google?

To upload a list of pages or domains to disavow, web admins must ensure that each URL is specified on one line in a .txt file.

Once in the software, click on the “Invalidate Link” button and upload your .txt file list to Google Disavow. Note that files cannot be larger than 2MB in size, so you might need to split your lists before submitting them to the service.

How long does it take for Google to disavow links or domains?

While Google disavows the file relatively quickly, web owners could find themselves waiting up to 2-3 months before seeing any positive results.

With that in mind, those struggling with bad backlinks should respond quickly to prevent any further headwinds.

What are the benefits of using the Google Disavow Tool?

If your site is actively involved in link building and you’ve experienced a significant drop in traffic, then tools such as Google Disavow will be beneficial.

Most websites tend to overlook the thought of bad backlinks, but it’s worth considering whether the links pointing to your site make your brand appear more credible and trustworthy.

Suppose your link building activity has left you with an abundance of poor-quality backlinks. You could use Google’s Disavow Tool to remove distrustful inbound URLs and improve your site rankings.

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