Disavow Links: The Tool to Guard Against Bad Backlinks
What is Disavow Links tool? It is a Google tool for preventing poor-quality or spammy backlinks. Where do these come from and how to deal with this problem? In this article, On Digitals will accompany you to explore the answers.
What is Disavow Links tool?
Disavow links is a Google tool designed to help prevent low-quality backlinks. It allows webmasters to report to Google bad links for review and disavowal. Done right and it will steer you clear away from possible link-based penalties.
Disavow Links: The Algorithm in Google Search Console
Google's current algorithm, specifically Penguin 4.0, is designed not to directly penalize a website for bad links. Instead, it will ignore or reduce the link value or equity. Site rankings will therefore be re-evaluated and adjusted.
However this algorithm change does not mean you can create a bunch of spammy backlinks and enjoy high rankings at the same time.
Penguin may not even give you a slap on the wrist. But Google has more than a way to curb those who think they can get off scot-free with this "leeway". In short, disavowing bad backlinks will definitely help your rankings.
Disavow Links and Manual Actions
A manual action or penalty, issued by a Google's human reviewer, asserts Google's attitude to websites that do not comply with their web quality guidelines. This is a serious penalty to webmasters, because in the best scenario, a manual action equates site ranking loss, while the worst is to be permanently removed from Google SERPs.
The "Hidden" Link between Backlinks and Manual Actions
Some falsely assume that only websites with low-quality backlinks will receive a manual action while white hat inbound links are guaranteed wins. If you also harbor this thought, you're not alone. Unfortunately, the truth shines on the other way.
Let’s take a clear look at Google Spam Policies:
“Any links that are intended to manipulate rankings in Google Search results may be considered link spam. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
Take special note of "any behavior". It means even white hat links from relevant sites are not 100% under the radar, in other words, not penalty-proof.
Keep a cool head
If your site receives a manual action, stay calm. Even BBC and Ebay were in your shoes. Think of it that way and you will see this is not that big of a deal. Next, be patient because even if you figure out which links are bad and need to be removed right away, Google will not lift their penalty at once. Be prepared to live with this for one or two months.
Don't default to disavow
Manual action is a serious penalty to webmasters. What are the best practices for SEO practitioners in this case?
There are many reasons that can lead to a manual action, including hidden images, spam-infected servers, or websites with thin content. But in this article, we will focus on "unnatural backlinks".
First, do not rush to use the disavow function. Rather, go to Google Search Console to read Google messages. In case it is clear that your website is under a manual action, submit a request to review it. This request should double as a sincere apology to Google.
Provide them with detailed explanation, how you will fix it and promise not to let it happen ever again.
Why Do We Need To Disavow Links?
Low-quality, artificial or spammy backlinks will cost your site rankings. There are more than one answer to why those links appear. To give the benefit of the doubt, maybe a user inadvertently posted your links on an untrustworthy site. Or to take the view of a skeptic, your competitors want your Top rankings.
Sometimes there is no way to know why, which makes it more than a hassle to fix. Fortunately, the Disavow Tool, specifically Google Penguin, is designed to help webmasters prevent spammy backlinks.
Why Do We Need To Disavow Links?
There is no silver bullet, because different websites call for different measures. But there are several cures made for specific "symptoms".
A Drop in Site Traffic and Rankings
When your site traffic and rankings are pulled down, it is a blindingly red flag. But don't rush to disavow. Stay calm, investigate to confirm the problem, and try to rule out any other possibilities before resorting to Google Disavow Tool.
First, take a close look at all backlink status and try to manually remove bad ones to show your goodwill to Google. After confirming which links are bad, submit the disavow list to Google. Just keep in mind that the disavow process cannot happen over night.
Site Flooded with Spammy Backlinks
If your site is under a large-scale attack with low-quality backlinks, a manual fix is beyond reason. In this case, use a disavow tool.
To clarify those links before taking a disavow action, SEMrush, CognitiveSEO and other similar tools are at your back. They help you differentiate between natural and spammy links, and suggest immediate actions.
What are Bad Links to Disavow?
Bad backlinks are those that negatively impact your site. They are not planned products of webmasters or SEO practitioners. Often, they are part of an underhanded scheme of competitors, using automatic tools to mass create low-quality backlinks.
These links are either spammy, from untrustworthy domains or malicious content. Their ultimate goal is to humble Top-ranked sites on SERPs, thereby paving the way for the secretly gleeful competitors. Here are some sources of bad backlinks you need to know:
- Link Exchange
Once, link exchange is a common practice. Web owners can enjoy hundreds of links created this way and manipulate search engines. To prevent people from exploiting this loophole, Google modified their algorithm. As a result, now you can still exchange links with some friends and partners, but it is impossible to do it in bulk without a penalty.
- Blog Network
As of 2012, Google started to impose stricter penalties on sites that participate in blog networks.
- Promotional links without "nofollow" tag
When a backlink is created yet tagged "nofollow", link juice will not be passed to the destination site. This is in compliance with Google guidelines, and links that do not meet this requirement will suffer the consequence.
This is another black-hat practice. However, Google has changed some algorithms, so if someone moves down this way, Google Bot when crawling their sites will detect it.
- Sitewide backlinks
Some intentionally create spammy backlinks by placing links in the Footer or Sidebar of all subpages. In this case, the content of backlinks is often unrelated to the content on the destination page.
- Anchor Text repeated multiple times
It means one keyword is repeated many times in the text of the link (Anchor Text). Whether it is an internal or external link, Google will know and issue a penalty right away.
- Multiple backlinks from websites in another language
- Poor-quality directory websites
Building backlinks from directory sites used to be a common practice. But it has lost its charm over time, with both free and paid versions.
5 Ways to Identify Bad Links to Disavow
Bad backlinks can show up on your site at any time. To tell them apart, webmasters are recommended to follow these steps:
- First, go to the left bar of your site and click "Search Traffic".
- Second, go to "Links to Your Site"; under "Top Linking Sites", choose "Add".
- Last, choose "Download Add Link Template".
After completing these actions, you will see a list of pages linking to your website. This list includes every backlinks, both positive and negative.
Now your task is to differentiate those two groups and take action on the spammy bucket. You can use link analysis tools for higher efficiency.
When using Disavow Tool, we all hope this action will help improve our site rankings. But this is not a one-hour trip to our destination. On the way lies more than one obstacle, and not all can be seen by the naked eye. So to get the best out of this tool, do your homework.
Even the best tools cannot guarantee 100% error-free. So, put up your radar, turn on "Alert mode", and muster all brain muscle before deciding to disavow any link.
Also, sometimes it's better to target certain URLs instead of the whole domain. But either way, prompt actions must be taken or your site will suffer great loss.
Backlinks Unrelated to Web Content
For example, you own a real estate site but receive backlinks from a site selling diet pills. Without saying, the backlinks are completely unrelated to your site.
Unusual Domain Extensions
Most reputable websites choose popular domain names like .com, .net, .org, .edu or national domains like .vn. Domains that end with .xyz, .ooo, .abc, .qwe, etc. are mostly untrustworthy. After identifying such domain extensions, consider whether they are related to your sector. If not, disavow them right away.
If the backlink you receive is from a site related to your business but it is currently penalized by Google, this backlink can have a negative impact on your site.
The quickest way to check whether the domain is indexed is open Google and input "side:domain.com". If the result returns zero, take action immediately.
Domains with Same IP and No Traffic
You receive backlinks from the same hosting IP address, but those websites themselves have no backlinks. It is very likely that your website is a target of underhanded tactics.
First, identify strange domains that your competitors may be using to create spammy links to your site. Then use some SEO support tools such as Ahrefs, SemRush, SEOquake to run an overview assessment and evaluate the reputation and keyword rankings of those domains.
Popular Disavow Links Tools
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is one of the free tools provided by Google. It helps you monitor, maintain and resolve certain issues in the process of website management. To disavow links with Google Search Control, follow these steps:
Step 1: Install Google disavow tool.
Step 2: Put all bad backlinks into one file. You can use an Excel or Text file for this purpose, but On Digitals highly recommends Text.
Then decide which case you are on:
- Disavow a URL: Only targets the link of a specific page, not the whole site. In this case, specify as http://xyz.com/a.html
- Disavow a domain: Targets all backlinks on a website. In this case, specify as domain:xyz.com
Step 3: After completing the disavow list and installing Google disavow tool, go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main
Step 4: Click "Disavow Link".
Step 5: Click "Links to Disavow" and upload the disavow list.
One downside of Google Search Console is that it only gives you a list of domains and their link counts when running ads. It provides no information to indicate whether a backlink is bad. Therefore you need to check every inbound link to your site. It is easier said than done, because a website can receive tens of thousands of backlinks.
That's when Semrush comes into the picture. With Semrush, you can evaluate backlink quality. In addition, you can set up weekly and daily reports to timely detect backlinks that are affecting your site, so you will never be caught off guard.
Semrush helps collect suspicious backlinks and export them to the disavow list. You can then proceed blacklisting and export them to a .txt file to disavow.
This tool helps web owners check the status of the links pointing to their page. Using Ahrefs, you will get all backlinks' necessary information. More specifically, you will know about every website that links you to which URL with how much equity. The tool even notifies you when your site is under attack by competitors with spammy backlinks.
On Digitals hopes this article is helpful to you in understanding about disavow links tool and identifying bad backlinks. With these knowledge, you now can better assess the situation and take timely actions to prevent or mitigate the damage to your rankings.
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