SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the act of making a website more attractive to search engines. The goal, of course, is to boost the website’s ranking and thus the amount of traffic it receives. The more traffic a site receives, the more business the owner gets. And that is why good SEO is a critical element of successful business practice today.
One of the ways that Google determines a website’s ranking is by tracking the links pointing to that site. A backlink (also known as an inbound link, incoming link, or one-way link) is a link from one website to another. And in general, getting a backlink to your website is something to celebrate – as long as the link comes from an authentic, high-quality source. Google and other major search engines consider backlinks kind of like “votes” for a specific page, and pages with a high number of backlinks tend to have high organic search engine rankings.
But (and there is a big but here), backlinks become a problem – a problem that can actually tank your site’s ranking – if and when they originate from low-quality or spammy sources.
For most websites, this is not a major issue (or at least a manageable one), but in some cases, it can become detrimental to your site’s success. Taking a multi-pronged approach to good SEO is crucial, and dealing with bad backlinks is one strategy that can be very effective in the big picture when handled carefully and with a thorough understanding of the possible ramifications.
And this is where Google’s Disavow Tool can come into play.
Let’s take a look at this disavow tool – what it does, how it works, and when you should (or should not) use it:
What Is the Google Disavow Tool?
If you’re a bit mystified by Google’s Disavow Tool, you’re not alone. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to determining when, how, and why to disavow links. Plus, the search engine landscape is always in flux, and even experts in the SEO community use the disavow tool to varying degrees.
So, let’s start with some basics. Like, what does disavowing links mean anyways?
Disavowing links means asking Google to ignore certain links that are pointing to your domain. Disavowing low-quality backlinks will not actually remove them from your backlink profile, but it will prevent them from impacting your ranking in search results.
Think about it like an election. The candidate with the most votes wins unless the votes they received are fraudulent. Fraudulent votes may not be destroyed, but they will be ignored in the final count. Bad links are like fraudulent votes. And the disavow tool is what makes them irrelevant to your site’s ranking status.
The technical process of using Google’s Disavow Tool is simple. After compiling a text file of the linking pages or domains you wish to disavow, you submit it via the Google Search Console, and Google reviews it.
Deciding which (if any) links to disavow is the complex part of the process.
What Constitutes a Bad Link?
Why are Google’s algorithms trawling through literally billions of pages of backlinks at any given moment? Because they are trying to protect their users by identifying spam-like content.
Websites with quality links are rewarded with high-ranking status, while those associated with spammy links are demoted and given hard-hitting link penalties.
Natural link building is an organic process that increases your website’s ranking slowly but surely over time with authentically higher rankings. But when bad links mess with your website’s ranking, it’s time to take a close look at your backlink profile.
In general, you should be suspicious of links that are spam-like and unnatural. In addition, keep in mind that Google considers any link created to manipulate PageRank or a website’s ranking to be a bad link. The rationale, of course, is that high-ranking websites should be generating quality content that gets linked to naturally.
All sites get spammed to a certain extent. Spammy links that are seen over and over again across different domains are not usually cause for much concern since the Google algorithm is smart enough to understand that they were not created for the purpose of manipulating a specific backlink profile.
Examples of concerningly bad backlinks or spammy links might include: Purchased or paid links, link schemes, private blogging networks, low-quality directories, comment and forum spam, hacked websites, and backlinks from pages that are not in your target country.
Links in these types of categories can flag your site to Google’s algorithm and result in penalties. In some cases, they can also add up to Negative SEO.
Negative SEO, also sometimes called Black Hat SEO, involves the use of malicious tactics on your site. Its aim is to tarnish your reputation with Google and steal search engine rankings for important keywords to be used on a competitor’s site.
As a website owner, how do you know if your site may have fallen victim to a Negative SEO Attack?
In general, you should be suspicious of any sudden and dramatic spikes in the number of backlinks pointing to your site. While an influx of links may not be harmful (for instance, if a video you produced went viral and helped get you those links), it could be an indicator that your site is being sabotaged.
Another type of Negative SEO attack occurs when content from your website (or sometimes your entire website) gets duplicated in an attempt to tank your rank. Google rewards pages with unique, fresh content and penalizes low-quality duplications. Be sure to maintain original content on your website and take action right away if you suspect your content has been duplicated and backlinked.
Check all the links in your link profile regularly, and maintain as much backlink data as possible to stay on top of your business’s SEO success. If you suspect Negative SEO, then using Google’s Disavow Tool may be in order.
When To Use the Disavow Tool
There is no one-size-fits-all rule for how and when to use the disavow tool. Even among SEO experts, usage of the tool is regularly debated. But one thing is clear: Google’s Disavow Tool is not a first-line defense.
Google has actually made it clear that they only want you to use the tool if absolutely necessary. They are on record explaining that they have purposely kept the disavow tool separate from the main search console to avoid overuse.
Invalidating links to your website is a process that is difficult (if not impossible) to reverse and should never be done randomly or haphazardly. When used properly, the disavow tool can benefit your SEO, but it also has the potential to damage it. Before you file a disavow request, make sure you have done your research and tried to have the links removed in other ways, if possible.
The best way to have a bad link removed is to request its removal. Bad links are not always malicious in intent (for instance, they could be leftovers from previous, sloppy SEO work) and can often be removed by simply writing a message to the owner of the website where the link originated. If you can’t find the owner’s contact information on their website, try social media or leave a comment on one of their blog posts. You can even search their name on Google!
If none of these strategies work, it might be time to consider disavowing the link.
Though there is room for debate in the disavow tool dialogue, Google and most SEO experts agree that there are three situations where using the tool is clear-cut, appropriate, and recommended:
3 Clear-Cut Times When You Should Disavow Links
A manual action is when a real human reviewer at Google (as opposed to an algorithm) identifies your website as non-compliant with Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines and manually punishes it for spammy behavior. If your website has been hit with a manual penalty due to link-building practices, it’s essential to remedy the situation by invalidating links. This is exactly what the Google Disavow Tool was designed for.
Intentional “Bad Links”
If you were involved in link schemes in the past – paying for links or otherwise using manipulative tactics to improve your SEO – it’s a good idea to clean up your backlink profile. Think about disavowing these links as a pre-emptive strike. It’s better that you do it now than that Google penalizes you for these links later on.
Negative SEO Attacks
If you’re certain that your site has fallen victim to Negative SEO, you need to wipe out the spam backlinks. If you don’t, your website will suffer the consequences. Link disavowal can free you from the attackers and put your site back on track to regaining the rank it deserves.
Disavowing Backlinks Step by Step
Armed with some background information, you’ve decided you’re ready to take a look at your website’s link profile and use the Disavow Tool if necessary. So, what are the recommended steps in this process?
Step 1: High-Level Link Audit
The first step is to perform a high-level link audit. This will give you an overview of your link profile and help you determine if a deeper dive is necessary. Use three reports in Site Explorer to help get the best snapshot possible: The “Referring Domains Graph”; the “Anchors Cloud”; and the “CTLDs” distribution map. If anything across these reports looks suspicious, it’s time for the next step.
Step 2: Full Link Audit
Step two is performing a full link audit. This typically involves pulling Google Search Console data and using a tool such as Semrush, Ahrefs, or Moz for backlink analysis. Many website owners find Semrush’s backlink audit tool helpful since it’s quite thorough in assigning each link a toxicity score, which is a good starting point for further investigation on your part. Remember to do your due diligence; don’t just trust the tools!
Step 3: Upload Links To Disavow
Your third step is formatting a list of suspicious links and uploading it to Google’s Disavow Tool. This is a quick and straightforward process, but be sure you have done your research carefully before proceeding!
Step 4: Monitor Progress
The final step is monitoring your site’s progress. It can take weeks or months for the effects of your disavow effort to become visible. You can use various analytics to see how your rank is trending over time, but ultimately nothing happens overnight.
As you can see, a great deal goes into understanding the nuances of how to effectively use Google’s Disavow Tool. And that is only one element out of many that go into excellent SEO. That’s why so many business owners turn to a trusted SEO company to manage their website’s rankings.
RAPTAP Marketing is a digital marketing agency that bases its success on the successes of the small businesses it supports. Located in South Central Texas, we provide highly personalized service across the state of Texas and beyond. With an outstanding SEO department, RAPTAP Marketing is well-positioned to meet your company’s needs and improve its Google rankings and customer traffic.
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If you want to explore and improve your business’s search engine optimization but aren’t sure where to begin, let RAPTAP Marketing be part of the journey. As a San Antonio SEO expert, we can educate you about the Google Disavow Tool plus much, much more. We understand the constantly shifting world of SEO and know how intimidating it can feel – but also how important it is to your business’s success.
There is no obligation to proceed, but we are confident that after a free consultation with RAPTAP Marketing, you’ll see the genuine benefit we can bring to your business. Give us a call today at 210-860-7060.