Have you ever faced the dilemma of to disavow or not to disavow?
Knowing how to disavow backlinks and which backlinks to disavow takes years of experience. We, therefore, asked the best SEO Experts to share their wisdom and tell everyone:
- Which backlinks should be disavowed,
- How to disavow backlinks,
- And why disavowing links is so important.
The best part is that we made an infographic summarizing it all at the end.
So without further ado – the experts:
If you would like to contribute to this article – you can do so by contacting us here.
Tor Refsland is a multi-award-winning Blogger and SEO Strategist.
It’s all about quality, relevancy, and human value.
Needless to say, spammy links and links with low quality will hurt the Domain Authority and Trust Flow of your website.
However, it’s also very important to have links that are relevant to the topic of the domain or inner page that the links are pointing to.
And last, but not least, the content should be of value to the human readers.
Great links should have all of the above.
Eric Enge is the CEO at Stone Temple Consulting Corporation.
Whether or not a link should be disavowed can vary a bit based on circumstances. For example, if you’re suffering from a manual link penalty, you probably want to cut a bit more deeply on potentially questionable links. That said, here are some things that I look for in evaluating links:
- Was it paid for in cash, services-in-kind, free product to review, or via some other inducement?
- Is it some other spammy form of link, such as in a forum or blog comment?
- Does it fit a pattern of bad behavior, such as being a part of lots of rich anchor text links back to URLs on your site?
These are all areas of concern, and I would disavow links in all of these cases. However, I can list many more scenarios that you need to worry about, as well. Probably the most important test is whether the link was not organically given, or has an appearance that it was probably not organically given. This will generally be more of an issue with links from poor quality sites, but that is NOT exclusively the case. Inorganic links can happen from very high authority sites, as well.
Shane Barker is a Digital Strategist and Business Development Consultant.
You may be using a tool to help you discover all the websites linking back to you. The challenge lies in determining whether these links are of value to you, or whether you should disavow them.
First, you should see if the website linking to you is relevant to you or to your industry. Then consider if the link would be of value to real humans. In other words, see if the website gets a large enough audience. You can do so using tools like SEMrush.
After that, you’ll need to check the authority of the websites linking to you. Use tools like Domain Authority Checker or the Bulk Domain Authority Checker to evaluate the Domain Authority (DA) of each of the websites linking to you. You ideally want links only from websites and webpages with high authority. This means you may want to disavow links from low-authority sites.
The Bulk Backlink Checker from Majestic is also an excellent tool which can help you easily discover links that need disavowing. In addition to showcasing the domains linking to you, it also displays the Topical Trust Flow of each domain so you can see which of them are considered most trustworthy.
Mike is an Entrepreneur, CEO Social Quant, Inc 500 Alum, Top 100 Marketing Influencer 2017, and Author of Raising 3 Entrepreneurs.
My biggest piece of advice on deciding whether to disavow a link pointing to your site is to be sure SEO is your area of expertise. If it isn’t, either hire someone to handle it for you or bring on a contractor who specializes in this area.
The worst thing you can do is jump in and recklessly do it yourself – potentially hurting your rankings instead helping.
Due to our focus on content marketing, the second largest source of traffic to our site is organic from Google. My team and I have a weekly review of all new links to our site, the Domain Authority, and the relationship opportunities available. This assures that our finger is on the pulse of our site and any cleanups are minor because it’s being monitored regularly.
Two of the favorite tools we use for this are:
1) Brand24 – We receive a daily email from them that details all new links, mentions of our site/company, and keywords of interest. This is a fantastic opportunity to reach out and show appreciation, strengthen and/or build a relationship, and see if any future partnership opportunities exist.
2) SEMRush – We are a huge fan of their weekly site summary report. It shows how the overall site’s health is doing, and individual pages/keywords of interest.
If you’re a startup or solopreneur, and don’t have a budget for bringing on a team member or hiring a contractor, my best piece of advice is to study up. I recommend closely following Neil Patel, Robbie Richards and Brian Dean. These guys will teach you a ton about SEO and other digital marketing topics.
Conaway is a Senior marketing manager at Klipfolio. He is a content marketing strategist and a top 50 content marketing influencer.
Our website is nearly 18 years old (old enough to vote!). What I see on our website versus other domains is that we have quite a few links that haven’t aged so well. Previous versions of our product were focused more on B2C than B2B, and we generate a lot of interest across the web and across the world. This is good because we have a well-established backlink profile from many credible and worthy sources. It’s also bad because we need to be vigilant about maintaining a healthy backlink profile.
I keep an eye on a few things:
- TLDs that are regional and not relevant to our target audience
- Anchor text that isn’t English
- Links that point to expired domains for previous versions of our product
I’m meticulous and vet each link. A link with those markers warrants further investigation rather than outright disavowal.
For me, it really comes down to whether or not I want to have that site linking to me. As we all know, you can’t control who links to you and with that, so you might end up with some less than great sites pointing to you.
These sites could be completely off-topic and not relate in any way to your site, or even just ones you don’t want your name/brand associated with. Basically, I like to look at it as “Do I want my site to be associated with the site linking to me?”
For the most part, it’s usually “yes.” But when I feel it doesn’t make topical sense, or if I don’t want to have any association with that site link to me, I’ll look to get the link removed – especially if I feel it has a negative impact on my site’s SEO signals (negative SEO).
Of course, you can always ask them not link to you, but let’s face it – most of those questionable sites either don’t respond or try to make it difficult to remove the link.
And that’s when it’s time to disavow the link.
While it won’t remove the site from linking out, it will prevent any negative implications the site might have been sending towards you in an SEO sense.
Brian Jackson is currently the Director of Inbound Marketing at Kinsta, which offers premium managed WordPress hosting.
I highly recommend that everyone use a backlink monitoring tool. I am partial to Ahrefs, myself. If you look at your incoming links on a regular basis, you can begin to spot patterns.
Many spammy links will come from the same domains.
I first look at the quality of the content on the sites in question, the language, as well as analyze their domain authority and domain rating.
If they are below my personal threshold of quality/authority, I then disavow. Every website owner will have to determine where their threshold should be.
Backlinks are very powerful, so you don’t want to be overly aggressive, but bad links can do more harm than good.
- If you find your agency or competitor (trying to bowl you) has been buying dirty links, definitely disavow.
- If you did a favor for someone and they gave you a link, don’t disavow.
- But if you engaged in any link swapping or directory plays, definitely disavow.
- If you have an auto-blog generator that auto-inserts the same anchor text on your blog sites, probably don’t disavow.
- And if a zealous SEO thinks he’s clever by giving out scholarships to get .edu links, then maybe disavow.
- If you hired an influencer to write about you, post pictures, or promote your stuff, maybe disavow.
I used to run analytics at Yahoo!, and it was amazing how “clever” SEOs thought they were in hiding bought links from us.
Perhaps they thought their triangular linking structure was impossible to catch, that they bought from link networks we didn’t know about, or that their SEO agency was so good that we wouldn’t notice.
I’d consider that a dangerous position which works in the short run but will have you sorry later.
So if you’re not sure, you should probably disavow.
The same is true in any reinclusion request or spam report – if you’re going to be honest, don’t be sort of honest.
Come clean fully, especially if you know you’re already suffering from a penalty.
What I’m saying won’t be popular with the gray or black hatters, but unlike them, I believe that behaving the way the engines want (to provide the best content for the users) is the only long-term strategy.
Joe Williams is an MD and SEO Trainer at Zen Optimise.
For the majority of folks, I think disavowing is unnecessary.
Firstly, most successful websites will have some shady links, albeit a small proportion. For the majority, this won’t hold their SEO presence back, as search engines have a tolerance for some bad links. Secondly, where possible, it’s better to remove spammy backlinks before disallowing. That said, the latter is not always possible, and if it’s resulted in suspected penalty, disallowing may be the wisest move.
When disavowing, the first major candidates are any backlinks that look spammy or are paid links. This requires looking at the domain as a whole and not just individual backlinks. For example, a blog post backlink may come from a relevant page with brand anchor text. But when you look at the series of blog posts before it from the same domain, they may have a habit of linking out to unrelated industries and consistently linking out with commercial anchor text – e.g. travel insurance or personal injury claim, which is a sign of a bad neighborhood and toxicity. That’s my biggest tip, and Ahrefs is the tool I’m most likely to use in accessing bad backlinks.
Evan Dunn leads a team of revenue growth strategists at Transform, Inc., which offers the first truly comprehensive look at your business’s revenue generation activity.
Most SEO experts assess the need to discontinue links through tools that provide link toxicity measurements. But commonly, there is a level of gut instinct, as well: does it look like a link you need or want? If you’re not certain, it’s worth visiting the referring page and evaluating the content: does it fit your brand? Can you identify where your site is anchored in the page? If you find sloppy copy, or sneaky anchor text practices, or evidently automatically-generated spam copy, kill the link. Disavow now!
Leonhardt is the President of THGM Writers.
I am a big believer that good PR means good SEO. Create good content, let as many people as possible know about it, and good things will follow. Links are among those good things.
Links that come naturally as a result of good content are, therefore, good links. Those that did not come naturally are suspect. For instance:
- If you ever bought a link, disavow it.
- If you ever automated link-building, disavow it.
- If you ever made fake comments on a blog (ones that are just for the link and not really part of the discussion), disavow it.
There is only one circumstance where I would disavow a naturally-acquired link: when a blog or website scrapes a page that has your link on it. This can be tricky. There is a huge gray area between legitimate syndication and curation on the one hand, and spammy scraping on the other hand. Often it is the quality of the copying site that defines the difference.
It’s always exciting to be referenced in an article on a high-authority website, such as Forbes or USA Today. It is even more exciting to see that a dozen other websites have picked up the story. I confess that I don’t make any attempt to discern which of those should be disavowed, mostly on a philosophical basis: they are natural backlinks and it’s really up to Google to decide what it wants to count or discount in its algorithm.
That being said, if Google has concerns about unnatural links, I would go back and disavow any that don’t look so wholesome, even if they were naturally acquired.
Aaron Aguis works for Louder.Online, a digital marketing consultancy that specializes in Intelligent & Effective Search, and Content & Social Marketing.
I use five criteria to determine whether or not a link should be disavowed:
- Is the site that the link is coming from actually indexed (and not penalized in Google)?
- Is the site’s link profile all spammy, from PBNs, or made up of other dodgy links?
- Is the site full of adverts for porn, pills, or other stuff?
- Is the site relevant?
- Are anchor texts over-optimised or commercial, instead of natural?
Obviously, there’s some judgment calls with those. Relevancy and over-optimization can mean different things, depending on the site you’re working on and the industry you’re in. The more examples you look at, the easier it is to get a feel for whether or not a link should be disavowed.
John Hall is currently the Co-Founder and CEO of Influence & Co. He assists individuals and brands in growing their influence through products and services.
In order to assess the merits of the link disavowing situation, it is essential to check Google Webmaster tool and Google Analytics to see if there’s a recent traffic drop or warnings on unnatural (spammy) links before making a decision.
If we’re confident that it is spammy links that are causing the issue, then I would suggest checking tools like Cognitive SEO or Ahrefs. They assess the link influence and domain authority of the incoming link, and identify whether those links come from spammy sources and are organically relevant to the business. Basically, legit or not, tools are just for initial filtering, so manual routine checks on a site’s backlink profile are also necessary.
Warren Whitlock offers Business Development Consulting at CarbonDigits.
I have never had a link that needed to be disavowed, though I’ve helped others who wanted to disavow links.
Most people who are worried about bad links have been misinformed and think search engines will rank them higher if they remove links.
This is not the case.
You can be penalized for bad links. If you are, you’ll get a note in Search Console and rectify it. Then, if you can’t tell a good link from a bad one, be sure to get counsel from someone who does.
Bad links come from bad neighborhoods, and generally, that means they were link purchased for bad SEO. If you’re needing to remove links, I suggest looking at all your site metrics and seeing whatever else is causing you to look bad to search crawls.
Ashok Sharma is a writer, professional blogger, digital marketer, and social media enthusiast. Ashok is a Digital Marketing Manager at GrayCell Technologies.
By using disavow links tool, we are informing Google to remove spammy links.
Below are some reasons that need to be taken into account when considering a disavow links file:
- You received a manual link penalty or any unnatural links warning in Search Console,
- You suspect a Penguin algorithmic link penalty,
- You believe your site ranking is being harmed by low quality links and you might be a victim of negative SEO,
- You have seen rank loss on keywords you optimized with links.
A couple of things you can do:
- Look at the Page Authority and Domain authority of the page where the link is coming from. If it is high, then keep them.
- Check the link source neighborhood. If there are spammy links outgoing from the page or domain, then disavow them.
- Check that the link you are getting from the page or domain is related to your niche. If it is a relevant link, then keep it.
- If you have links to your site from poor website directories, then disavow them. I can bet that over 90% of web directories don’t adhere to Google’s quality guidelines.
- Blog Networks & Poorly Executed Guest Blogs need to be disavowed.
- Links from lots of Foreign Language Sites need to be checked. If your site belongs to the UK, Google would generally expect to see a good percentage of your links coming from relevant UK sites. If you have a majority of other language links, then disavow them.
Kumar is a Blogger at Letstrick from India.
Selecting links to be disavowed is not an easy task at all! There are so many reasons to disavow them – like maybe you got a search engine penalty from Google, or your traffic has dropped insanely, or your domain spam score increased.
My first priority in selecting links to disavow are those that come from low-quality websites. The same goes for no-follow links if they don’t pass page rank or anchor texts to my site.
So first, I’ll go to Majestic and find the Trust Flow and Citation Flow of the domains which are linking to me. Then I’ll remove all links which come from the low trust flow domain.
I will select the links which come from websites that are just made for links. There are lots of websites which have tons of articles, but all of them are of different niches and all the articles link to tons of different websites. This means they are just made for link building, which will harm your domain, for sure.
I’ll then find the backlinks with over optimized anchor text. Yeah, I agree that getting keyword rich backlinks helps your articles rank better, but getting tons of backlinks with the same keyword or anchor texts will increase your site’s spam score, and you may face a penalty from Google.
Finally, I’ll select links from different niche websites. If I have a blog in the tech niche, for example, and some of my backlinks come from health niche blogs (even if they are of DA 50+), I will have to delete those because Google likes backlinks from relevant sources.
And if I have already faced a penalty, then I will also make sure to delete links from non-English countries. For example, if I have a blog with an approximately U.S. audience, and my links come from Russian or Italian blogs, then these links will be counted as spammy links. But if you are removing backlinks to clean up your site’s matrices, then you can skip this one.
Hamish Fitzhenry is the Head of Search at Grizzly, a leading SEO Agency in Bristol.
Identifying a bad link can be an unnerving, but necessary task, as removing a healthy link can have permanent consequences on your search engine rankings. If a link is coming from a website that is clearly spamming, then go ahead and disavow it.
For example, if the domain looks like it has too many links on one page, takes an unusually long time to load, or has lots of 404 errors, then the website is either spam or just of very poor quality. Links from outdated directories is another red flag. If you still have links from old directories that aren’t bringing in any referral traffic, I would consider letting them go.
Finally, consider links from irrelevant and ‘untrustworthy’ sites. If a domain has no relationship to your industry or business, then why would you want it to point to your site? When you check your backlinks, you’d be surprised at some of the domains you will see! You can rest assured that disavowing links from untrustworthy sites, like gambling or porn, won’t hurt your rankings!
Sharma is a Content & Copy Writer at Wedigtech.
Quality backlinks are a requirement of healthy search rankings. But it’s clear from the mouths of search engines that you can’t go very far if your site is associated with off-topic or spammy inbound links.
While it’s important to attract good links, it’s just as important to remove bad ones.
If you care at all about SEO, it’s vital to run a backlink analysis of the sites you’d like to get links from.
So, it’s important to conduct an extensive backlink analysis first before you begin disavowing.
A bad link is simply one that violates Google’s guidelines. Consequently, it can lead to Google penalties. You should look out for signals when building links, no matter where the links are coming from.
If your links are coming from unrelated sites or pages, they’ll be regarded as bad links and you should disavow them all.
Over-optimized anchor texts can negatively affect your search traffic and rankings and should be disavowed.
Caraecle is an SEO Expert for ecomtuning.com – an SEO Agency for eCommerce websites.
Disavowing links is Google’s answer to the request of webmasters to remove backlinks pointing to their website. Evaluating the links to disavow is often related to the following:
- Sitewide Links
- Websites with Low Domain Authority
- Previously Penalized websites
- Low-Quality Directories
- Backlink is irrelevant to your website.
Consider the use of tools like SemRush (to detect traffic drop for penalized websites), Moz (Low domain authority), and Ahrefs to have a best-pruned link list to disavow.
In a Penguin 4.0 era, there are fewer instances where disavowing links are necessary:
- If you have been engaging in low-quality link building at scale,
- If you’ve previously been issued a manual penalty,
- If you are under a negative SEO attack,
- And if you find yourself in any of the following situations:
- identifying low-quality links in your profile for removal,
- if unsuccessful, disavowal is recommended even if Google now devalues harmful links as opposed to demoting affected websites.
To identify the links that are harmful to your website, watch out for the following: ads above the fold, directories, spammy blog comments, unrelated sites, paid links, anchor text, and links that look manipulative. These commonly found links should be disavowed in the case of most websites.
For a more thorough link profile audit, however, there are a number of steps to follow. You would first need to check tools such as Ahrefs, Majestic, as well as Google Search Console. You must analyze anchor texts, relevancy, and authority of websites where your links are coming from. These metrics will help you determine which domains should be completely disavowed.
Liam does link building for Orlajames.com and many client websites. He is always looking for easy ranking gains!
Link disavowing is almost as important as link-building for SEO. Since Google is constantly changing its algorithm, previous building methods can soon become construed as bad practice. I mean, we haven’t done it, but if your anchor text ratio was very skewed, you could do link-disavows and remove low-quality links to make it more natural.
However, link disavows would best be used to get rid of harmful links to your site. Since we use Majestic, anything with a low trust flow (<5) would be cause for concern. Also, if the linking domain has been spammed with gambling, outlet, or pharmacy links, it can’t do any good for a site’s SEO.
Richard Goodwin is an SEO guy from Howtostartablogonline.
When it comes to link disavows, there are three questions to ask yourself.
First, is the content relevant? Google is getting quite good at understanding topic relevance. You certainly don’t want a website that publishes content about cats, bowling, celebrities, and everything else under the sun linking to your client!
Second, was the website built on an expired domain? Using expired domains is a classic black hat strategy. For this, you can use archive.org to check for gaps in the history.
And finally, check to see if the website is getting real organic traffic using your favorite SEO tool or similar web. Do these three things and you’ll know the website is legit!
Jenna Brandon is the Co-Founder of Writology. She is an SEO and content marketing expert.
The most important criteria is the quality of the sites that link to you. How do you assess that?
First of all, quality sites publish quality content. Texts are well-written, cover the topic in detail, and are actually USEFUL. Also, I always check the comment section for spam. If there is no moderation and comments are let through with links to weird websites in the body – I would most possibly disavow a backlink from such a site since it’s only a matter of time before it gets penalized.
A second criterion is the number of backlinks to the site that links to me. Quality backlinks either come naturally as a reaction to published content or are a result of hard work. If backlinks are low-quality or not thematic, this is an alarming call.
Lastly, I disavow links from ad-heavy websites that are created specifically to sell links. If every blog posts contain numerous links to various commercial websites, and you can barely see the content because of ads, banners, teasers, etc – this site won’t give you a backlink you want.
Kulwant Nagi is an affiliate marketer, speaker, and world traveler. He writes on Bloggingcage.com where he shares blogging and SEO tips.
I would check the spam score of that link using OpenSiteExplorer, and see how many outbound links are there on the same post.
If there are many spammy links on the same blog post, I would add that link to my disavow list.
Further, I would dig for the backlinks of the blog from which I am getting the backlink. if there are many spammy links pointing to that blog, I would add that in my disavow list, for sure.
Stoltz is the Founding Principal at Ariad Partners, a marketing and sales firm specializing in creating breakthrough growth strategies for start-ups. More info at Brenda’s blog.
Being able to determine a good backlink from a bad one is critical to maintaining your site’s SEO health. Use a good backlink tool to review your links. As a general rule, a good link is one from a high-quality site with a high domain authority where the topic is relevant. A bad link is a low-quality link or spammy. Just because the domain authority is low doesn’t necessarily make it a bad link. If the content on the site is of high quality and relevant, it may be a perfectly good link. If that’s not the case, chances are it’s not a link that is bringing value to your site and may be hurting it.
Now that you’ve determined which links are bad vs good, you can begin the process of cleaning up the bad links. Start by reaching out to the web owners or managers and ask for the link to be removed. Only after you’ve done all you can, you can use Google’s disavowal tool to remove remaining bad links.
Stavola is an SEO Practitioner, Digital Strategist, and experienced Project Manager at OWDT with a demonstrated history of working in the marketing and advertising industry.
When deciding whether or not to disavow a backlink, it is best to be cautious and very specific about choosing what backlinks to disavow. Remember that when you disavow a backlink, you are basically telling Google that the link is harmful to your website. Google generally wants you to use this as a last case scenario.
That being said, it is pretty easy to spot spammy backlinks…
When to disavow a backlink?
First, check in the Google Search Console and look for Manual penalties. Second, look for a drop in traffic – this can indicate an algorithmic penalty. If so, take a good look at your link profile.
- Look for Backlinks that have too many outbound links
- That have very poor SEO metrics
- Backlinks from Forums
- Links from Social Bookmarking websites
- Links from pages with very little content
- Low-quality link directories
- Backlinks from sites not in your target country
Check the anchor text… Does it include any of these keywords? “Best, buy, top, adult, gambling, poker,” etc… If that isn’t wanted, be ready to disavow backlinks with keywords like that.
Check if the linking domain is indexed… to find out, copy the root domain into the google search bar to see something like this, “site:example.com.” If it shows up in the results, the website is at least indexed. If you see that it is not indexed (no results found), this is a huge red flag.
Again, you shouldn’t just start disavowing every website that seems to be a threat – that’s no good, either. You can actually hurt your own website’s rankings by disavowing URL’s that are actually helping your website rank.
Dan Scalco is a Digital Marketing Consultant and Owner at Digitalux .
If you’re building links organically and authentically (white hat), you really only need to be concerned with disavowing malicious links from competitors or black hat SEOs.
The search engines are usually very good at just ignoring “bad” links that are pointed at your site unintentionally (example: multiple links from syndicated content). The first thing I will look at when assessing if a link should be disavowed is the anchor text. I know if I come across a link, or links, that have unnatural anchor text that are an exact match for high search volume keywords, it is a big red flag and needs to be dealt with.
He is a director at Blurbpoint Media, a leading Internet Marketing Firm dealing in Organic and Paid Search campaigns.
A website’s ranking can be harmed by low-quality links or by paid irrelevant back-links because they are against search engine guidelines. If your website has toxic links which are damaging your online presence and visibility in search engines, don’t worry. You can easily get rid of them by using the Google Disavow tool.
The Disavow tool allows you to submit a TXT file which includes the list of all toxic bad links or domains. The main purpose of following this process is to remove harmful links from Google’s consideration. There are a few reasons why we use this:
- If the website receives a manual penalty,
- If the website receives an algorithmic penalty, and
- A timely audit of your website’s back-links to remove toxic links from your site’s link assets.
Here is a list you need to consider when analyzing the quality of back-links:
- Low quality links (Low DA, Low PA)
- Backlinks from Banned category websites (Porn, Casino, Gambling)
- Backlinks from low quality PBN
- Links coming from Penalized or de-indexed websites
- Links from Irrelevant websites
The above list will help you filter toxic links from your back-links profile. After filtering the toxic links, you can create an impeccable Disavow file. Always make sure you have the proper format for your Disavow file:
- It should be a text file (.txt)
- It should be encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII
- Each line should contain only one link or domain
Domain removals require “domain:” at the beginning of the URL
You can now submit this Disavow file in the Google Search Console.
This is a time consuming process and completely depends on the Search engine. Keep in mind, therefore, that it will take a while for the disavowal to be processed through Google’s crawling and indexing.
Justin Metros is the Proprietor at Radiator.
Backlinks to your site are one of the most highly coveted assets to help boost SEO. They generally come in three flavors: authentic/organic (the best kind – established publications, high profile social media, etc.), paid (PR teams working with media outlets, marketing outreach, B2B collaborations), and spam (bots, discredited sources, general noise).
When you’re looking at backlinks and looking at which to disavow; if you have a conscience you will know – it will be instinct if you care about your brand and your domain.
If you don’t recognize a referral domain, google it. If the results are questionable, blacklist it. Also, make sure no one is taking advantage of you (publishing media about your brand or product using content or assets without your consent).
The long term gain for positive SEO isn’t the number of backlinks you have but the quality of backlinks. Get rid of anything questionable.
It’s important to keep an eye on your analytics and your PPC marketing campaigns. When you see something that looks a bit off, it probably is. Blacklist, and keep your eyes on the prize.
Jeremy Rivera specializes in SEO, PPC & Badassery. The majority of his awesomeness centers around content writing & how people can harness the power of their website’s content for success.
I had seriously given up. For all the hype and talk of the dangers of the new Penguin live algorithm update, I just saw the sleeziest, crappiest links in my competitor’s backlink profile and they were ranking higher each week. Then I noticed that those same obvious PBN networks of sites, using the same image gallery template, were also hotlinking and no-follow linking to my client’s site, too! Several hundred of the worst quality links had sludged their way into my client’s backlink profile. That left me with the manual review process of all their links to pick out the scum. Here’s what I did.
I took my domain, plugged it into Ahrefs, and sorted by the lowest quality link metrics. Then I popped open the site to take a look. Did it have a ton of other links on it? Did it seem out of place, like an essay writing blog post on a taxidermist site? Is the site actually still indexed? Does the site have any organic traffic or has Google seemingly shunned the site? This gave me everything I needed to compile a list of sludge, to disavow it, and see that it COULD make a difference. The only change we made in that period was the disavow, and we saw an increase in important rankings, organic traffic, and total keywords we rank for across the board.
Dom Wells is the Owner at Human Proof Designs.
Most of the time, links don’t really need to be disavowed, but the best way to figure out whether a link is worth disavowing is to check out the site the link comes from. If it’s a spammy site with a ton of outbound links, questionable integrity (is it hacked?), or anything else that makes you think “I don’t want this link,” then it’s worth disavowing.
Equally, if you’ve been hit by a negative SEO attack, you’d want to disavow those links en mass, as well.
The only other reason you would want to disavow one is if you are trying to clean up your anchor text profile by getting rid of some of the exact match anchor links you built on the sly ;).
Kamil Guzdek is Head of SEO at GetResponse – a Marketing Automation platform.
When evaluating whether we should disavow a given link or not, we consider a couple of factors.
Primarily, we monitor our backlinks on a constant basis. If we see, within a given period, that our speed of getting backlinks rises, we review our new links within a given timeframe.
As such, we asses the quality of the website and placement of the link, itself. If the page is a web directory, pre-sell, link farm, or any other form of spammy page, we will mark those as disavow.
We also pay attention to the placement of the link. If they are in a sidebar or footer, we’ll most likely try to get rid of them, as well.
The next step is reviewing whether the websites we got the links from are penalized by Google, either by deindexing them or if Googles’ Safe Browsing mentions some suspicious behavior.
We also analyze anchors used to link to us. If the anchors contain hard or spam keywords, we take a closer look at those links to dive deeper into the reasons those pages link to us.
In the last step, we asses how regular links from this domain look. Usually, links placed in the original content, written by the owners of a page, look a bit different from content that is paid. Oftentimes, we see various add-ons in outgoing links, like >rel=“noopener”<, or something similar. If our link looks different from what a regular one looks like, we contact the author and ask them to change it.
The most important thing to note is that we always try to find patterns so we can work more efficiently.
Neil is the founder of Only Way Online, a Content and Instagram Marketing agency based in London, helping businesses get more traffic and sales online.
Generally, I’d only use the disavow functionality if I believe my site has been hit with a large quantity of spammy links. I wouldn’t bother with a few links, as I like to think my genuine quality links would more than suppress the spammy few. There’s a few key things I look for when identifying a spammy link which include:
- Large quantity of links coming from the same domain
- Anchor text used for link is clearly overly duplicated
- Domain linking to my website also has a large number of spammy links pointing to it (translating into low DA – Moz / DR – Ahrefs numbers)
- Domain linking to my website is not relevant to my website
- Page linking to my website is not contextually relevant to my website
- Content is lacking and way below standard.
Shivar is an SEO & Digital Marketing Consultant at Shivar Web Consulting. He is a marketing educator, consultant, and former Senior SEO Specialist at a marketing agency in Atlanta, GA.
A U.S. Supreme Court Justice was once asked how he could identify a legal obscenity. He quipped that [I] “would know it when I see it.” Identifying links that should be disavowed is similar.
If you are spending time carefully assessing whether you should or should not disavow a link, then you are wasting your time. You should be spending that time on content creation, promotion, and building new quality links.
That is not to say that there is not a time to disavow links.
But any link or set of links that I disavow is obvious. They are incredible outliers in terms of number, relevance, anchor text, site type, etc.
Here’s an example from the last set of links that I disavowed. My client’s site had around 800 to 900 diverse links to his most linkable page. They were mostly American. They had been accrued over the course of five years. Then, in one week, he received 1.2 million links from a set of Russian domains to three different pages.
That’s an outlier. They had no relevance and no reason other than spam. I disavowed those.
Focus on building more and better links. If you have a sense of your link profile benchmarks, you’ll know when to disavow.
Blomsterberg is a Sweden-based Internet marketing expert with over 20 years of experience. Currently, he’s managing his internet marketing agency, Intripid, and blogs on Sökmotoroptimering.se.
Typically, we are looking for the following:
- We look for links in directories, blog comments, site wide links, scraping sites, and obviously, bought links, etc. – the normal stuff.
- Obvious spam – which may or may not be a sign of a negative SEO campaign, usually from exotic TLDs (top level domains).
- EAT – exact anchor texts, especially those with transactional keywords and other over-optimized stuff.
- Links from multiple domains that reside on the same IP, that resolve to the same server, and so on.
To assess whether a link is good or bad, it’s important to do a thorough survey and ask yourself a couple of questions:
- Does the linking site rank for relevant (to you) words and phrases?
- Does it have a very high citation flow (in majestic.com), and/or does it have a spammy or otherwise untrustworthy backlink profile?
- What does the linking site’s content look like? By looking at its content, you can tell whether it’s a trustworthy and/or authoritative site, or one that’s pretty much junk.
Worth noting: While Majestic’s TF (Trust Flow) is relied upon by many, we’ve found that it doesn’t always accurately represent the value and impact of a site. Low TF does not necessarily mean a link/domain is bad! The key point here is to not rely too much on third party evaluations – do your own due diligence.
Another common opinion is that you needn’t dabble with the disavow file – Google just discounts the bad links anyway. You may or may not consider this the truth, but there is still a risk of rendering a manual penalty. Better safe than sorry.
Also, keep in mind that disavowing doesn’t always work. Going on a disavowing spree can potentially harm your traffic. Be patient. It can take weeks or even months before you see the effects of your latest endeavor into the territory of disavowing. Be careful what you disavow – the last thing you want to do here is to cut off the nose to spite the face!
Lyons is a Digital Marketer with 13 years experience growing traffic and qualified leads. He’s the co-founder of Digital Examiner.
If you’ve reviewed enough back link profiles, you intuitively know a toxic link when you see it. There are some key traits and characteristics shared by toxic links. With that in mind, here are some questions to ask when trying to decide if a link is potentially toxic to your site and if you should disavow it:
- Is it a low authority link? This in and of itself, isn’t a reason to remove a link, but it’s a good way to filter by a certain Domain Authority (DA) threshold. Not all links from sites with low authority scores are bad, but often times, bad links are on low DA sites.
- Is the page or site the link is on irrelevant or wildly off-topic? Nothing looks more suspicious during a manual review than a deep link to, say, a tire manufacturer’s product page on a nursing home’s “helpful sites” page, for example.
- What are the co-occurrence of links like? Are the sites linked to on the same page trusted, authoritative sites or are they off-topic, low authority, questionable sites? Resource pages with lists of links are where these risky co-occurrence issues tend to happen most.
- Is the link anchor text unnatural? In other words is it too “SEO’d” and exact match anchors, or commercial keywords to sales-driven product pages, etc?
- Is it part of a paid automated link scheme? You usually see these done at scale and purchased through a Fiverr or Black Hat World link building package with high ratios of spammy, keyword anchor forum links, comment links, social bookmarking links, etc.
Those are generally some of the key factors I’m looking for, and the questions I’m asking myself, when analyzing a link to determine if it’s a candidate for disavowal or not.
His personal website – http://doseoyourself.com. Jason runs a number of sites in different niches and has over 10 years of experience in SEO and making money online.
The first thing I look at is the relevancy of the backlink. If the link is coming from a source that has absolutely no relevance to my site, then I will disavow it. Relevancy is an important factor, and it’s better to have a lower number of quality ‘relevant’ links than links from random sources. I also check to see how many external links a site has. If a site links out to tons of other sites, then it raises alarms for me. The first sign of a spammy link is if it has thousands of other external links. Some people disavow links if they have low metrics, but I don’t mind links with low metrics as long as they are relevant.
Marcus Miller is an SEO & PPC Consultant at BowlerHat.
There are a bunch of tools out there that can help with this. Kerboo and Link Detox being the two that we have used in the past. Moz also has some spam flags that are applied to link in Open Site Explorer. So no shortage of tools, and these can help, particularly with larger jobs.
However, we tend to prefer a manual audit. Or at the very least, a manual review of any found by these tools as they can trigger false positives and miss some really dodgy links. Ultimately, you can have a good link from a lowly site and a bad link from a credible site. Links need to be looked at in the context of what is being linked to and why.
We are really looking for unnatural links, and links that don’t make sense outside of trying to improve someone’s SEO or ranking. The following are metrics we can look at in addition to what is provided by the various tools:
- Quality of linking site
- Quality of linking content
- Over optimised anchor text
- Commercial anchor text links to home page
- Site has lots of other dodgy outbound links
- Site looks like it is manufactured purely for a link (PBN style)
It’s hard to have specific rules, as such, and we tend to prefer the smell test. This can also come back to the overall link acquisition strategy. People link to useful or interesting content. Wikipedia has millions of links, as they provide useful content that people link to providing additional detail on a topic. So if the links to a small business site all point to your homepage, odds are this is pretty unnatural. We can’t truly review a link without establishing the context and what is typical in that industry to determine the true quality of a link.
So we will review the type of links, the linking sites, the industry norms, and the overall strategy to determine whether a link should be disavowed. There are also other situations where a link may just need to be sanitised a bit to remove over optimisation on what may otherwise be a solid link. In a recent post on the Bowler Hat blog, I talk about the issue that plague most link building campaigns and why strategically these link building efforts are back-to-front.
Another factor here is the patterns you spot whilst reviewing the links. When you have seen a couple of dodgy links that exist purely for low-grade SEO purposes, you will start to spot them as you go through the others. After a while, you can spot them instantly – similar templates used for spun up spam blogs or pages, etc. Patterns are often pretty clear as you go on and the bad links start to stand out.
Tom Demers is the Managing Partner & Co-Founder of Measured SEM and Digital Examiner. Tom’s background is in SEO, SEM & online marketing.
In auditing a link profile, I’m primarily looking for links that are obviously spam (not just “low quality”), so going a bit beyond just the metrics (eg. low domain authority), to inspect the linking pages to answer questions like:
- Is the site clearly full of “spun” nonsense content?
- Are there a lot of links with similar anchor text from comment sections / forums?
- Is there an author bio associated with posts on different sites with very low quality content?
- Are links coming from real sites (looking at the linking site, is this a legit business website / personal blog, or is it obvious that its part of a link network)?
What I want to avoid is disavowing any legitimate links from legitimate sites (even if they’re not particularly authoritative, according to link metrics), so that I’m only disavowing more “gray hat” links that pose a risk to the site.
Asad is a Digital Marketer & Social Media Manager and is a Content Marketer and an SEO Specialist at Singlegrain.
Every few months, I try to analyze all our incoming backlinks and review our anchor text ratio. If any anchor, other than branded or naked URLs, is over optimized (more than 2.3%), I disavow the least valuable links that are using that anchor text until all our anchors are properly distributed.
Olga is the Head of Global Marketing at SEMrush. Together with her team, she has built one of the strongest international communities in the online marketing industry.
Backlink audit and analysis of the value that each link brings to the brand is crucial. Google has been judging the links for years. And even in their case, it all comes down to experience. Link penalties are manual penalties for a reason – there is way too much that depends on a certain case and cases they have seen before. There is no silver bullet in disavowing a link, and it all depends on experience. Also, it really depends on the context. If your website has been penalised, you’d need to be more aggressive with disavowing links. If you’re protecting your website from being penalised, ever, you would be submitting a much smaller disavow file.
As an SEO software, we’re trying to help as much as we can. We’ve released Backlink Audit with 30 toxic markers we analyse the links upon.
If we see manipulative links, links coming from link networks, spam in communities, harmful environment, and suspicious technical parameters of a website the link is coming from, we’re likely to mark the link as toxic.
Puranjay Singh is the Founder & Chief Marketer at GrowthPub.
I use Ahrefs to keep track of my backlinks. Normally, if I have to disavow a link, it will have a poor DR. Sorting links by DR in Ahrefs quickly shows me these low quality links.
Another tactic I use is to find anyone who’s linked to me with a keyword-rich anchor text, especially for long keywords. Again, this is something Ahrefs can do.
If that fails (say, the spammy site is using an older domain), then I quickly pop over to the site. It’s very obvious when a site is spammy or not (poor design, content on seemingly random topics, keyword-heavy anchor text). If the site looks like it would be a “bad neighborhood,” I disavow the link.
Agrawal is a Freelance Writer For Hire, Storyteller, and Content Marketer at WPChime.
Disavowing a link requires quite a bit of careful insight. I download all my latest links from the search console. You can do the same using a modern SEO tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs.
First, I weed away the nofollow links via the free dofollow link tester of scrapebox. This is because we need to worry about followed links which can harm our link profile.
I then carefully check the links using scrapebox (can be manually done if you have less links) for their anchor texts. Most anchor texts related to porn, casino, or common ones like visit poster’s website, indicate these links are more bad than good. You can do this using Ahrefs, which also gives you a brief about the text surrounding your link.
I also check the links for their TLD presence. Anything with “.ru” or “.info” signifies the client’s site is being spammed by a negative SEO campaign.
My last tip would be – after everything is said and done, a manual check-up (for a decent number of links, not for huge backlink profiles) is the best way to go. Also, consider doing a regular check-up to decrease the burden of checking a lot of links at once.
Steve Wiideman is an SEO Expert, Search Engine Marketing Consultant, Speaker, Author, Trainer, Coach, and Strategist.
Our link improvement process is actually quite simple:
- Is the link on a website or webpage related to our industry?
- Have we attempted to contact the page author and/or site owner at least three times?
- Is the link keyword explicit, or does it appear to be promotional in nature?
- Is the page with the link likely to earn links of it’s own because it’s very helpful?
- If yes on 1 or 2 and no on 3 or 4, disavow the link.
- If no on 1 or 2 and yes on 3 or 4, let it lie.
The best advice I can give, as it relates to toxic links, is first establishing if the profile is so toxic that a new domain may be appropriate, and if it’s fixable to focus on earning great links through problem-solving content.
Think in ratios. Eventually the toxic links will look like an ant bite versus a bullet hole and Google will pay attention to the pattern of positive behavior and begin to forgive the nasty prior behavior (though they never forget).
Now it’s your turn!
Knowledge on which links to Disavow comes with years. Therefore, we combined 44 wise guy experience into one simple to grasp infographic:
I hope now you don’t have to wonder about the dilemma of to disavow or not to disavow. Follow the infographic and see if you need to remove the backlink.
If there is anything you find yourself struggling with, let us know in the comment section.