Every SEO knows the value of quality backlinks, but can some of the bad ones actually hold you back? Google is rarely open about what the best practices are for ranking on their search engine, but disavowing backlinks is something that they explicitly recommend. In fact, there is even a dedicated tool within Google Search Console to address the issue.
So, if you’re wondering about whether or not to disavow your backlinks, Google have given us the answer, so now you just need to know when and how to go about it.
Most SEOs operate under the assumption that all backlinks are positive, but this is not always the case. Google will actually send you direct messages to tell you when they have noticed “unnatural links” that are pointing to your site.
If you get one of these messages, then Google is seeing signals that some of your backlinks look like they are paid for, come from link exchanges, or are part of link schemes that violate their quality guidelines.
If the search engines are seeing bad backlinks and you don’t address it, you’re going to get punished in the SERP. Search engines are constantly striving to counteract bad SEO practices; the days when toxic links had a positive impact on your rankings are long gone.
Google has also stated that if you’re not getting a message about bad backlinks, then it’s not necessarily something to worry about. A clean backlink profile is important, but you don’t want to disavow any links that are helping you.
If you want to disavow your bad backlinks, then you need to be able to identify them first. You don’t want to rid yourself of links that are giving you the expertise, authority, and trust that search engines are looking for.
Most organic backlinks are good, it’s the inorganic ones that you mainly want to avoid. Backlinks that have been paid for in bulk, or are part of a link scheme of some kind (like a private backlink network), are going to make your page appear untrustworthy to the algorithm. These are the ones you want to disavow.
Any backlinks that are hosted on a dodgy site, like one that’s filled with spamed links, are more likely to have a negative impact than a positive one.
Sticking to white hat SEO is obviously the way to go, but you might find that you’ve accumulated old, spammy backlinks from past bad practices, or you’ve been the victim of a negative SEO attack that’s trying to push you down the rankings.
In either case, you’ll need to disavow the bad backlinks to clean up your profile.
Essentially, you are telling Google that you don’t want them to associate those links with your domain. They won’t count towards your site’s ranking in search, positively or negatively.
It’s not a guarantee, but Google have put it in place as a way to undo bad SEO practices or fix poor linking choices that were made in the past.
If you have access to Google Search Console, disavowing backlinks is a pretty straightforward process. First, you just need to visit the Disavow Links Tool, where you’ll be asked to select your site. Then you need to upload a file that contains the links you want to disavow.
You will need to upload a text file that is structured in a certain way:
The example that Google gives shows a text file that looks like this:
In this example, the pound sign indicates comments that Google will ignore. Really, you only need the links as entries on separate lines.
Most backlinks are a good thing for your site, but there are some bad ones out there that will negatively affect your ranking. If you’re getting messages from Google telling you that they’ve noticed “unnatural links”, then you should get into the Disavow Tool and clean things up a bit.
Some online tools do offer quicker and easier ways to disavow your backlinks, but they are not essential.
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