How and When to Disavow Backlinks

28 April 2017

How and When to Disavow Backlinks

Backlinking has always been an important part of SEO, but the way to make the most of it has changed massively over the years. In fact, you could even arguably say that at this point in time the right approach to managing backlinks is exactly the opposite of what it was in the early days of the internet.

Backlinking, then and now

In the old days, backlinking was basically a numbers game. The search engines assumed that anyone who was linking to your site was doing so for a good reason, as a kind of recommendation, and so each inbound link improved your chances of rising to the top of the search results.

These days, there is still a certain “numbers” element to backlinking in the sense that having a high number of backlinks can help you get to the top of a search result - but only if they’re high-quality backlinks. Low-quality backlinks can actually damage your rankings.

The main search engines have, however, learned from their mistakes. Having seen how people tried to use backlinking to manipulate search results by raising their own ranks, they realised that some unethical companies might try to raise their own profiles by sending poor-quality backlinks to their competitors’ sites. So now, both Google and Bing offer “disavow” tools, which are essentially a way of saying “this link has nothing to do with me”.

Understanding the disavow tool

There are two situations in which you are very likely to find that the disavow tool is your only effective solution. They are:

1. You have received a link warning or penalty, be it manual or (Penguin) algorithmic.

2. You’ve identified links you’d like to remove but are unable to get the originators to remove them.

You basically want to make sure that the only links to your site are from sites with which you feel comfortable being associated. You can try asking other sites to remove their backlinks but, in the real world, that approach may well have limited success, hence the disavow option.

At the same time, however, if you get too enthusiastic with the disavow tool, you risk throwing out good links along with bad ones. Because of this, link pruning is generally best undertaken with caution and ideally with professional help. Remember, if you cut too little you can always cut some more, but if you cut too much you may kill your plant.

The other point to remember is that disavowing a link is basically the equivalent of marking an email as spam and presumably has the potential to impact on the originator site, so think twice and prune once.

Using the disavow tools

To disavow links in Google, you need to create a text file to Google’s criteria and submit it to their Disavow Links Tool. If you then wish to make changes to your disavowed links file you need to submit a completely new one. For Bing, you simply enter the links via the online tool and if need be you can delete any (or all) of your entries. Remember that Google’s tool only works for Google and vice versa, hence you need to remember to do your link pruning for both engines.