Backlinks are the bread and butter of modern SEO.
According to Ahrefs, 91% of all pages fail to drive organic traffic due to lack of this linchpin. Webmasters that earn them have a clear edge in terms of ranking.
The only problem with links is they aren’t created equal. While some give you a nice boost, others do more harm than good. The good news though is you have the power to protect yourself from various link-related penalties.
Disavowing backlinks is the best practice with a rich history in the SEO community. It bestows us with more control over how our link profiles get monitored and evaluated. It’s the means of shunning the negative influence of third-party websites.
But, going about disavowing isn’t as simple as it may seem. You need to know what makes a link good or bad. The distinction holds the key to deciding whether disavowing is necessary or not.
This guide is designed to help you navigate the maze of decisions and dominate the forefront of SERP.
A Brief History Lesson
As a site owner, you exercise only limited control when it comes to links pointing your way.
Google’s Disavow Links Tool is your best shot at shielding against negative ranking impact. The automated helper has spearheaded the search engine’s merciless war against spammy link-building.
In our opposition, it’s worth revisiting how we even got to the point of needing it.
It all started back in 2005 when Google introduced “nofollow attribute”. This value can be added to the rel attribute of the HTML with the purpose of advising search engines.
Over the years, however, the company “trained” its algorithm to do the heavy lifting. It began picking up on various forms of black-hat, manipulative activities.
Then, the next big shift came in 2015.
It was the Google Penguin update, an external filter for search queries. New penalties were instituted to quell links schemes. The effects could persist for several months after cleanup.
When the next update (Penguin 4.0) rollout occurred in 2016, it ushered in a new era in link-building.
Google gained the ability to combat spam at a granular, page-specific level. The new algorithm overhaul also broke away from the practice of demoting sites. Instead, it put a less stringent, spam devaluing system in place.
Disavowing Backlinks: The First Line of Defense
The scourge of demotion may have passed, but disavowing practices still fulfill a vital SEO role.
The aforementioned Disavow Links Tool finally gave webmasters a say in the matter. The concept behind it is simple. You basically let the search engine know you don’t want certain links to affect your ranking.
This waiver is associated with various benefits, such as staving off shattering ranking penalties.
Do bear in mind, however, that disavowing is by no means a directive Google has to abide by. The algorithm factors it in as a “strong suggestion.” How strong it actually is remains a matter of heated debate.
What we know is disavowing prompts Google algorithm to crawl your backlinks again. This process enables the search engine to reevaluate your backlink profile.
And the beauty of it is Disavow Links Tool is fairly easy to put to good use. All you have to do is run a Google Search Console and submit a text file containing pages you wish to disavow. Check out this step-by-step guide to develop a deeper understanding of the whole process.
It explains, for example, how to properly format the text file.
Note as well it’s possible to disavow links within platforms such as Ahrefs. Disavow Links Integration makes formatting files easier for you and removes links from Ahrefs reports.
The Way of Organic Cultivation
All of this looks good in theory.
Alas, practice is rife with challenges. The main one is learning to recognize links that aren’t doing you any favors. This isn’t a straightforward thought process that yields easy answers.
So, let’s first turn to Google for directions. It defines bad links as links that attempt to manipulate PageRank or inflate the site’s ranking via links schemes. What is more, they correspond to cases of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines violations.
Furthermore, we ought to heed the advice of experts that have been vocal about their best practices. Many of them argue relevancy is the first focal point of reference.
This is to say if a link isn’t relevant to your audience or site, then it probably means bad link business. On the other hand, good links either add value to your visitors or bring legitimate business your way.
They are gained fair and square or as Google puts it, “editorially earned.” They represent true editorial choices that are a result of free choice and organic bonds.
For instance, amazing content tends to attract such links over time. Other parties feel it is useful to their readers and that’s why they link in the first place.
In the following section, we’ll examine concrete bad link examples.
Meet the Bad Company
Paid links are the first on the list of wanted criminals lurking in the digital ecosystem.
These are dofollow, non-editorial links designed to trick RankBrain. They aren’t always easy to spot, as they don’t necessarily originate from unrelated sites. But, you can do yourself a favor and keep an eye on a few telltale signs.
Namely, paid links are often disguised as site-wide links with exact-match anchor text. They might involve elements that signal commercial intent, such as sponsored post tag.
Next off, we have a case of private blogging networks (PBNs). As of 2014, Google is de-indexing them on the account of black-hat link-building and “thin content spam.” We’re talking about manual action penalties here.
Thirdly, you should beware of low-quality directories. They offer zero value in terms of referral traffic or site authority. The only reasons that justify their backlinks’ existence are relevancy and niche fit.
Along the similar lines, you should avoid links earned via comment and forum spam. Yes, if you stick to authoritative and targeted sites, you’re probably safe. Many owners, however, scale and automate this process, invoking serious penalties.
Finally, we need to mention negative SEO, which refers to backlink spamming. This scheme revolves around linking to your competition from shady and low-quality sites. This malicious attack takes the form of a sudden spike in referring domains.
The Art of Pruning Links
Now you should have a clearer idea of what good and band links are.
Nevertheless, even armed with this knowledge, you could find yourself in a conundrum. And the truth is there’s always a risk linked to disavowing. For instance, you might denounce links that bring your site benefits.
Besides, Google itself advised caution on multiple occasions. It declared Disavow Links Tool an advanced instrument one has to operate carefully. If you make a mistake, you can “reavow,” but in doing so you weaken the positive signal.
Let’s also not forget the search engine is perfectly capable of assessing links on its own. It doesn’t need our guidance in dealing with spam, which isn’t to say it’s completely redundant to offer it.
In certain situations, you’re better off reacting promptly before you run afoul of Google’s algorithm.
A Manual Action Report is one instance that almost always warrants cleanup and disavows. Abrupt jumps in low-quality links fall under the same category. They load you with tainted link juice and reflect very poorly on your website’s position in SERP.
For Good Measure
Beyond these glaring examples, we need to face a slew of cases that fall in the gray area.
Thus, it’s best to take your time to perform regular link auditing. Investigate the origin of links and the reputation of their owners. If you suspect something fishy at play, you might want to disavow.
You can leverage tools such as Site Explorer to streamline the process.
They produce reports packed with actionable insights. Not only that but you can monitor metrics like link velocity that may call for further investigation.
Google Search Console comes in handy as well. It generates valuable data for your backlink analysis and improves the comprehensiveness of the source material. You can make better calls when putting together a list of links to disavow.
Lastly, remember to log any changes and track how they affect your ranking over time. It could take weeks before you notice any bleeps on your radar. So, tread carefully, show patience, and stay vigilant.
Master the craft of separating the digital wheat from the chaff.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Google’s algorithm is reaching ever new heights of sophistication.
Yet, even in the era of Penguin 4.0, disavowing backlinks serves an important purpose. It offers webmasters much-needed control over how the Google search engine evaluates links.
The really tricky part is weeding out bad ones, those that hurt your prospects. Decision-making often involves complex, risk-reward equations that emit ambiguous signals.
So, get ready to play it by the book and appease the internet powers that be. Assemble your link profile and go over with it a fine-tooth comb. Show no tolerance to spammy, manipulative, and low-quality links.
Once you’ve done your spadework, run a Disavow Links Tool. Remember it’s not a silver bullet, but a fine instrument to be used sparingly and with precision.
Check out the list of SEO services we recommend. It’s time to polish your link portfolio and outmaneuver competition on the biggest organic traffic highway.