The Risks and Benefits of Disavowing Backlinks

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By Boris Dzhingarov

When we look at SEO factors, only one seems to be permanent, and that is the importance of backlinks. Links are one of the best ways for Google to know that your site is irrelevant, useful, and appreciated by the public.

However, there are some flaws in this system. Links from unreliable sources can hurt you and anyone can link to you. This means that someone could purposely send bad links back to you to hurt your rankings. Google knows this and has created a tool to allow people to disavow bad links. Let’s take a look at whether that’s something you should be using, the risks and benefits of using it, and a few tips on how to use the tool.

Do You Need to Disavow Links?

First, we would like to say that the vast majority of websites will never need to disavow any links. This is because Google is constantly working on filtering bad links and it was one of the key points of the Penguin 4.0 update which was released back in 2019.

After this update, most of the bad links have been ignored by Google. We say most because it’s not perfect and there are cases when you might still want or need to disavow links. If you see a massive traffic drop, and you didn’t receive a manual action, then it would be wise to revise your link profile.

You may have a lot of questionable links in there and some might still be benefiting you. If you want what’s best for the long term, we would suggest that you wipe them all off. This also means that you will have to work to rebuild those links. You must know the risks of disavowing links en masse as well.

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What Are the Risks of Disavowing Links?

The biggest risk of disavowing links is getting rid of good ones. You might end up not only losing valuable traffic to your site, but ruining your rankings in the process. This is why you need to be careful and only get rid of links if the action is necessary or you’re 100% sure that a link is bad or malicious.

One of these examples is if you hired a dodgy SEO agency and you found out afterward. It would then be wise to look over the links they’ve built for you and start disavowing some or all of them. A rapid increase in links to your site when you didn’t perform any specific action should also be cause for concern. But you have to be able to analyze whether these are natural or from some malicious agent.

Identifying this can be very difficult if you don’t have the expertise so, if you aren’t sure, this is where you should consider working with a reputable SEO team. They’ll be able to spot unnatural, spammy, or malevolent link patterns immediately. Multiple tools will allow you to do it on your own.

Manual actions are something you should pay attention to. These are when one of Google’s human reviewers penalizes a site because it doesn’t fit their guidelines. These are extremely rare but they do happen.

Note that while there are many types of manual actions, not all of them can be fixed by disavowing links. Some examples include user-generated spam and thin content. But if you ever get an action for unnatural links, you should review your link profile immediately and prune it out.

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What are the Benefits of Using the Disavow Tool?

The obvious benefit of using the disavow tool is that it allows you to clean up your link profile. This can be good if you have either purposely used bad tactics in the past or have been targeted by someone.

The disavow tool can also be used to stop specific sites from linking to you. If you want to stop receiving traffic from a specific domain, the disavow tool allows you to do that. Some people may not want sites with certain types of content linking to them, like political sites they fundamentally disagree with, or sites with adult content, for instance.

Disavowing Links as a Preventative Measure

You can also decide to disavow links proactively for a variety of reasons. Maybe you have noticed links that you know for certain will never help you because the site is so bad. Here, you can decide to disavow this link even if it’s not actively hurting you. Google, however, says that this is unlikely to give you any significant results, so we wouldn’t advise you to spend too much time on that.

Which Links Should be Disavowed?

The best way to know which links should be disavowed is to first pick a good link analysis tool and narrow your selection down to the most problematic links. Then, put them on an Excel or Google spreadsheet and manually review them. If a particular site is linking back to you thousands of times, you only have to check a few links to get an idea. Make sure to remove any links that have a 404 warning, are expired, no-follow if they’re not beneficial, or simply don’t cut it.

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You will then need to ask yourself what would be the motive for someone linking to your site. If you can’t think of a logical reason why a site would link to you, there’s a very high chance that the links are either malicious or spammy.

How to Create a Disavow File

Once you have a shortlist, it’s time to create a disavow file. The disavow tool is very easy to use, and all you have to do is input the links you want to be disavowed in a text file. If you want to disavow a link, you simply have to put the site’s URL with the prefix on the file and make sure to put one link per line. If you want to disavow a domain, all you have to enter is “domain:” followed by the site’s domain.

Once this is done, you can always check your disavow file and make amendments. We still don’t know if Google even considers these once the file has been submitted, however, so get it right the first time.The disavow tool could help your site and its rankings if done properly. It can backfire just as well, so don’t use it unless you know what you’re doing and you truly understand how to analyze a link profile.