There are many factors that influence SEO, including keyword density, social signals, and even website speed. Link building is probably the most well-known and discussed factor of them all. By now you realize that link building is a powerful tool in your SEO arsenal, but that tool can be a double-edged sword. Each backlink leading from a reputable website to yours is a vote of confidence in Google’s eyes, and counts toward a higher PageRank for your website. However, not every website that links to yours is desirable. Perhaps you’ve used spammy link-building techniques in the past, but are now trying to make things right. Perhaps links to your site have mysteriously shown up on a website or forum you’ve never even seen before. Unfortunately, you usually don’t have control over whether or not a third party website takes your links down. That’s where the disavow links tool comes in.
What is the Disavow Links Tool?
The disavow links tool was created as a way for webmasters to ask Google not to consider certain backlinks when determining PageRank. Using it is a lot like the process one goes through when cleaning up their consumer credit score. You contact creditors (or third party websites) to set things straight with them, and then contact the credit bureaus (or Google) to remove items that negatively impact your score (or PageRank).
When to Use the Tool
You should only use this tool if the website in question has spammy, artificial links pointing to your site. You shouldn’t disavow links from a website for any other reason, for example, if it has a low PR. This could potentially harm your site’s ranking in an irreversible way. Remember that Google algorithms are very fine-tuned, so you don’t want to do anything drastic that could throw them off.
How To Use It
- Log into your Google Webmaster Tools account. Click on the website you want to work on.
- On the dashboard, click “Search Traffic” and “Links to Your Site.”
- Under “Who Links Most” click “More.”
- Click on “Download More Sample Links.” You can also click on “Download Latest Links” to see dates.
This downloaded file contains all of the pages that link to your website. Use it to create a text file of the links you want to disavow. Include one link per line. If you want to disavow the links from an entire website, put “domain:example.com” on one line, instead of each individual link. If you want to include additional information, begin the line with the # sign. Google gives this example of a well-formatted text file:
- Once you’ve created and saved your file, go to the disavow links tool page.
- Select your website. Click “disavow links.”
- Click “choose file.”
- Make sure that your text file ends in .txt and is encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII.
- When looking for your websites in Google Webmaster Tools, you may want to verify both the www and non-www version of your website, since Google sees these as two different websites. More on that here.
- Only upload the .txt file and nothing else. If you have additional notes, include them in the consideration request.
How Long Does It Take?
It may take some time for the changes to reflect in your PageRank. Google will take this uploaded information into consideration the next time they crawl your website. Google’s algorithms determine the crawl frequency of each individual page in its index. Some factors it considers include PageRank and links to a page, though it can use any number of factors.
Common Disavow Links Mistakes
Avoiding some common disavow link tool mistakes could save you a lot of time and frustration. Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam, created a video on common mistakes that he and his team see regarding the disavow links tool. They include:
- Using the wrong file type. When you upload your text document, it goes to a parser, which parses out the information it needs to consider your request. If the document is anything other than a .txt file, the parser will reject it. So no Word documents, and no Excel spreadsheets. Just a simple .txt document with UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII encoding.
- Cherry-picking which links to remove. Sometimes going in with a precise approach as to what links to remove is tedious and unnecessary, since you might not find every single backlink a spammy website has. For some websites, you might want to take a broader approach by using the “domain:” attribute, instead of picking out one link at a time.
- Wrong “Domain:” syntax. This attribute should be typed out as “domain:example.com.” Not “domain:www.example.com” or “domain:http://www.example.com.”
- Giving context and explanations in the text file. If you include a long back-story in your text file, you run the risk of the parser rejecting it, even if you include the # sign. The best place to include the context of the situation is in the reconsideration request itself. If you’re including context in the text file, keep it to one line.
- Treating the tool as a cure-all. The disavow links tool is not meant to remedy all of your backlink ills. The best think to do if you have spammy backlinks is to remove as many of them as you can yourself. The tool is only for Google to reconsider links that you have no control over. Google takes it into consideration when you’ve made the effort to manually clean up your link profile.
The Bottom Line
The disavow links tool is helpful when you’re working on reversing the damage that low quality links have caused. However, use it with caution. First, consider carefully whether or not the website in question is harming your site’s reputation, and do as much as you can to clean up your link profile manually. After you’ve done that, the disavow links tool could be just what you need to get your SEO back on track.