Our senior SEO strategist has tons of experience when it comes to cleaning up link profiles, in this guide he’s taking us through his process of removing those pesky bad backlinks…
If you’ve identified a backlink pointing to your site that could be having a negative impact on visibility and authority, such as a paid link or a link from a highly suspicious domain, there’s a couple of routes you can take to having this backlink removed.
Identifying Bad Backlinks
First of all, you need to identify the backlink in question and be certain it needs to be removed. There’s a number of tools that will allow you to audit a sites’ backlink profile – such as Ahrefs, Moz, SEMRush or Screaming Frog – and all SEO’s will have access to at least one of these tools. For example, if you have access to Ahrefs, you can enter your domain in the site explorer and navigate to backlink audit in the left-hand menu to see the list of backlinks your site has acquired. Whichever tool you use, the process is similar, and you’ll end up with a list of domains that are pointing to your website.
Next, you should go through each domain that has a backlink to your site to determine whether it adds any value. Ideally, since there could potentially be a huge list of suspect domains, you’ll already know the backlink that could be causing issues. For a full audit, you’ll need to determine the quality of backlinks based on a number of factors such as domain authority, anchor text used for the backlink and the type of the site the backlink originates from. Whether you’re carrying out a full backlink audit or you know the domain you want to disavow, you need to create a disavow file.
Creating The Disavow File
Before creating and submitting a disavow file, you should try and contact the site in question and kindly ask them to remove the backlink from their domain. Sometimes they’ll happily oblige and remove the backlink for you, but in the majority of cases your request with either go ignored or it will never reach the person who the request is intended for. If you’ve tried this and are unable to get the backlink removed, you can then create a disavow file to tell Google you don’t want to be associated with these sites.
For the disavow file, you can either use an online tool or using a basic text editor such as notepad. If using notepad, you just need to create a list of domains that you want to disavow (without the www) with a preceding ‘domain:’ on each line. For example, for a domain called www.disavow.com, you’ll need to enter: domain:disavow.com; followed by the next domain to disavow on a new line. For full-scale backlink audits, it’s often easier to create a list of domains in a spreadsheet and add the domain prefix using a concatenate function before exporting into a text file – just to speed up the process.
Submitting Your Disavow File
Once you have your completed list, you’re ready to upload it to Google Search Console. Head over to Google disavow tool; if you can’t find it in GSC, it’s usually easier to Google search ‘disavow tool’. Make sure you’re logged into the correct Search Console account and select your domain from the dropdown, before clicking on ‘disavow links’. Click on the ‘disavow links’ button again and you’ll be able to upload your newly-created disavow file. If a disavow file has been uploaded in the past, you’ll need to download this and add the domains contained within it to your newly created list. Once you’ve selected your file, click submit and you’re done. Google will use your disavow file to determine which domain you don’t want to be associated with – but this can take weeks or even months for Google to re-crawl your disavowed links.
Disavow With Caution
However, it should be noted that there’s a reason why the disavow tool is purposely hard to find in Google Search Console. For the majority of sites, the disavow tool shouldn’t be used. Google themselves have recently stated that using the disavow tool on a regular basis or submitting a huge disavow file, could prove fruitless. This is due to Google’s ability to recognise and expect low-quality links, that may appear ‘spammy’, in a sites’ backlink profile; as these would appear naturally over time since the site going live.
This is not to say that the disavow file should never be used. If you’ve acquired any links through ‘black hat’ techniques, such as purchasing links or using link farms in the past, and there’s a possibility these could, or already have, lead your site to receive a manual penalty from Google then these are the type of links that should be disavowed.
This is good news for SEO’s, as carrying out a full backlink audit, where there are potentially hundreds of thousands of low-quality backlinks, can be very time intensive. When deciding whether a site needs a full backlink audit, SEO’s should weigh up if this is the most efficient use of their time, as it would seem Google is paying very little attention to those low-quality links that you think could be harming your site.
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