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Disavowing Backlinks

Google’s disavow tool enables website managers to inform Google that they do not want a backlink to be counted or considered when Google reviews the links pointing to their website. This can be useful if there are numerous unnatural or spammy links pointing to a site. Our SEO Office Hours notes below compile advice from Google’s regular video sessions regarding disavow options for poor-quality backlinks.

For more information, read Google Search Central’s guidelines on disavowing spammy backlinks.

“Disavow files” for poor quality backlinks aren’t always necessary

Unless there’s a clear reason to use a disavow file (e.g. a manual action you’d otherwise take that can be resolved by disavowing specific domains), these days, it’s generally acceptable to remove your disavow file altogether. John Mueller says in the clip below that Google understands that poor-quality links are a natural part of the web ecosystem and that most sites will accumulate some spammy backlinks over time. He confirms that now Google is better than ever at recognizing and ignoring instances of poor-quality backlinks. But if you do delete an existing disavow file, it’s recommended to keep a copy of the document just in case you need to refer back to it later.

21 Jul 2022

Spammy backlinks to 404 pages are ignored by default

When asked how to deal with thousands of spammy backlinks, John was keen to reassure users that low-quality sites linking to 404 pages won’t impact your site negatively. Because it’s a 404, Google essentially reads that link as not connecting to anything and ignores it (for the same reason, it’s important to review/redirect links coming from valuable sources to a 404 page). If it’s just a handful of sites providing spammy backlinks to non-404 pages, the recommendation is to set a domain-level disavow.

13 May 2022

Many sites don’t require a disavow file

One user asked about managing the size of their site’s disavow file. Only links that could make a user or Google think they’ve been paid for belong in a disavow file. That means that not every instance of a spammy or low-quality link to your site needs to be included in a disavow file. John suggested that a disavow file isn’t necessary for most websites (and having one could be causing more problems than it solves).

27 Jan 2022

Disavowing a redirected URL may be enough to prevent the passing of poor link signals

One participant asked for the best approach when dealing with a redirecting URL that has poor quality backlinks (in this case, a page with 18k spammy links was redirecting to the site homepage). If the rest of the destination URL’s backlink profile is relatively healthy, it may be enough to disavow that redirect alone. Disavowing all of the backlink spam would still be the ideal, but in cases like this the outcome probably doesn’t warrant that additional time and effort.

6 Dec 2021

No Need to Disavow Links From Sites that Have Decreased in Traffic or Popularity Over Time

It can be natural for some sites to receive less traffic over time, so there’s no need to disavow links from sites that have decreased in popularity, unless the link itself is spam.

7 Jan 2020

External Links Shown in GSC Can Contain Disavowed or Nofollowed Links

The external links shown in Google Search Console are a sample of all the links found by Google, so not all of them will be displayed in the tool. The sample data may include links that have been disavowed or nofollowed.

4 Oct 2019

Google Takes The Disavow File into Account Immediately

When re-crawling the URLs specified in the disavow file, Google will immediately drop these. However, they will still appear in the Links Report seen in Google Search Console.

3 May 2019

Disavowed Links Aren’t Removed From GSC Links Report

Links that have been disavowed will still show up in the links report in Google Search Console. This doesn’t mean that disavowing the links hasn’t worked, rather this is just how the links are reported.

7 Apr 2019

Disavowed Links Aren’t Removed From GSC Links Report

Links that have been disavowed will still show up in the links report in Google Search Console. This doesn’t mean that disavowing the links hasn’t worked, rather this is just how the links are reported.

19 Mar 2019

Only Use Disavow if WebSpam Team Would Likely Issue Manual Action

John recommends using the Disavow Tool if you think that the WebSpam Team would likely give you a manual action for the links in question. However, for most websites that aren’t actively attempting to manipulate rankings with suspicious link building practices it isn’t worth using the Disavow Tool.

22 Jan 2019

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