While a good amount of high-quality, relevant links will have a positive impact on your rankings, a large number of backlinks from low-authority domains and spamming can negatively affect your website's performance in search results.
It's no secret that the backlinks pointing to your domain are extremely important when it comes to your rankings and how much trust Google has in your website.
Google's Penguin update, introduced in 2012, penalises websites with unnatural backlink profiles. In 2016, Google announced that with the refreshed Penguin 4.0 update, Penguin's core algorithm will run in real time rather than at regular intervals. What does this mean? Google is now faster and more efficient at catching and penalising websites with spammy backlink profiles.
Although Google has since introduced additional measures to determine how it ranks content, including RankBrain, backlinks will continue to be an important ranking factor. It is therefore crucial that you pay close attention to your website's backlink profile in order to maintain organic performance in search engine results.
If you suspect that you have a large number of bad backlinks pointing to your site, the first step is to do a backlink audit. I would recommend doing this at regular intervals so that you can spot potential problems before they become unmanageable.
Although submitting a disavow file is a simple process, mistakes in the process can be very costly. If you need help performing a backlink audit and submitting a disavow file to Google, get advice from our SEO experts.
Step 1: Download your backlink profile
Your first step in determining whether you need to submit a disavow file to Google is to download your backlink profile to see who is linking to you. There are a number of tools (for a fee) that you can use to do this, e.g:
The "Links to your website" report in the "Search traffic" section in Google Search Console is a free option, but it does not list all your backlinks.
If you wish, we can create such a list of toxic backlinks for you, which you can then send directly to Google for disavowing toxic backlinks for only 69€.
There is some debate about the accuracy and reliability of each tool. To do a really thorough backlink audit, you need to start with as comprehensive a picture of your backlink profile as possible. I would suggest downloading a report from each of these tools and cross-referencing using the "Remove Duplicates" option in Excel.
If you have already carried out a backlink audit and only want to check new links, you can use these tools to show only links that were gained within a certain period of time, e.g. in the last six months, so that you do not have to make a duplicate effort each time.
Step 2: Carry out a backlink audit
Once you have your backlink profile, the next step is to perform an audit. The basic principle here is to identify bad websites that link to yours.
There are a number of characteristics that define a bad link, including:
- The website that links to you is not indexed in Google search results. Use the search operator site: in combination with the domain to see for yourself.
- The site is completely irrelevant to what you offer as a business. You should always try to build and get links from sites that are relevant to you.
- The website looks spammy and/or contains malware. If the website looks bad, it probably is!
- Sites with very low domain authority. Even though Moz's DA metric for determining the strength of a domain can be very fluctuating, it is a good indicator to help you fish out those spammy links. Be very careful, however, because there are spammy websites with high DA scores.
- Links from forum spam. This refers to deliberate attempts to comment in forums in order to build links.
- Links from link networks and link farms. These are websites created specifically to link to a target page in order to achieve page rank. These often fall under the irrelevant/paid link characteristic of a bad link.
For more detailed advice on how to conduct a robust backlink audit, contact us!
As you go through your backlinks, highlight any that you have identified as bad. Once you are done, filter your table to see only the bad links and copy this list into a new tab.
Step 3: Create a Disavow File
Before proceeding, you should always first try to contact websites to request the removal of a link. This is not always possible and if you contact the site and receive no response or the link is not removed, the next step is to disavow the link.
A disavow file is simply a list of domains that you submit to Google via your Search Console account, indicating that you wish these backlinks to be ignored. This way, Google does not take these links into account when determining the authority and ranking of your website.
You should always disavow links at the domain level to ensure that Google ignores all links from that site. Edit your list to include only the domains.
Next, we need to add "domain:" before each line. This is the required format for a disavow file. To do this quickly and easily, enter in column B ="domain:"&A1
Drag this formula over the entire column B and your list should look like this:
We need to remove the formulas from these cells. Select the entire column B and copy it. Then paste it back in the same place but select Paste as Values from the Paste Options menu. This will leave the text in the cells as desired, without the formulas.
Your disavow file must be in .txt format. To create a text file, copy column B from your spreadsheet and either paste it into:
- TextEdit on a Mac
- Notepad under Windows
Save this file somewhere under a suitable name, e.g. "myCompany Disavow File" for safekeeping.
Step 4: Submitting your Disavow file
To submit your Disavow file, you will need to log in to your Search Console account to access Google's Disavow tool.
Once you have logged in, select your website property from the drop-down menu.
Click on "Disavow Links". You will see a warning message from Google similar to the one at the beginning of this post. To continue, click on "Disavow Links" again.
If this is the first backlink check of your website:
- Click on 'Select file'.
- Locate your .txt Disavow file that you created earlier
- Upload them and click on 'Send'.
How to update a Disavow file
To update your disavow file, you need to add the new links you identified to the previous disavow file. Uploading your new list means that only these domains will be ignored by Google and none of the previously identified domains will be disavowed.
You will see the following box containing your previous Disavow file:
- Click on "Download" to download a copy of your previous Disavow file
- Paste your new domains by copying and pasting into this file
- Save your new, updated Disavow file as a .txt file
- Click on 'Select file' again in the Disavow tool.
- Find your new Disavow file
- Upload them and click on 'Send'.
In the red 'Results' box, you will see a message from Google stating that you have successfully submitted your Disavow file and it contains no errors. You will also receive a message in the 'Messages' section of your Google Search Console account.
The next time Google crawls your website, your disavow file will be taken into account and these links will not be evaluated as part of your backlink profile.
If your Disavow file contains errors, take a look at this guidewhich Matt Cutts has compiled on common errors of the Disavow tool, or contact us. We will advise you free of charge and send you a non-binding offer!