- Google’s constantly monitoring links pointing to your site so if they find any questionable links; it could mean a penalty in search results.
- Disavowing links is a best practice in the world of SEO and should be done about twice a year.
- When conducting your review process for link disavows there are numerous factors you want to consider before including them in your disavow list, including site design and authority score.
- There isn’t one clean, easy way for determining which links should be disavowed. You should always use your best judgment and base your decisions on key factors in Google’s guidelines.
Off-page SEO isn’t always about building links! Sometimes you have to break links, too! And by breaking links we mean disavowing them. Just as much as links can help your site, they can also hurt your site. Google’s constantly monitoring links pointing to your site so if they find any questionable links; it could mean a penalty in search results.
Therefore, keeping close tabs on who’s linking to you, and how, is just as important as making sure you build new links for your site. One way to do this is by disavowing links that you believe may be hurting your site’s potential. Disavowing links is an SEO tactic used to tell Google to not consider a certain set of backlinks towards how they interpret your site from an SEO perspective.
The following article will break down what you should know about disavowing links. First, we’ll start off with the question: “What is a disavow list?”
What is a disavow list?
A disavow list is a .txt file that’s used to communicate with Google which links shouldn’t be considered towards how Google interprets a site. Simply put, a disavow list is a blacklist of backlinks that you do not support.
Why would you disavow links?
I thought backlinks were good?! Why would I even consider blacklisting them? Well, the truth is, not all backlinks are good. A majority of them are good and harmless but there is also a lot of junk out there that could potentially harm your site’s organic visibility.
Generally speaking, disavowing links is a best practice in the world of SEO. There’s a huge debate between SEOs in the field on whether or not you should even focus your time on disavowing links if Google already has algorithms to detect link spam.
At RMG, we recommend you at least monitor your backlink profile and disavow as needed. You don’t need to catch every single link that your SEO software calls out as being dangerous, just catch a majority of them.
How often should you disavow links?
Our recommendation for disavowing links is two times every year. Again, Google is pretty good now at detecting which links are spam and they’re able to quickly detect which links appear unnatural fairly easily. Therefore, you don’t want to overdo it and disavow tons of links you think are bad. You should only be disavowing links that appear absolutely spammy! Definitely err on the side of caution when it comes to disavowing links.
So, now how do I know what’s a bad backlink and what I should consider disavowing?
What to consider when disavowing a link / What is a bad backlink?
When conducting your review process for link disavows there are numerous factors you want to consider before including them in your disavow list. Here are a few things to ask yourself:
- What is the authority score of the site?
- How is the overall site design? What’s the quality of the site?
- Does this website seem legit? Do they have contact information listed or links to their social accounts?
- What’s the toxicity or spam score?
Authority score: One of the items to consider when disavowing a link is the authority score. Generally speaking, you can trust websites with high authority scores but there’s more to it than just a score of 100. You should take authority score into account when you’re on the fence about disavowing a link. If the site looks OK but has spammy-looking anchor text and an authority score of 3 then disavowing that specific link wouldn’t be too harmful to your site (even if Google actually considered it a good link).
Site design & UX: Good design instills trust. If a site lacks a good, intuitive design then you’re probably not going to trust that site as much as you would a site like Google or Apple that have great UX. In link disavowals, design is important because it can indicate how much time a webmaster spends on maintaining their site. If the site looks like it was built in the early 2000s and has a lot of broken or misaligned elements then what does that say about the integrity of their content or SEO practices? This isn’t to say well-designed sites automatically follow world-class content and SEO practices but it is one factor that makes you question the integrity of poorly designed sites.
Website legitimacy. Building off of trust, another question you should ask yourself is “Does this website seem legit?” Is there a decent team behind it? Do they have active social media accounts? Do they have contact information available on their site where you can reach out to them if you have a question? Each of these questions can help you gauge the integrity of the site and can also help you determine whether to include this link in your disavow list
Toxicity score: Toxicity score should be one of the primary factors you take into account when performing your manual link audits. Semrush provides this metric for you in the Backlink Audit and they can quickly help you gauge the toxicity of a certain link and its domain. The higher the score, the more likely it is that you should include it in your disavow list. Semrush isn’t perfect, so this shouldn’t be the only factor you consider when disavowing.
There’s no one clean and easy way to determine whether a link should be disavowed. You should always err on the side of caution and manually review each link that weighs a variety of factors.
Examples of links that should be disavowed
The more you disavow, the quicker you’ll be able to spot which links are disavow-worthy. But, when you are just starting out, we felt it would be helpful to provide some examples of links that are an easy decision.
Pages with lists of links: These are a quick disavow! They just look 100% spammy and 100% unnecessary. These types of pages just look like a black hat SEO trick used in the old days. Here’s an example of the page we’ve recently found for a lot of our clients. Google is most likely able to devalue this link right away, given how many links are on it, but might as well include it in that disavow file.
Spammy comments with names as links: These links are straight out of Black Hat Cookbook. If you ever see a link coming from a commenter’s name on a random blog article, you should disavow that as soon as possible! Especially if the commenter is using blatantly keyword targeted anchor text.
Links with patterns across different sites: Finally, as you begin to dig into your backlink audit and manually review loads of links, you may notice that some websites follow similar patterns. It’s almost like the same developer (or group of black-hatters) built the site together. So, if you notice these patterns, consider adding that domain into your disavow list because it can be a link network.
Need help? Let us know!
Like we mentioned, there isn’t one clean, easy way for determining which links should be disavowed. You should always use your best judgment and base your decisions on key factors that Google has listed in its guidelines. If you’d prefer to leave it to the link building pros then reach out to the Redefine team, we’d be happy to protect your site from a vicious Google penalty.