Bad backlinks can cause you some serious grief.
The problem is that finding and disavowing bad backlinks often proves time-consuming and tedious.
This disavow links guide will show you exactly how to find and remove bad links—quickly and easily.
But first, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what Google’s Disavow Tool is and why Google created it.
What Is the Google Disavow Links Tool?
It’s used to tell Google to ignore specific backlinks that can hurt your rankings.
The way it functions is pretty straightforward and simple:
1. Submit a text file of bad backlinks using the Google Disavow Tool, and
2. Google will no longer consider those links when ranking your pages.
It’s compiling the list that can prove the most tedious.
(But I’ll show you the quickest and easiest way to compile it in just a bit.)
Why Did Google Create the Disavow Links Tool?
Google has battled link spam for as long as links have been considered for ranking purposes.
Google’s Disavow Tool was released back in 2012 to give site owners more control over the links Google uses to rank your site.
But it was never intended to be the first line of defense.
That’s why you should always pursue manual link removal before disavowing.
The best way to do that is to send a friendly email to the owner of the site requesting that they remove the link that’s low quality.
If, after a couple of attempts, they’re still unwilling to remove it, that’s when disavowing the link is the logical next step.
And when knowing how to use the Disavow Tool really comes into play.
Disavow Links Guide: How to Eliminate Bad Links, for Good
Part 1: Find Bad Links to Disavow
As I touched on earlier, finding links that need removing is the most tedious and time-consuming task.
That’s mainly because, in most cases, “bad links” is a subjective term.
Some link types can be bad for some site owners and not so bad for others.
For example, a low-quality link that drives a bit of traffic to a site with a portfolio full of high-quality backlinks might not be as detrimental to its SEO efforts as a site with a portfolio of mostly low-quality backlinks.
A good rule of thumb to follow is to always strive to have substantially more high-quality links than low-quality links. Once you’ve achieved that, the occasional low-quality link will prove less damaging.
That being said, there are certain link types that are unanimously bad no matter the circumstances.
Here are four definite sources of bad backlinks and how to find them using Monitor Backlinks.
(If you don’t have an account to follow along, you can pick up a no-risk free trial here!)
1. Paid Links
Google targets and penalizes paid links that are:
- Non-editorial. Links that are either paid for or directly requested.
- Dofollow. Links that are considered for search engine rankings.
- Created solely to pass PageRank.
The logical first step to find paid links is to first eliminate no-follow links: links that Google doesn’t consider for ranking purposes.
(As a matter of fact, this step should also be used for finding the rest of the bad backlink categories that follow.)
To do that, first go to your backlinks portfolio within Monitor Backlinks by hitting the “Your Links” tab in the left navbar…
…and then click the “Links that Google considers” button to filter out all no-follow links:
The only links that’ll show are dofollow links. You can verify this by looking at the “Status” column and confirming that all links have a green “F.”
Now, it’s time to start looking for potential paid links.
One of the most common paid link indicators are links that come from sites that are unrelated to your site’s niche or industry.
For example, links from sites about basketball to your site that’s about dog grooming.
To find these links, you’ll look at the “Linking Page” column and find any sites with descriptive information (i.e. domain name, URL, etc.) that indicates it’s from a different industry.
Here’s a domain that I found in the “Linking Page” column:
Given that the sample site is more related to SEO, project management and SaaS, the above link is a red flag because the domain indicates it’s in a different niche (it looks more like a city’s informational site for locals and tourists).
Now, here’s where I bring up an important point:
Always, always do your due diligence before attempting to remove or disavow a link. Just because it meets certain criteria, doesn’t automatically make it a low-quality link.
If you’re ever unsure, research its source first.
Next, we want to find site-wide links with exact match anchor text.
Site-wide links are multiple links from the same domain, a strong indicator that these links are paid links.
To find these links, first sort your “Linking Page” column in alphabetical order by clicking the “Linking Page” text above the column:
From there, it’s as simple as locating domains that repeatedly show up as link sources.
Here’s what you want your list to look like:
Notice how none of the sources have multiple listings. That’s a strong indicator that none of these links qualified as paid links.
Keep in mind, it’s not a sin to have multiple links from one source. But when you start seeing 20+ links coming from the same domain, then that’s a sign that these links weren’t editorially placed.
2. Negative SEO
Negative SEO is essentially sabotage from competition that’s meant to hurt your site’s rankings.
And it occurs more often than you think.
Backlink spamming (intentionally linking to a competitor from hundreds or thousands of low-quality sites) is the most common form of negative SEO.
One of the key signs of backlink spamming to look for is a sudden, massive jump in the number of referring domains to your site.
To find instances of negative SEO, first sort your backlinks by referring domain (by using the “Linking Page” sort function mentioned earlier):
Then, look at those domains and take note of any sites that have low-quality indicators like:
- Low or non-existent Trust Flow ranking
- High Spam Score
- Unnatural Anchor Text
- High number of External Links
- TLD from a foreign country
Take this link for example:
Four low-quality indicators should be a tell-tale sign that this link should be removed from your backlink portfolio.
3. Low-quality Directories
These are links from irrelevant directories that point back to your site.
The most effective, unassisted way to determine if a link is from a low-quality directory is to ask yourself this question: Do you expect to get traffic from this site?
If not, then it’s most likely low quality.
The best way to find low-quality directories using Monitor Backlinks is to check the number of external links coming from the backlink’s source.
To do that you need to sort your dofollow links by “EXT:”
Any link with more than 20 external links should be researched.
But if you come across any in red, then you can almost guarantee they’re coming from some version of a low-quality directory or page set up solely for passing PageRank.
4. Spammy Links
Certain types of spammy links may survive after you’ve eliminated the other three bad link categories listed above.
That’s why I recommend sorting your links by Spam Score…
…and taking these two steps:
1. Remove all links with Spam Scores in RED (score of 8 or higher).
2. Research all links with Spam Scores in YELLOW (score between 5 and 7).
One more thing before this disavow links guide shows you how to quickly compile a disavow .txt file using Monitor Backlinks:
These four link types are often all you need to remove from your backlink profile to see significant improvements in rankings.
But if you either have a significant number of suspected low-quality links that still remain or just want to be as thorough as possible, I highly recommend you take a look at this detailed guide.
Part 2: Disavow Bad Links
The hard part’s over.
Let’s say you’ve found some low-quality links that need to be removed and your attempts to contact the sources of the links were unsuccessful.
If that’s the case, then you now need to create a disavow list to submit to Google’s Disavow Tool to eliminate the links from your backlink profile for good.
Here’s the quickest (and easiest) way to do that.
There are two ways to create a disavow list using Monitor Backlinks:
First, you can add each individual bad link as you come across it. To do that, you simply need to click its Gear icon in the first column, which will show a drop-down menu, and then either:
1. Click Disavow Domain if you want to disavow all links coming from the site’s main domain, or
2. Click Disavow URL if you want to disavow only the link you’ve currently selected.
The only time I recommend disavowing the domain is if you’re certain that all links coming from that domain are low-quality links.
Second, you can disavow multiple low-quality links by clicking the checkbox beside each link…
…and then clicking on “Disavow” button and choosing to either disavow the URLs or domains from the drop-down menu:
Again, I strongly recommend you choose URLs over Domains in this situation.
After you’ve chosen the links you want to disavow, your next step is to go to the “Disavow Tool” section of Monitor Backlinks:
Notice that you’ll see the list of URLs (or domains) you’ve chosen to disavow on the left side of the page. And you’ll notice the “Export Disavow Rules” button on the top-right side:
Click it to download a .txt file that contains all of the information you need to submit to Google’s Disavow Tool:
See how simple that is? No manually inputting information. No having to copy every URL and paste it into a text editor. Monitor Backlinks does it all for you.
Now, it’s time to head over to Google’s Disavow Tool for the last step.
If you haven’t already, you’ll need to add your site (what Google calls a “property”) to your Google Search Console account:
Congrats! You just disavowed your low-quality backlinks and they’ll soon no longer negatively affect your site!
But there are two important things to keep in mind:
1. It’ll take approximately 48 hours for bots to notice the Google disavow file, then
2. It can still take weeks or months for Google to re-crawl disavowed links and consider them as disavowed.
Disavow Links Guide Wrap-up
So what’s next?
First things first:
Next, take stock of any links you’ve paid for in the past that could negatively affect you.
Then, focus on filtering out and finding spammy links (links with a high Spam Score) and links from pages with a high number of external links.
Finally, generate your .txt file and upload it to Google’s disavow links tool.
If you follow along with this disavow links guide, the whole process should take you less than a couple of hours to complete.
And that’s your bad links gone for good!