If you have backlinks pointing to your website that you think could harm your ranking in the SERP, you can ask Google to discount those links when they’re crawling your site, by disavowing them. 

If you have backlinks pointing to your website that you think could harm your ranking in the SERP, you can ask Google to discount those links, when they’re crawling your site, by disavowing them. 


Why would you disavow backlinks?

In the world of link building, not all backlinks are created equal. 

There are high quality backlinks from reputable sites with a high DA, and there are low quality backlinks. If you’ve been working on link building for your site, you may have unwittingly created spam links pointing in your direction. And this is a problem because Google’s algorithm, Penguin, will penalise you for these bad backlinks. 

There are so many ways that these harmful backlinks can connect to your site: for example you might have bought backlinks in a misguided attempt to improve your SEO and realised that you are now getting penalised for it, or you could just be an unfortunate victim of a spam site. 

Regardless of how the backlinks came to be linking to your site, the point is, low quality backlinks are the ones that are likely to render your SEO efforts futile, rather than help you. 

How do you know which backlinks you should disavow?

  • If a backlink is not pertinent to your business, disavow it. It won’t help you get ranked because it is not relevant. 
  • Backlinks from sites that aren’t based in your target country ie if you’re based in the UK and you have a series of links from Argentina, Google is going to query their relevance and if they decide they’re spam, you’re getting penalised. Disavow them. 
  • Any link with a high spam score, disavow. You can check the spam score of any link using Moz’s spam score checker. Moz has identified 17 unique flags that Google could penalise, assuming them to be spam. When Moz’s tool checks the potential spam URL it is checking for all of these 17 flags. The more flags it finds, the higher the chances you will be penalised for having spam backlinks. As a guide, anything below 5 out of 17 flags is OK, anything between 5-7 should be checked out, and anything above 8 should be disavowed. 
  • Any link you’ve bought, or acquired, that Google thinks you have attained through nefarious or blackhat SEO practices, should be disavowed. 

There is one really important point to note here – what Google considers a bad backlink changes from time to time. For example, in 2014, links acquired through guest posting were the darlings of the link building world, now they can be considered harmful and actually get your site penalised. 

This means you have to be extra vigilant and strict about who and where you are trying to build relationships and links with, and make sure that every link you create is relevant to your business and industry. 

What is the difference between nofollow links and disavowed backlinks

There is no evidence that Google doesn’t take nofollow links into consideration when ranking your site, just because the link is set to nofollow. 

Nofollow links are designed only for humans to follow them, not autobots, and Google themselves say that in general, they don’t follow nofollow links (when ranking), whereas they definitely don’t follow disavowed backlinks. 

So if you aren’t sure about a spam nofollow link, disavow it, just to be on the safe side.

How do you disavow backlinks?

The webmasters at Google are aware that there are some backlinks you have no control over and therefore you shouldn’t be penalised for their existence. Which is why they introduced the Disavow tool in 2013. 

The Disavow tool is part of Google Search Console, and it allows you to tell Google webmasters that certain backlinks should not be taken into account when ranking your site. 

How to use Google’s Disavow tool

You have to remember that disavowing a backlink should always be your last resort, not your first choice. Always try and engage with the website owner to have the link removed first. 

If you have to use the Disavow tool, it is incredibly simple. Just follow these 9 steps. 

  1. Create a .txt file containing all the bad backlinks you want to disavow. 
  2. Head over to the Disavow Tool site
  3. Enter the website URL/select the website URL of the site you want to disavow links to in the box and click on the ‘disavow links’ button. 
  4. You’ll then get greeted with a warning from Google about the potential dangers to your SEO if you choose to proceed. 
  5. You can ignore this if you’ve already read it. 
  6. Click on the ‘choose file’ button and select your .txt file with the list of backlinks you want to disavow and upload it. 
  7. Click the ‘submit’ button. 
  8. That’s it, Google will work through your disavow request and action it in a few days or up to a few weeks, whenever the autobots next crawl your pages. 
  9. Note that disavowed links will continue to appear in your Links report on Google Search Console.