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Which Links Can Harm Your Website: A Guide to Using the Disavow Tool

SEO
June 28, 2024
8 min
Content

In March 2024, a leak of Google documents occurred, revealing current information about the operation of the search engine's ranking algorithms. Specifically, it was mentioned that a site's ranking decreases if the backlinks do not match the intended purpose of the page, are of poor quality, or are fake.

We decided to investigate which links are considered unacceptable, what link disavowal is, how to determine which links to disavow and which not to, and whether it is still relevant to do this in 2024.

What is Link Disavow?

Link disavowal, or the Disavow Tool, is a tool that allows you to instruct Google to ignore unwanted backlinks to your site. Toxic backlinks violate Google's quality guidelines and can negatively impact your rankings, increasing the risk of manual penalties. However, in 2024, these links have minimal impact on algorithms, as Google generally ignores them.

At the same time, it's important to remember that the Google disavow tool requires careful use. Mistakes in its implementation can lead to a decline in your site's search result positions.

SEM

What Services Are Available for Monitoring Backlinks?

Services for monitoring disavow links can be divided into two types:

  1. General Crawlers: These scan the entire site and store the connections between pages, allowing you to review the links to your site that they find. Examples include Ahrefs, Semrush, Serpstat, and Majestic.
  2. Local Crawlers: These tools allow you to monitor a specific list of pages where your links are placed. An example is Linkchecker.

“It is also important to pay attention to Google Search Console. This is a vital tool where you can find links that Google discovered during its crawling process.
Unlike general crawlers, it does not provide any evaluations of the links but merely shows what it found (and these are not all the links it found, only those it decided to show). You need to review each link yourself and decide whether to keep it or disavow it.”

Marko Fedorenko
Author of the Telegram channel "SEO Ideas

As an example, let's determine the quality of Amazon's backlink profile on the MOZ platform:

spam score example

So, Amazon's site spam score is 28%. At the same time, we see that the site receives a significant amount of traffic from organic search, indicating good optimization for search engines and ranking for relevant keywords.

Every site has spam links, but this does not make them toxic or manipulative. These are common low-quality links that are abundant on the internet. In 2024, such backlinks are unlikely to harm the site.

According to research, 38% of surveyed SEO specialists do nothing about spam backlinks, while another 38% disavow them.

spammy links statistics

Therefore, it is important to analyze which links are genuinely toxic or manipulative (purchased to manipulate rankings).

Which Links Should Definitely Be Disavowed? And Is It Still Relevant in 2024?

According to Google representatives, their algorithms can identify and ignore unnatural links. The disavow tool is one of the sources of information for training these algorithms.

Therefore, most websites do not need to use the Google disavow tool.

Reasons to use disavow may include:

  • Removing manual penalties: If a site has received penalties from Google for bad links, the Disavow Tool can help remove these penalties. It also signals to Google that the site does not want certain links to affect its ranking.
  • Preventing potential penalties.
  • Protecting against negative SEO: Sometimes competitors may intentionally create low-quality links to a site to harm its ranking.
  • Improving the quality of backlinks: If many spammy resources are linking to the site, it reduces the overall quality of the site's backlink profile, negatively affecting SEO.
  • Recovering from hacking attacks: If the site was hacked and malicious links were placed on it.

In 2024, following Google updates, it is crucial to disavow links that redirect you to other sites but show a page when requested by Googlebot.

For regular users, this spam site does not generate a page and returns an error instead.

For search engine bots, it generates a page that is accessible for scanning, indexing, and viewing.

This is a typical doorway page, which is essentially a type of web spam.

A doorway page is a specially created website optimized for specific keywords to attract users from search engines. Their goal is to lure users using relevant keywords and then redirect them to another site, typically to a target landing page.

It's also important to disavow links that are blocked by browsers as dangerous. Review links from donors that have started losing traffic after Google's spam updates. These should also be disavowed, especially if there is negative performance on acceptor pages.

Example of Disavow Usage from Promodo's Experience

In early 2022, Cloudfresh approached us with an urgent issue: their main website suddenly stopped ranking for branded queries and lost positions for non-branded keywords in search engine results, without any official explanation from Google.

Coincidentally, just before the drop in rankings, the client had migrated the site to a new CMS, WordPress. Several mistakes were made during this migration, and after attempting to rectify these errors independently, Cloudfresh's website disappeared from Google's search results. Upon conducting an analysis, the Promodo team identified a range of issues, including toxic domains that were linking to the client's site, accounting for approximately 35% of all external links.

Promodo categorized all toxic backlinks into three types:

  1. Domains that were inaccessible to users but accessible to Googlebot.
  2. Domains that initially redirected to various lottery pages upon first request but were inaccessible upon subsequent visits.
  3. Uniform pages with generated content containing links to internal pages of the site and the homepage with branded anchors.

To address the identified issue, we added all toxic domains to the Google Disavow Tool and conducted regular monitoring of the profile. Throughout the week, Google continued to discover new domains of this type. Additionally, we removed URLs receiving the most links from toxic domains by using a server response code 410. This effectively disabled all toxic links decisively.

Marko Fedorenko
Author of the Telegram channel "SEO Ideas

After the Promodo team completed comprehensive work to resolve the issues, Cloudfresh's website regained its previous positions in Google and later even improved its results.

How to Avoid Mistakes in Selecting Useful and Harmful Links?

Before disavowing links, you should take the following steps:

  1. Identify all links to your site: Gather a comprehensive list of all backlinks pointing to your website.
  2. Filter out bad backlinks: Determine which links could be harmful and potentially impact your site's rankings and Google's trust.

“To avoid mistakes when selecting links for disavowal, consider the following business-oriented criteria:
- Determine if the domain hosting the link attracts your target audience.
- Evaluate whether the article linking to you is relevant for the target audience of that site.
- Assess whether the content provides valuable information or adds to your page's context.
- Check if the linking page's content complements your own page's content.
- Determine if the linking site is a legitimate and authoritative resource, or if it primarily exists for link trading.
- Consider how easily the link can be obtained.
Links that anyone can easily buy may lead to competitors easily replicating your strategy”.


Marko Fedorenko
Author of the Telegram channel "SEO Ideas

How to Disavow Links?

Step One: Create a Disavow Links File

To create a disavow links file for Google Search Console, follow these guidelines:

  • Each URL or domain that needs to be disavowed should be listed on a separate line.
  • Use the prefix "domain:" followed by the domain name to disavow an entire domain or subdomain (e.g., domain
    .com).
  • The file must be in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII text format.
  • The file name must end with .txt.
  • Each URL can be up to 2048 characters long.
  • The maximum file size is 2 MB or 100,000 lines (including empty lines and comment lines).
  • Comments can be added by starting a line with the "#" symbol; Google will ignore lines starting with "#" as comments.

Exampleі of URLs to disavow

http://spam.example.com/stuff/comments.html
http://spam.example.com/stuff/paid-links.html

Example of domains to disavow

shadyseo.com

Step Two: Upload the File to Google Search Console

  1. Open the Google Disavow Tool page within Google Search Console.
  2. Select the property (website) for which you want to view the disavow status or upload a new disavow links list.

disallow tool

3. Upload your list. If there are any errors in the file, Google will notify you. You'll need to resend the file with corrections.

Upon successful upload, it may take several weeks for Google to include your list in the index. Disavowed links are processed after Google recrawls the pages that have been added to disavow.

How to Prevent Backlink Problems?

Preventing backlink issues is a crucial aspect of effective SEO. Here are some recommendations to follow:

  1. Monitor your backlink profile using the analysis tools mentioned earlier. Check your profile regularly.
  2. Disavow toxic domains to avoid negative impacts on your site's ranking.
  3. Build trustworthy links. Avoid buying links and focus instead on creating high-quality, relevant content that others will want to link to.
  4. Build your brand. Grow your expertise, visibility, and trust among users.

Conclusions

It's important to regularly and carefully analyze the backlinks to your site. Removing toxic backlinks can significantly improve your site's SEO positions and increase Google's trust in your resource.

Need Help with Harmful Links?
Our SEO Experts are Right at Hand to Enhance Your Performance!

Written by
Marko Fedorenko

Senior SEO Specialist at Promodo

Marko has been working in SEO for over 8 years.During this time, he gained experience in both digital agencies and in-house. For the last 4 years, he has been a part of the Promodo team, where at different times he was responsible for the development of DOM.RIA, GoodWine, Pivdenny, PUMB, Vkursi, etc. He can talk for hours about crowding, indexing, and ranking.Now he has switched to in-house and is developing a project in the US market.Marko is also actively developing his own telegram channel, SEO Ideas, where he talks about SEO innovations, shares case studies, and together with readers searches for answers to topical questions on organic marketing.

Published:
June 28, 2024
Updated:
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