You look at your backlink profile and see a bunch of questionable links.
It’s that moment when you wonder what to do next:
Should I disavow these links?
What happens if I just leave them there?
So here, I want to answer these questions for you.
Keep reading to find out how to determine whether a backlink should be disavowed or not (plus a quick and simple process for getting the job done!).
Should I Disavow Links? 3 Things to Know Before Using the Disavow Tool
There are three important things to be aware of before disavowing any links from your backlink profile.
1. Google Recommends That You Disavow Sparingly
Google spokesman John Mueller recently told the SEO community in a Webmaster Hangout that it’s best to use the disavow tool infrequently—only when there are dangerous backlinks that don’t want to go, and you’ve tried all your other options.
Google isn’t exactly fond of webmasters using it, and there are even official rumors from John on Reddit that the disavow tool might be gone one day:
But the tool is still around for now, so it’s wise to make use of it until something better comes out of Google.
At the moment, because Google doesn’t encourage its use, the disavow tool is not visible in Search Console. You have to actively look for it, either by searching Google for “disavow tool:”
Or by accessing it from Google’s Search Console Help page:
But I’ll make it even easier for you: Go to the disavow links tool page here, and bookmark it for easy reference!
Now, when exactly should you use the disavow tool?
When you had a role in creating the bad links, says Mueller in January 2019, and when there’s risk of a manual action.
I’d also add to that—as a webmaster who has dealt with heavy spamming in the past—when you see a ton of followed backlinks from spam comments and forums pop up in your link profile that you had nothing to do with.
I’m saying this because I’ve received manual actions for websites due to heavy comment and forum spam, and it was a real struggle to come back from.
So if you discover any links like that—especially if they’re followed links—reach out to the linking site as soon as possible to ask that they are removed, and disavow if you get no response.
It’s true that since 2017 I’ve hardly seen any new manual actions from spam links that I didn’t create, and Google is definitely getting better at telling one link from another and demoting the bad ones without penalizing webmasters.
But playing it on the safe side is never a bad idea.
2. Disavowing Won’t Remove Links from Your Backlink Profile
Seriously, it won’t.
All that disavowing does is remove the influence that those bad links have on your rankings, so Google won’t count those backlinks and they won’t bring damage to your site in the SERPs.
If you want to actually get the links removed, you have to reach out to the webmaster of the linking site and ask that they manually remove them.
(And hopefully they will—but it’s not guaranteed.)
This is the only way to remove backlinks. So disavowing is no aesthetic measure—when you view your backlink profile or run a link checker on your domain, those backlinks will still be visible.
And if you remove the target page, generating a 404 error, the backlink still appears too. This example in Monitor Backlinks shows a 404 page, but you can see that the backlink was removed from the linking page as well because it also shows a 404 page:
Manually removing or getting the webmaster to remove the links is the only way to stop seeing these backlinks in your link profile.
3. You Don’t Need to Disavow Every Single Questionable Link
Some webmasters, especially if they’ve dealt with a damaging manual action or algorithmic penalty, will become really paranoid about their links.
They’ll see links in a different language or from unrelated sites, and will immediately think they’re bad and go to remove or disavow them.
But what if it’s a totally genuine link that’s actually bringing you traffic, PageRank juice and is contributing to your good rankings?
If you were to disavow it, you would lose all those benefits!
So, I’d advise against you removing and disavowing links only because you’re worried they could potentially hurt you.
As John Mueller said, only disavow links when they’re really bad links, and when they’re links you built yourself as the fruit of a poor SEO decision.
That’s it. Use the disavow tool wisely and don’t overdo it. It might actually hurt your rankings and overall visibility if you do!
Bonus: How to Quickly and Easily Disavow Links with Monitor Backlinks
So, you’ve decided to disavow those bad links that are making you anxious.
The good news is that you can make this task a lot easier on yourself with the help of Monitor Backlinks.
First, log in to your Monitor Backlinks account (or sign up for a free trial here if you don’t have one!). Go to the Your Links page where your backlinks are listed:
(If you’ve just signed up, you’ll need to give Monitor Backlinks about 24 hours to collect your links for the first time. After that, they’ll be automatically updated every day.)
Once you’re in Your Links, you’ll see a list like this:
These are all the links pointing to your site.
You probably already know which backlinks you want to disavow at this point, but if you’re not sure, there are two indicators in Monitor Backlinks that come in really handy:
- The yellow triangle under the backlink date tells you that the link has low quality signals. Click on it for the details (e.g. the backlink doesn’t seem to be indexed).
- The Potentially Unnatural Anchor Text warning when you hover over the anchor text tells you that it looks suspicious. Sometimes this can be a false positive, so make sure you always review the link and anchor text manually before disavowing.
Go to the Disavow Tool page and click “Export Disavow Rules” to download a Google-ready disavow file in .TXT format:
Now grab that .TXT file and upload it to Google’s disavow tool!
Just choose your website (property) from the drop-down menu and click the red “Disavow Links” button:
You’ll be taken to another page where you can click the “Disavow Links” button to upload your disavow file:
Upload the .TXT file to the new dialog that appears (“Choose File” button to upload and “Submit” to send it to Google):
And you’re done!
See? It’s not such a headache, after all.
Should I Disavow Links? It Depends!
As you read in this post, the answer to your question depends on multiple factors.
What’s important is that you keep calm and analyze your backlinks thoroughly. You don’t need to touch any that seem a little “unusual” or unrelated—you only want to disavow the worst offenders.
Until Google tells us otherwise, this is still the best way to go!