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When to Disavow Links? 10 Ways to Know It’s the Right Time

Spam link-based penalization became a thing of the past after Google’s Penguin 4.0 update.

Which meant that disavowing links for Penguin-based offenses was no longer a requirement.

A lot of people took that to mean that disavowing altogether was no longer needed.

But that’s just not accurate.

Google’s John Mueller even states that disavowing

“definitely makes sense if you have a manual action that’s based on link issues and you can’t clean those links up”


“If you’re unsure as to whether or not Google is actually taking those into account or kind of taking those out of the equation, then the disavow file is a great way to kind of get peace of mind and to say, well, I’m sure these won’t get taken into account by any of Google’s algorithms.”

So, disavowing links is still sometimes the best decision.

The trick is in knowing when it makes sense to do it.

And if you’re unsure of when disavowing makes sense and when it doesn’t, then you need to read this post.

Below I’ve listed ten ways for you to know when to disavow links in your backlink profile.

When to Disavow Links? 10 Ways to Know It’s the Right Time

1. When You Suffer a Manual Link Penalty

Google has reviewers that manually review sites for violations of Google’s quality guidelines.

If they find a violation, they’ll penalize your site.

Often times, the cause of the manual penalization is unnatural link building.

If you ever receive a manual penalty (or have received one in the past), chances are high that you’ll need to disavow unnatural links to fall back under Google’s good graces.

And you’ll need to be meticulous in your search.

Start by reviewing your backlink profile in Monitor Backlinks using the Your Links module…



… paying special attention to links with the following:

  1. High Spam Score
  2. Low Domain Authority
  3. Exact match anchor text
  4. Excessive external links
  5. Foreign TLD

If you don’t have a Monitor Backlinks account, you can sign up for a no-risk free trial here (no CC required)

2. When You’ve Previously Purchased Links

Paying for links that pass PageRank is a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Which means if you get caught doing it, your site will most definitely be penalized.

Now, you might be thinking:

“I haven’t purchased paid links in months.”

Great! But that doesn’t mean the links you purchased months or even years ago can’t come back to haunt you.

This not only includes links purchased from online directories and link-providing services but also paid guest blog links, paid reviews and paid influencer-originating links.

The short of it:

If you’ve purchased links in the past, remove them from your link profile.

3. When You’re the Victim of a Negative SEO Attack

Negative SEO attacks still happen.

And one of the most common types is backlink spamming—a form of negative SEO that sends hundreds or even thousands of spammy links to the target site.

If you ever notice…

  • a sudden influx of backlinks to your site, or
  • a sudden, unexplainable drop in rankings

…there’s a possibility your site has been targeted by a negative SEO attack.

Of course, if you use Monitor Backlinks, you can catch the attack before it escalates.

First, check the summary on the Your Links page regularly to notice any drastic backlink quantity changes:




Second, if you see a significant change, check your backlink profile for the following:



  1. Exact match anchor text
  2. High Spam Score
  3. Low Domain Authority
  4. Foreign TLD
  5. Excessive external links

4. When You Have Spam Backlinks

Spam backlinks are the reason why Google Penguin exists.

Google even has a page dedicated to link schemes (a.k.a. spam backlinks) in its quality guidelines.

So it’s no secret that Google can’t stand spam, and they’re quick to de-rank sites for it.

A simple yet powerful way to check for spam backlinks in Monitor Backlinks is to look at the backlink’s Spam Score:



A general rule is if it’s 8 or higher, then it’s spam.

(Note: If you want more info on Spam Score, here’s a guide I wrote that covers what it is and how to use it effectively.)

5. When You Have Too Many Low-quality Links

Low-quality links are often put in the same category as spam links.

They shouldn’t be.

Individual low-quality links aren’t anywhere close as damaging as individual spam links.

It’s when your site becomes flooded with them that causes a problem and devalues your site.

What constitutes a low-quality link?

The most obvious signals include links with:

  • Low Domain Authority
  • Low Page Authority
  • No domain/page indexation

You can see if a link has one or more of these characteristics in Monitor Backlinks by looking at your backlink profile:



If your link profile is littered with low-quality links and you can’t seem to improve your rankings no matter what you do, then you most likely need to initiate a round of disavowing.

6. When You Have Lots of Rich Anchor Text Links

Anchor text is the text used when linking to another site.

For example, in this link…



…”nofollow links still have SEO value” is the anchor text.

Back in the day, if the anchor text contained the exact text as the target keyword, then it would help the page rank higher in search results.

Thankfully, that’s no longer the case (due to black hat SEOs) and Google views this practice as spammy.

Today, if Google’s crawlers find links with exact match anchor text pointing to your site, it’s very possible they could devalue or penalize your site as a result.

One other danger of exact match keyword text is that it’s become a tool used by negative SEO attackers.

So if you have a large selection of links with exact match keywords, your best option is to disavow them.

To find exact match anchor text backlinks in Monitor Backlinks, look in the “Anchor & Link To” column in your backlinks list and see if the links have exact match anchor text:



7. When You Have Too Many Irrelevant Links

Google values relevancy for ranking more and more these days.

As such, sites littered with links from irrelevant sites tend to get devalued in search results.

Irrelevant sites are sites that aren’t related to your niche or industry.

For example, a link from a site about knitting pointing to a site about baseball.

It boils down to this:

If a site shares no common interests with your site’s niche or industry, then there’s no real reason for why it should link to you.

Let’s look at the baseball site example one more time:

It’s perfectly fine for a shoe site that sells baseball cleats to point to the baseball site. However, if that baseball site is linking to a site about cave spelunking, then relevancy is an issue.

To check the relevancy of links in Monitor Backlinks, simply review the “Linking Page” column and look for any domain URLs that are unrelated to your niche:



In this example, let’s pretend our site focuses on online marketing.

The link highlighted with the red box includes the word “kitchen” in its URL. That’s a good sign that the site is probably unrelated.

When in doubt, visit the site to make sure.

8. When You Have Too Many Foreign TLD Links

Links originating from foreign countries can be considered spam by Google.

For example, if your site is based in the United States but you have a link profile full of links from Japan, then your site will be at risk of being devalued and/or penalized.

(Especially if the sites linking to you don’t share a common language.)

You can find out which links come from foreign countries by looking at the “TLD / IP” column:



Figuring it out is simple:

If you see a flag different than your own country’s, the link is from a foreign country.

9. When You Have Links You Don’t Want to Be Associated With

Every now and then, a site will link to you that you just don’t want to be associated with.

Be it because you think the site may be spammy, you don’t like the company, or you found out it was recently hit with a significant penalty.

The short and sweet of it is this:

If you know of a site whose links you want to remove, you can search the site’s URL in your backlink profile…




…and then disavow all links originating from it.

10. When You Suspect a Link-based Penalty

Link-based penalties are almost always spam related.

And if they’re spam related, then rest assured there will be links you’ll need to disavow.

Common signs of a link-based penalty include:

  • A message from Google in your Search Console (if it’s a manual penalty)
  • A significant drop in traffic

If you suspect a link-based penalty, here’s what I recommend you do:

Go to the Your Links page in Monitor Backlinks and look for backlinks with:

  1. Spam Score of 8 or higher
  2. Exact match anchor text
  3. Low Domain Authority
  4. Foreign TLD

Summing It All Up

If you ever experience any of the above situations, it’s time to disavow links.

Sometimes you’ll need to disavow single URLs and sometimes you’ll need to disavow entire domains.

Luckily for you, we have in-depth guides for both:

While it doesn’t happen as often as it used to, you still need to be prepared to locate and disavow links that are hurting your rankings.

One of the best tools for staying on top of these bad backlinks is Monitor Backlinks.

It gives you access to a powerful arsenal of backlink-focused tools, including:

  • Backlink analysis
  • Competitor backlink analysis
  • Backlink management
  • Keyword tracking and management
  • And much, much more!

Don’t forget to sign up for your free trial here.


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