If you’re a marketer with any experience with SEO, you’ll likely be familiar with what website toxicity levels are as well as bad links pointing towards your website. Introducing Google’s disavow tool, in this guide we’ll be talking you through when and how you can use this tool to remove toxic backlinks from your site. As a little disclaimer, we highly recommend exploring alternative options first, including contacting site-owners to come to a resolution first, the disavow tool should be used sparingly and as a last resort only.
What is the Disavow Tool?
This tool was introduced way back in October of 2012, though not as many people use this tool as you may think, some that do use it, use it incorrectly still. The disavow tool is Google’s way of allowing you to ask Google not to view certain links that point to your site. Essentially you are creating an ‘invisible nofollow’ tag for the link you choose to disavow.
This is the warning message you get when you load up Google’s Instructions on how to use the disavow tool:
A key point to make is that you should only use the disavow tool on links that you know (or believe) have been made with the intention of manipulating Google’s search results.
But for those who need to use the disavow tool, our SEO team have put together a step by step process you can follow below, in 5 easy stages:
Step 1 – Creating Your Spreadsheet
To start the process of disavowing harmful (or what you perceive as harmful) links from your site you will need to start by collating a list of all the referring domains that link to your site. There are several steps to take to collect all this information, for the purpose of this guide, let’s run through how we create our lists:
– There are lots of tools you can use, these two sites are great examples of tools that help with data collection – Majestic & ahrefs. Ultimately the tool you use will be down the resources you have, but the ultimate goal here is to make sure you have a comprehensive list, with as much data as possible.
– Paste your URL into both websites and hit the search button.
– Once you have the information for your selected site loaded up, select the ‘Referring Domains’ link on each site. This will load up a list of all the referring domains that are linking to your site.
– Export these lists into an excel sheet. This is the basis for your data, what you need to do now is make sure you have no duplicate domains. To do this you’ll need to copy the column with all the domain names from both the spreadsheets and paste them into a new sheet.
– Once you have this new sheet use the ‘Remove duplicates’ function in excel.
– What you have now is a complete list of domains that link to your site. You can then use Majestic once more to turn this plain list into a document with some more useful information included. Then copy & paste this list into Majestic’s ‘Bulk backlink checker’ tool.
– This will give you a full list complete with the referring domains Citation Flow and Trust Flow. You can get rid of the columns that don’t provide you with any use for this task, you can use the Citation and Trust Flow data to help prioritise the next step.
Step 2 – Audit Your List of Referring Domains
– Now comes the long, manual part of this. You will have to go through all the domains manually to check if you want them linking to your site or not. You can use the additional data (citation & trust flow) to help you determine where to start looking. Once you have decided whether or not you want to keep or disavow these domains, make a list of the domains you wish to disavow in a new Excel spreadsheet.
Step 3 – Make Sure Your Domains Are All Ready to be Added to Your Disavow List
– To make sure you disavow the domains and not just the URL’s you need to use a small formula on Excel.
You can do this quickly and easily in Excel using CONCATENATE. If your domains are listed in column A, then just add ‘domain:’ alongside in cell B1, and fill down.
Then, in cell C1, simply add the formula: =CONCATENATE(B1,A1), and fill down.
– Once you have this list with all your domains in the following structure:
You then need to save the data in a notepad file as the document you upload has to be a .txt file.
Step 4 – Upload Y0ur Disavow List
– Finally, paste this link – https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links into your browser and choose your site. If your site has never had a disavow before you can just upload your file to the system. However, if your site already has a disavow file, (now this is really important!) you will need to download the file already in the system and then MERGE your list with the original. This is due to the fact that your file would overwrite the original so all the previously disavowed domains would become void.
– Save your new merged list with THE EXACT same name and then upload your file. If you are successful you will see something like this:
Step 5 – Making Sure You Upload a Concise, Useful List
We’ve now explored the process of how to create, audit and upload your disavow list, we want to make sure you know some helpful tips to help you along the way. These will not just help you now but they will prove to be valuable tips to help in the future.
– As mentioned above, when you upload a new disavow file you are completely overwriting the old file. Make sure you take this into account as stated If your old file has 100 domains and you are adding 20 then your new file should have 120 domains disavowed.
– You are allowed to add a comment in your disavow file. These will never be read by anyone at Google, they are just used for yourself or other webmasters in the future. To do this you have to put your comment after the hashtag.
– Your disavowed links will still be visible in Webmaster Tools & other web crawling systems. So don’t worry that it is not working, it is but the links are not deleted, they are just made ‘invisible’ so they do not influence your PageRank.
– You do not need to include any nofollow links as these do not carry any PageRank in the first place.
– You are able to re-avow your links should you wish. If you change your mind about certain links or added a domain in error then you can remove them from your list and just reupload the list.
How can we help?
At Bright Design, we’re continually updating our processes and guidance to follow the latest SEO recommendations. The process of removing bad links from your site should only be completed by those who are confident with the task at hand to avoid any issues. If you need support with your SEO or wider marketing strategy get in touch with our team of experts today.