Disavowing Links: What You Should Know

Bad news. Ish. But it’s only temporarily bad: since Google aims to make an organic internet that actually connects people with the information they need in a natural way, it also penalizes websites linked to by spammy sites.

That’s right–even if you’re following all the rules of the almighty Google information superhighway, someone else’s website could negatively impact your visibility in a major way.

All Because of a Theoretical Bird: Google Penguin

Emperor penguin isolated on white background

Finally, a reason for a stock photo of a penguin! Today is the day!

With the release of Google Penguin (a Google algorithm update), the online presence life changed. Google aimed Penguin specifically at cutting down on spam in search results and on the web–which resulted in less SERP (search engine results page) rankings for said spammy sites.

Not Fair, Right? Google Has a Solution

rodeo cowboy silhouette

Partner, I’m gonna need your attention.

Fear not. Google is an omnipotent but benevolent overlord, or so it would seem. Google has provided a Disavow Link Tool, which you can access and use for free. But, there are complications.

Hold it right there, partner.

Using Google’s Disavow Link Tool incorrectly can land you in major trouble, so think before you click. Google understands that most sites are going to have a few questionable links, and likely factors that into their algorithmic calculations. The tool is reserved for people who have a ton of spammy links outside of their control, and Google’s pretty clear on that.

How Do You Know Whether You Need To Disavow Links?

Young woman thinking looking to the side at blank copy space, isolated over white background

You, pondering disavowing links. That’s some flashy nailpolish you’re wearing, too! We like your style!

It’s not like Google sends you a card in the mail wishing you a happy birthday and notifying you that a not-so-classy website has linked to you. Nope–you need to do that work on your own. Fortunately, there are a few clues:

  • If you get lots of spammy comments and spam login attempts on your website, it’s increasingly likely that you’re also linked to from some spammy site. Joy of joys.
  • You can look at your site’s backlinks using tools like SEMrush and ahrefs. Export the reports into a PDF or excel format and take a gander at who’s linked to you.

How Do I Know If a Backlink Is Spammy?

Spam Folder Directory Listing, Display Macro Closeup

HI DO YOU NEED DISCOUNTS OR PRODUCTS OR PURSES OR SUNGLASSES OR CAN I JUST STEAL YOUR PASSWORD?

Most spammy backlinks are obvious: sometimes they’re porn sites or things in other languages that don’t make sense. Often, they’re completely irrelevant spammy links about handbags or sunglasses when your website content is of no relation to those topics. You’ll also see a significant number of links from one site–and that’s not cool if there’s no real relationship. Ask yourself the following for these links:

  • Is it related?
  • Would you be embarrassed if someone saw this link pointing to your site?
  • Does it help people get to your information or your product or service in a meaningful way?

If not, it’s probably spam city. Oof. 

According to Google, spam really destroys the natural order of the web structure.

Google might also consider the following to be “bad backlink” sites:

  • Link directories
  • Websites duplicating your content and others’ (especially without permission)
  • Social bookmarking sites

Your Options for Disavowing Links

Spam Musubi

We weren’t about to share this spam sushi (spam musubi) stock photo with you, particularly since there was even miniscule context.

If you don’t qualify for use of Google’s tool, no worry. You’re still worthy and we got you.

You can use Google Webmaster Tools to clear it all up, even if you don’t have a paid account with ahrefs or SEMrush. Head into Search Traffic and then click “Links on your site.” It’ll reveal who has linked to you. You can learn about how to do a full audit here, which is especially important if you have thousands of backlinks to review.

Note: If you feel intimidated by this process, know that a backlink audit is one of the most commonly outsourced web maintenance services.

After you do your audit process, you can upload the file to the Google Disavow Tool, and they’ll help you out.

Why Do You Have Bad Backlinks?

Backlinks sign

Well, probably no need to make a sign about it, though…

Well, there are a few possibilities, to be honest.

1 – Negative SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

For all the buzz about the importance of backlinks, there are some terrifically bad ones out there–and believe it or not, your competitors may have created them. They can hand over your URL(s) to a spammer to intentionally tank your site by including backlinks from a spammy site.

That’s pretty rotten, right?

But people do it all the time in the name of competition. Look into using the Disavow Tool immediately if you think this has happened. Womp, womp.

As a note, sometimes competitors don’t even do this intentionally. They hire a ranking and reputation management firm (a super shady one) who may get paid more for ranking them first on the SERP. And that firm will do anything in its power to tank your rank.

2 – A Spammy Website Linked To You

Websites enjoy a potential rank increase when they link to a strong site. That means major news sites, for example, have tons of spammy backlinks heading in their direction. The same goes for your site. Some spammers want to increase their ranking, so they just pick a keyword or key phrase, see what sites rank for it, and link to them.

And if you’re doing SEO well, you could very well be one of those sites.

Run! (No, don’t, you’ll be fine and you’ve got this).

3 – You Used to Engage in Black Hat Tactics, Like Link Buying

It’s possible that you or your former SEO firm engaged in black hat link buying tactics, which is totally discouraged by Google. Once upon a time it was the status quo. Now, not so much–it’ll hurt your rankings.

Some SEOs still do it, because it can still result in a short-term gain. And some companies still fall for it, and hire SEOs who use unethical practices to rank their clients and rake in cash. These are subpar, outdated practices, and always short-lived when it comes to your success and credibility.

Flying High and Steering Clear

Ultimately, if you’ve got sketchy backlinks, you need to disavow them, and it can be a real pain. If that describes you, or if you think you have backlink issues and need help uncovering issues, it’s time to reach out to professionals who will help you with organic ranking that truly reaches your readers.

At Dominate with SEO, we don’t deal in those black hat strategies. We clean up any messes you come in with (no judgment here!), and we’ll help you rank in a positive way–one that brings in business and increases your reputation, customer appreciation, and brand authority.

Let’s sweep up that spam and throw that trash out the door. Donezo. 

Contact us today!

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