It’s no secret that Google is changing the face of SEO, especially with the releases of their Panda and Penguin updates over the last few years. They’ve made strides to phase out old-school, spammy SEO tactics like poor quality link building, keyword stuffing, poor quality guest blogging or blog commenting, and overuse of exact-match anchor text in order to produce search results that would truly satisfy their users. After these updates, particularly the rolling out of Penguin 2.0, many webmasters found that their rankings had sunk; they were treading water and unsure of how to recover.
Google Throws Webmasters a Life Float
As frustrating as the volatility of Google rankings can be, particularly after the introduction of yet another update, it’s important to remember Google isn’t out to get you. They simply want to provide the most satisfying results for their users and they are willing to share advice with webmasters on how to create sites that satisfy. The search offers guidance and tools to help webmasters straighten out their SEO and undo any improper tactics they (or an outsourced SEO company) may have engaged in the past. The tool that tops the list: the Disavow Tool.
Defining the Disavow Tool
Google’s Disavow Tool allows webmasters to communicate to Google the backlinks from which they wish to disassociate. Backlinks (also known as inbound links, incoming links or inlinks), in layman’s terms, are links to your website on another website. Google’s PageRank, one of over 200 factors it uses to produce relevant search results, considers the backlinks of a site in quantity, quality, and relevancy. If Google sees that you have a large number of poor quality or irrelevant backlinks (that may have been paid for by a black hat SEO for instance) then you will be penalized and your site will with pushed down in the rankings. However, if you have used the Disavow Tool to let Google know that these are links that you would not like to be considered, they will be far more lenient.
How To Disavow Links
Disavowing links properly requires the completion of three steps: identifying poor quality links, requesting their removal directly from their webmasters and submitting a final list of links to be removed to Google. Let’s break these tasks down step-by-step.
Step 1: Identify Poor Quality Links
First you will need to log into your Webmaster Tools account. Choose the site that you’d like to Disavow links for, if you manage multiple sites on your account. Then choose Search Traffic on your Dashboard and click Links to Your site in the drop down menu. Next click the “More” link under the “Who links the most” list. When you navigate to the longer list, click “Download More Sample links.” This will give you a list of all of the domains that link to your site, along with the number of links and linked pages. Go through this list and highlight any questionable links – i.e. spammy sounding domains, irrelevant sites etc. If you aren’t sure if a site is poor quality, run it through a page rank checker.
Step 2: Contact Inbound Site’s Webmasters
Once you’ve identified the backlinks that you’d like to have removed you should contact the webmasters of these sites and ask them to remove the links. Google wants to see that you have made an effort to remove the links naturally before resorting to the Disavow tool. In fact, they would prefer that webmasters keep the use of this tool to a minimum and put the following disclaimer on it:
Be sure to document your correspondence with these webmasters. Keep a document with the days you contacted them, the number of links you asked to be removed, and their contact information.
Step 3: Create a Text File and Upload to Google Disavow
The final step is to list all of the links that you’d like to disavow in a text (.txt) file and upload that List to Google Disavow. You can list links individually or disavow all of the links from a domain by putting the word “domain” and a period in front of the url, for example domain.example.com. You should also add notes for Google letting them know that you tried to have these links removed naturally. Just be sure to add the “#” symbol at the beginning of these lines of description. Your document should look like this:
If you’ve worked with a questionable SEO company in the past or you just haven’t checked your backlinks in a while, run a report and scan through your links. Invest in your website; identifying and disavowing poor quality links gets you one step closer to the page ranking you deserve.