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Backlink Disavowal Process

Links Can Be Toxic or Dirty or RustyWorking on a backlink disavowal project with a client required that I outline that process clearly for their team. It is assumed that you’ve used Ahrefs and or similar tools to gather a list of backlinks for large sites. Google suggests that you use Webmaster Tools “Links to your site” and export them if you have less than 1,000 backlinks. Once you have that list of backlinks begin the process of removal requests and then disavowal requests.

Toxic Backlinks – As you have probably heard, Google had an Algorithm update back on April 24, 2012 nicknamed Penguin which affected sites with manipulative or suspect backlinks. There have been several Penguin updates released since 2012 that refine how that Google update affects different types of linking sites (Penguin 2.0, Penguin 3.0.)

Why are there links from cheesy web directories to my site?

If you didn’t build them yourself (with bad advice), then the only other explanation for why you have those toxic links, would be what is known as “Negative SEO” – someone working for a competitor, specifically building those links from low-quality directories against your site in order to hurt your rankings. I suspect the long-term existence is the most likely scenario – (maybe from previous SEO consultants?) as this was seen as a semi-effective tool in the SEO toolkit a few years before Penguin from some SEOs seeking quick gains in ranking and referrals. (I have always counseled clients against this type of link-building).

Solution for Toxic Backlinks – Low-quality sites can harm ranking, so SEOs sometimes request that sites remove those links. Ranked inbound links are used to build lists of requests for site administrators that they remove certain links. As links from low-quality or banned sites are removed, domain ranking can improve.

I offer this process in basic form as reference for anyone needing to do the Link Disavowal:

Backlinks Assessment Process

Here is an overview to help understand how links can harm a web site.

Inbound links, also known as Backlinks are rated on several factors, including the following:

  • Domain Strength (or Authority) of linking domain
  • Page Strength of linking page (home page stronger than article page)
  • Number of Links from linking domain (directory, resources, article)
  • Placement of links on page (footer, body text, navigation, etc.)
  • Velocity of links over time (new links gained or lost in time period)
  • Relevancy of links (topic of linked page match linking page?)
  • IP address and Network of sites IP range (company interlinking)

Low quality or banned (de-indexed) sites harm rankings

SEOs sometimes request that sites remove those links. Ranked inbound links are used for requests of site administrators that they remove certain links. As links from low-quality or banned sites are removed, domain ranking can improve.

It should be noted that a “Good” link profile will include inbound links from all levels of sites, ranging from hobby blogs to large corporate sites. Therefore, link removal requests should not be sent to every site that has a low domain authority rating. There will be personal interest bloggers that love your topic and linked to a page that covers it particularly well. Those links are not harmful. Unfortunately, that means a visit to each site and visual inspection.

Links from harmful sites are those needing removal

Suspect links come from scraper sites that reproduce stolen content & spammer sites which mash up content from similar topic sites to attract visitors to click on ads, some bad-actor affiliate sites with no original content filled with affiliate links, and link directories with hundreds of links per page. Sites must be suspect to justify, or require removal.

Files with lists of inbound links and their ranking factors mentioned above are assessed for potential removal requests. Those domains or pages determined to be suspect or potentially toxic as defined above are then added to a list for removal requests. This requires a contact email or contact form at the domain in question. Once contact methods are gathered in a spreadsheet, batch emails can be sent to domain admins or submitted via contact forms.

Each domain must be sent lists of pages linking with requests for removal as site admins won’t spend the time to find the link you want removed if you don’t tell them where it is on their site. Record the date of the email or contact form submission and allow one or two weeks for a response. Record this data in the spreadsheets.

If those web admins fail to remove the links that are requested, then Google and Bing provide disavowal within their webmaster tools. Those tools are at the following links:

If site owners fail to respond, or respond with refusal to remove links, then use the disavowal tools for Google and Bing linked above to tell search engines that site owners won’t remove the links and you want them disavowed. Those disavowal requests should be recorded on the spreadsheets & tracked by date.

Google warns that the tool be used with caution as large scale link disavowal can harm site rankings. Please review their instructions carefully: