Through previous link-building campaigns, lack of maintenance and security, or simply time, your site may have backlinks that are detrimental to its reputation and Google ranking. About a year ago Google released the Disavow tool that may be able to help. If you have received a manual penalty from Google, you definitely need to go through this exercise in addition to sending in a reconsideration request.
Not a First (or Only) Step
This tool is not the first step to take nor is it a panacea for bad links. It should be near the last step in the process of improving your link profile. Google makes that clear with this warning in the instructions for using Disavow (italics are Mojo’s):
“This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you disavow backlinks only if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you. In most cases, Google can assess which links to trust without additional guidance, so most normal or typical sites will not need to use this tool.”
Your first step should be a link audit, both automated and manual. You or your web team can do this or you can pay to have it done. You must have a starting place and you need to be very deliberate about which links you want to remove.
If you want a reminder of what Google calls a “bad link” go to their link quality guidelines--a link audit will find those links that require action.
Your first effort at removal should always be addressed to the webmaster or owner of the site with the bad backlink. Be polite and firm. Ask them to take down the link to your site. For due diligence, you will want to:
Record all your efforts to have the link removed including any responses from webmasters.
Repeat the request at least 3 times about a week apart. Keep track of responses or lack thereof.
If you have done this and the link persists, it is time to put it on the list for disavowal. Warning: If you receive a request for payment in return for removing the link, don’t do it.
Document, Document, Document
Record all your efforts and correspondence in a spreadsheet or other mechanism for keeping track. Using Google Docs for this can assist with pleading your case to Google.
At a minimum include:
Site name and URL originating backlink
Link URL and site it is linking to
Name of site owner/webmaster
Having this record will help your case for using Disavow. It is even more imperative if you have received a manual penalty. The information will support your reconsideration request.
Doing the Disavow
This cannot be stressed enough: follow Google’s instructions on using Disavow to the letter! Once you have done all you could to get bad links removed, it is now time to use the tool.
Step 1 (all examples from Google):
Make a list of the links you want to Disavow in a text file (.txt). It must be encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII.
Only one (1) link per line
- single breaking space
If you need description begin every line of description with a hash mark (#)
- # example.com removed most links, but missed these
Disavow does not remove the link. It simply tells the search engine to disregard the link for PageRank Purposes.
Disavow may not work right away
Disavow may not work at all
Google considers the links on a Disavow list to be suggestions. The method they use to determine when to take action is still rather murky. Also, Google has stated that it can take weeks or months to see any difference.
Try to get the links removed on your own first and record your efforts. Only in the case of failure should you use the Disavow tool. Be patient and watch your PageRank. And institute a regular link profile audit of your site.