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How do I disavow backlinks in Google Search Console?

In previous posts we’ve explained why you should use Google Search Console, plus provided instructions on how to get set up. This is the first in a series on how to actually start using Google Search Console. 

A lot of the features of Google Search Console aren’t something you need to use every day, and that’s certainly the case with the disavow tool. In this blog, you’ll learn how you can use Google Search Console to disavow backlinks, and why you might need to do that in the first place. 

Why do I need to disavow backlinks?

Google use a lot of different factors to determine how high up your site appears in search rankings, and one of these is the number and quality of websites that link back to yours.

For years, many people tried to game the system, creating links all over the internet to try and trick Google into ranking them higher. Recently though, Google has got tough on link building, so if they see a lot of dubious looking links to your site, they will penalise you. 

What that means in practice is that if you have spammy sites linking to you, this could negatively affect your ranking. Bad backlinks, also known as link spam, could happen for a number of reasons, including:

  • You, or a company you worked with, previously bought links back to your site in a misguided attempt to boost your search rankings.
  • A competitor is placing spammy back links in an attempt to negatively affect your search rankings.
  • You have other links that Google considers “unnatural”, for example from directories, link exchange schemes, or poor quality guest blogs.

Often, these links are created through no fault of your own, which is where the disavow tool comes in. By asking Google to “disavow links’, you are simply telling them not to take into account certain links when they are indexing and ranking your site. You might never need to use it, but if you do, you’ll be glad it exists!

How do I know if I have link spam?

If Google has penalised your site, they will notify you that they have found links they think violate their quality guidelines in Google Search Console. To check if you have a penalty, go to Search Traffic > Manual Actions. 

You don’t have to wait for Google to notify you, though. if you are concerned that you have dodgy, irrelevant sites linking to you (for example, adult or gambling websites) you can take action straight away.

The first step is to make a list of the spammy backlinks. You can download a full list of sites linking to you in Google Search Console. Go to: Search traffic > Links to your site, then click “More”.

From here you will be able to view a list of sites that link to you.  Clicking “Download this table” will produce a list of all the domains that link to your website.

It’s best to review all the links yourself to determine which, if any, are definitely link spam. Google advises you should only use the disavow tool when a penalty isn’t in place if you have a large number of “spammy, artificial or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident the links are causing issues for you”.

How to disavow backlinks in Google Search Console

If you decide to go ahead and disavow links, Google also suggest that you should try to get the links removed before you use the disavow tool. Generally, it’s always better to get the links completely removed rather than just asking Google to ignore them, however, in the case of many of the sites that create this kind of link, attempts to get them removed can often be unsuccessful.

If this is the case, you will need to submit a text file (.txt format) containing the details of all the links you would like Google to disavow on the disavow links page.

To create your file, add each domain you would like disavowed to a new line, in the following format: “domain:example.com”. Your finished file will look something like this:

domain:spammysite.com

domain:spamwebsite2.co.uk

domain:spammer.com

Upload your txt file in Google Search Console and press submit. Once submitted it will take a while for the changes to take affect, but after a period of time (normally a few months) the links will no longer be taken into account for your ranking.

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