How to Properly Disavow Links to Remove a Google Penalty

Creating a disavow file allows a website administrator to effectively erase dispensable backlinks to their site which communicates to Google that he would like the links to be ignored when Google’s algorithm analyzes their site for Google search rankings. Disavowing links is a way of cleaning up a website and is usually done in response to an unnatural links manual penalty placed on a website by Google. When presented with an unnatural links manual penalty, Google gives website owners the opportunity to submit a reconsideration request. This request asks Google to review a site after problems are fixed on the website. With an unnatural links penalty, the problem that needs fixing is likely an excessive amount of backlinks that are unnatural and usually paid for by the owner or a hired SEO company.

To disavow backlinks you need to download the list of links or domains leading to your website, create a file or document with all of the links you want to disavow, and then upload that file to Google’s Disavow Tool. This article details the steps necessary to properly disavow links. If you need help with this process or would like to hire an SEO expert to do the work for you, contact Wojdylo Social Media at jesse@wojdylosocialmedia.com.

1. Download Links

Before creating your own list of links to disavow, you are going to want to download the list of backlinks to your site. If you have not already, you are going to want to install Google’s Webmaster Tools. Once you have created an account, follow these instructions:

  1.  On the Home Page, click on the website in which you want to disavow links.
  2.  On the left-hand side, click “Search Traffic,” and then “Links to Your Site.”
  3. Under “Who links the most,” click “More.”
  4. At the top of this page, click “Download this table” to download the complete list of domains. You can also click “Download more sample links” to download the complete list of URLs. A pop-up will ask you whether you want to download the table in CSV or Google Docs; I personally find Google Docs easier to work with.

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From here you can begin to create your own list of links and domains you want to disavow.

2. Differentiate Between URLs and Domains

Google gives website administrators the option to disavow entire domains or individual URLs. Above, in step 4, you have the option to download either a list of domains or a list of links. A URL is a link to a specific site, while a domain encompasses many URLs on the same site.

Example URL: http://www.sugarbush.info/links/popular-links.html
Example Domain: http://www.sugarbush.info

I would recommend that all website owners download the list of domains and disavow all links belonging to a domain, rather than individual links. This will show Google that you are serious about cleaning up your website.

3. Create a List of Bad Links

Once you have the list of domains downloaded, review the links several times and pick out the domains you want to save (this is generally faster than deciding which domains you want to remove, because if you are serious about fixing your site, you will get rid of all non-essential backlinks). To keep all of your domains in one place, try highlighting in green the domains you wish to keep.

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How to Identify Bad Links/Domains
– Any casino site or site where gambling is advertised
– Blog sites with one link in each article to a specific business (these links are obviously paid for)
– Sites you cannot reach
– User-submission sites
– Sites that have nothing to do with your business
– SEO sites (your SEO firm most likely bought you this link)
– Anything ending in .info, .us, and .biz
– Most domains ending in .net

How to Identify Good Links/Domains
– Most end in .com, .edu, and .org
– Bona fide news sites
– Links from Wikipedia, Google, or Yellow Pages
– Links from state accreditations (such as the state bar for law firms)

Once you have decided which domains to keep, delete all of them from your list so that you are only left with your bad links. Next, delete everything on the document except for the remaining links and domains. Once you have done that, you will need to differentiate your URLs from your Domains (if you have URLs). To do this, you will need to simply add “domain:” in front of each domain. Once you are finished your list of domains should look like this:

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Remember not be stingy with your list of links to disavow. Google understands that you should not be controlling your own link portfolio and finds much more value in one high quality link rather than 200 low-quality links to spam-heavy sites. It only benefits you to be selective when deciding what links/domains you wish to keep.

4. Upload Your List

To upload your list of links and domains, you will need to convert your list into a .txt file. This can easily be done by copying your list to a Notepad (TextEdit on a Mac) or by using a converter tool online. Once you have your list in a .txt file, you are ready to upload to Google by following these steps:

  1.  Go to Google’s Disavow Tool
  2.  Select the website (of which you must have verified access)
  3. Click the red “Disavow Links” button
  4. Click “Disavow Links” again on the next page
  5. In the Pop-up, click “Choose File” and select your .txt file
  6. Click “Submit” and then “Done”

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Once you have successfully uploaded your file, Google will send you a message via Gmail and on Google Webmaster Tools to confirm your upload. Once this takes place, Google will recrawl your website without the links and domains on your submitted list which may or may not produce changes in your rankings. The recrawling process takes several weeks and you will be notified when Google has finished. From there you may continue to improve your website by submitting a reconsideration request.

If you are experiencing difficulties, this video will walk you through the steps of how to use the Google Disavow Tool.

How to Avoid This Problem

Avoiding manual penalties is very simple. All you have to do is allow your site to acquire links naturally. Avoid working with SEO “experts” who offer to buy you links or recommend that you buy links to advertise your business. Also avoid SEO companies who bind you to a 2-year or longer contract because your results will “take that long.” The reality is, it should only take 6-9 months MAX to see results using proper SEO depending on how far in the rankings your website has fallen.

How We Can Help

As SEO experts, we are experienced in analyzing a link portfolio and determining how many links are too many and which links are good or bad. If you have received a manual penalty from Google and would like our help with the disavow process, please contact us at jesse@wojdylosocialmedia.com.