Clean up your backlink profile with Google’s Disavow Tool

By now you should at least have Google’s Webmaster tool to help get better transparency with the big G.  It helps to identify issues with your site including crawl errors and malware alerts.  On top of this, it also gives you better integration with Google Analytics for identifying which search queries are being used to find your site currently.

Disavow tool

Within Google Webmaster you’ll also find the Disavow tool which will allow you to inform Google of all the backlinks that you want to remove which may be currently associated with your website.  This is useful for a number of reasons:

  1. Bad neighbourhoods: These have been discussed for as long as Google has been around and includes websites like link farms, those with malware and other low quality backlinks generally.
  2. Poor SEO: You or your company might have hired SEO services that may have been of a poor quality and inadvertently led to you being the victim of a black or grey hat campaign, which has led to a Google penalty or simply a loss of ranking/traffic as a result of a Penguin algorithm change.
  3. Negative SEO: A big talking point at the moment is the use of negative SEO, which is being used by some to intentionally drive down the rankings of competitor sites by using blatant black hat techniques to force penalties and/or trigger Penguin on the targets.

In all of these cases, it was previously quite difficult to disassociate with these sites as you are likely to have very little control over those owned by third-parties; this is the reason that PageRank has been such a key component in Google’s algorithm for ranking websites in a positive manner.  Third parties linking to your website usually will do so as a sign of quality.

The difference with penalties

Many misunderstand penalties and wrongly believe that they have received one; if you have received a penalty, it is more than likely that you’ll have received communication from Google directly about this via Webmaster tools and the Disavow tool won’t be able to help you here.  Fortunately, the guys at Google will tell you what the penalty is in relation to and you can clean up whatever the problem is and request a review from directly within the Google Webmaster dashboard.

For anyone else, a loss in ranking/traffic is usually to do with a Google algorithm change (ie. Penguin) and you can continue to use the Disavow tool to help clean up your profile.  In fact, even if you have a penalty it’s probably still a good idea to do this anyway.

Using the tool

Once you have a list of URLs that you’d like to remove (this is outside the remit of this post, but use a tool like ahrefs, Majestic SEO or Open Site ExplorerMatt Woodward covers this in a lot of detail over here) then you simply need to extract this list of URLs into a plain text file and upload the list into the Disavow tool.Google Disavow Tool

Matt Cutts has specified that instead of using a finetooth-comb approach to your bad backlinks, a ‘machete’ approach should be used and for this you should be looking to remove entire domains, rather than just single page URLs that have been identified as bad.

Once this is complete, it should take a matter of weeks for the request to be processed and then you may also have to wait until the next Google algorithm change is launched in order to see the effects on your site.

In any case, carrying out this kind of protective work should become a standard part of your SEO process in order to maintain a tidy house as things continue to change in the world of Google and search engine optimisation.


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I use this blog of mine as a general brain-dump and to share my witterings about marketing, business, search engine optimisation and web development.

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Jeremy Chow

I use this blog of mine as a general brain-dump and to share my witterings about marketing, business, search engine optimisation and web development.

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