Backlinks have quickly become one of the most important factors in determining website rankings for search engines like Google. For Google, backlinks represent the freedom of the internet as relevant, quality content can be referenced easily within websites.
Generally, the more organic backlinks a website has, the better. Yet, recent changes in the SEO landscape regarding “unnatural links” have pushed search engines to penalize those looking to play the system.
In this article, we will break down everything you need to know about backlinks. We will also tell you how to disavow backlinks to ensure that your site isn’t being unknowingly penalized.
What are Backlinks and Why Does Google Value Them?
If you don’t know what a backlink is, they are essentially links included in other websites that are directed towards your website. Google uses the number of backlinks as a benchmark for the popularity or importance of your website. In other words, Google will assume that if a bunch of good websites think your content is good enough to be linked to, your website must have quality information.
This is the reason why backlinks have become of such profound importance for Google when determining its rankings. That being said, including thousands of poor backlinks is not the way to go. Google’s algorithm has a method of differentiating good, useful backlinks and bad, useless backlinks. Thus, it is important to only include quality backlinks within your site and to disavow bad backlinks when possible.
What is a Bad Backlink?
A bad backlink is a link that comes from a non-trustworthy source or website. Unfortunately, some websites try to take advantage of Google’s algorithm in unethical ways. This feat is known as black hat SEO. Before Google began to crack down on these ethical violations, people would pay other sites to link their websites. They would do this so that they would have higher website rankings and higher authority. Consequently, Google launched an algorithm change in 2012 known as the Penguin Update which penalized web pages that were associated with these bad backlinks.
When Should You Disavow a Backlink?
Generally, disavowing backlinks is not something you should do unless you are 100% certain it is bringing your website down. Google offers webmaster guidelines so that sites have a heads up on what to expect if they utilize bad backlinks. In these guidelines, Google says “any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site, or outgoing links from your site.” Here are a couple of examples of link schemes that Google penalizes websites for.
- Buying or selling links: Generally, Google does not approve of the purchasing, selling, or the granting of discounts or services in exchange for links as it creates an unfair playing field for websites.
- Excessive link exchanging: The amount of links that you have linked to and from your website should correlate with your domain authority, otherwise Google may assume foul play.
- Linking to unrelated websites: If Google sees that your page is being linked to a bunch of random websites, odds are that they are going to view it as an attempt to throw the algorithm off.
- Creation of automated links: Some sites may implement an algorithm for creating inorganic links for the sole purpose of playing into Google’s algorithm. These sites will undoubtedly see penalties.
Another important thing to note is that just because a link is from a low-traffic or low domain authority website, does not necessarily mean that it is a bad link. Google will consider any relevant, quality link as a plus, even if it’s a small plus.
How Do You Find a Bad Backlink?
Once Google began cracking down on websites using black hat SEO, a variety of tools have come out to help sites detect spammy backlinks.
One of the best ways to search for these backlinks is through Google Search Console, or Google Webmaster Tools. This tool allows you to view a list of websites that are linking to your site. More often than not, the links on this list improve your SEO and will be from review sites such as Yelp or social media websites such as Youtube or Facebook. However, there may be links on this list that are not trustworthy and that you don’t want to be associated with.
Generally, you want to ask yourself a couple of questions when determining whether a link is bad. The first question should be, what kind of website is this? If you notice that the site is very low quality and has a ton of links, odds are it isn’t a great site to be associated with. The next question should be, does the link actually improve your website? If the link drives traffic to your site and generally displays your site in a positive light, you should most definitely keep it! Yet in the case that the link does the opposite, drop it. You don’t want to be associated with a website that paints you a negative image.
The last question you should ask is if there is an “about us” section on the website. Most professional websites include an “about us” section of their websites to let visitors know exactly who they are and what they do. Shady websites that have something to hide typically don’t include one of these sections. This makes it a good benchmark for deciding whether it is a good website to be associated with. This is not to say that if a website doesn’t include an “about us” section that they are for sure a shady website, but it is definitely something to take into account.
What Happens When You Disavow Links?
Disavowing a link essentially means sending a request to Google to ignore bad links associated with your domain. If the disavow is successful, Google will not take these links into consideration when determining your site’s ranking. However, Google does not have to honor your request. In fact, they specifically mention in their guidelines that submitting a disavowal claim is nothing more than a suggestion. Basically, once you submit a claim, the ball is in Google’s court.
This is not to say that you should never submit a disavowal claim. Google actually encourages websites to disavow links that they deem as poor representations of their values. The whole reason Google offers a link disavowal tool is to fix SEO mistakes of the past. So, you should not be afraid to do so!
How Can I Disavow Backlinks in Google Search Console?
If your website has a Google Analytics tracking tag attached to it, you also have access to Google Search Console. To begin the disavowal process, you have to first conduct a link audit of your site. You can do this from the link report page of Google Search Console. Click on “export external links” in the top right of the screen and then choose “more sample links”. Export the links to the file type of choice.
The next step is to determine which links you wish to submit to Google for disavowal. The best way to do this is to create a list of links that you no longer want to be associated with. When creating this list, it is important to follow a specific format. Otherwise, Google’s disavow links tool might reject your file. Every entry needs to be on a different line, beginning with “domain:” followed by the corresponding link you wish to disavow. Keep in mind that if you plug in the entire domain link, you will be disavowing that entire website. In rare cases, you might only want to disavow a single link, so make sure you make that distinction prior to submission.
The last step is to head over to Google’s disavow links tool and click through all of the warnings until you come across the page that allows you to attach a file for upload. Take one last look at your file and make sure that you are 100% positive that you wish to disavow these links. Also double-check that your format is correct. Once you are certain that you want to move forward, upload your file. Barring any mistakes, Google should respond in a day or two with whether or not your claim was accepted. If accepted, Google will no longer take these links into consideration when determining its website rankings.
Make Sure You Disavow Bad Backlinks
Focusing on having quality, relevant backlinks is one of the best ways to both improve search rankings and drive more traffic to your website. Do not let poor, shady backlinks bring your page down in Google’s eyes! Take the information provided in this article to properly manage your site’s backlinks. With this, you will be able to ensure your page is performing as well as it should be.
- Do I need to disavow links?
- How do I create backlinks?
- Why does Google like backlinks?
- How do you find a bad backlink?
- What happens when you disavow a backlink?