Jun 07, 2024

How to Disavow Backlinks

Backlinks are one of the most important factors when it comes to strong website SEO.

With this comes the concern about backlink management. For example, if you or a previous link building agency has paid for backlinks, should you disavow these? After all, Google built this tool for a reason, right?

In this article, we’ll go over why you might want to disavow a backlink and how to do it.

Is it worth disavowing backlinks?

The only time you must disavow backlinks is when you’ve run into an unnatural link penalty. If you receive a message from Google about “unnatural links,” you are being penalized whether this was or was not your doing.

google unnatural links email

In cases where you see links in your SEO tools that look spammy, but Google hasn’t informed you of a spam penalty through Google Search Console, disavowing them can do more harm than good.

Google’s algorithm is much more advanced now than it was years ago. Their algorithms can, and will, interpret and ignore spammy links even without the disavow tool. So if you disavow a link, you might actually be doing more harm than good because, even if it appears spammy to you, Google’s algorithm might have decided otherwise. This means that it might see this link as a positive ranking signal.

If I pay for a backlink, should I disavow it?

At this point, most of the top SEO professionals know that paying for backlinks is bad practice. These links are often ignored by Google’s algorithms for a number of reasons, such as spam reports from competitors.

paid link report

There are other algorithmic ways Google can spot paid links, such as domain neighborhoods, the content surrounding the links, and how spammy the anchor text looks.

In general, though, even if you’ve paid for a backlink, it’s usually not worth disavowing the link unless Google gives you a message about unnatural linking behavior. It’s possible that the algorithm might miss the paid link, or that Google gives you partial value from it for whatever reason.

If my competitor does a negative SEO attack on me, should I disavow the backlinks?

Now that webmasters know that buying backlinks is considered spam in Google’s eyes, many are paying for links pointing to their competitor’s domains in an effort to push them into an unnatural link penalty.

Generally, Google’s algorithms interpret and ignore spammy links, even without the disavow tool.

For many years, Google spokespeople have advised webmasters to ignore these threats and attacks.

john m tweet about negative seo

So unless you see a message from Google in Google Search Console about unnatural linking patterns, don’t worry about it.

If your competitor is successful in their negative SEO attack, disavowing the links is the only way out of this situation.

A link disavow is a request for Google to ignore those backlinks pointing to your domain. If the link disavow is successful, that backlink won’t count for or against you when determining ranking in the search results.

Google is not required to honor your request for link disavowal. In fact, their documentation states that submitting the disavow file is a “suggestion.”

However, in the same material, they describe it as a tool that helps webmasters fix bad linking practices or undo the work of a poor SEO you hired. In general, you can expect them to honor the link disavow.

Can I possible to undo a link disavow?

It’s possible to delete the disavow file you’ve uploaded, but it is unclear as to whether Google will reinstate the past value of those backlinks.

It’s best not to experiment with this and, in general, only submit a disavow when Google gives you a message about unnatural linking patters in Google Search Console.

Google Search Console is a tool offered by Google that helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results.

This tool also houses the information about the linking structure of your website.

You can see many (not all) of the websites linking to yours from the Link Report page of Search Console. Just click the big “Export External Links” button on the top right of the screen and choose “More Sample Links.”

search console link report

If you want a larger list of links pointing to your website, you can use Ahrefs or SEMRush, but using data from Google Search Console often makes the most sense here.

Once you have your list of links, there’s a very specific format you need to follow:

  • Each entry needs to be on a different line.
  • Each entry needs to begin with “domain:” (without the quotation marks)
  • The file must be a text file.
  • The file name must end in .txt
  • Maximum URL length is 2,048 characters
  • Maximum file size is 100,000 lines

Here are a few example entries you might find in a typical disavow list:

  • domain:spammysite.com
  • domain:niche.pbn.com
  • domain:blackhat.com/link-to-my-site

Usually, if a backlink from a particular page is bad, the whole domain is bad. Blacklisting the entire domain will save you the work of listing each URL specifically.

Once your list is ready, head over to the Google Disavow Tool and click through all of the warning prompts until you reach the dialogue box that allows you to browse your folders and choose a file to upload.

disavow tool

Then, select the disavow file you already created and to upload it to the disavow tool.

Within the next day or so, Google will no longer take the listed domains into account when determining your pages’ ranking.


Now that you know how to use Google’s Disavow Tool, you don’t have to be scared of negative SEO attacks.

If you frequently pay for backlinks, I advise that you check out some more legitimate link building services that are based on outreach rather than paying for links.

Good luck!


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