When to Disavow Links? Warning Signs & Actionable Tips to Follow

Posted by Nazar Ivaniv

Digital marketers and SEO specialists know more than anyone how vital a strong natural backlinks profile is to the online visibility of any website. This also means that they have a firsthand taste of the unpredictability that comes with the territory. Trends and practices change, and what counts as an ok link building method could very well get you banished to the nether regions of the web where the light doesn’t shine and no one can hear you scream – ok, that’s a bit exaggerated, but basically only the occasional outlier will stumble upon your content.

Still, for those occasions when the stars align just right, and you must try to remove unnatural links that can potentially get your site blacklisted, how do you go about it?  This is one aspect of link building that’s not talked about nearly enough. So consider this post a quick guide that outlines how to disavow backlinks and save your honor.

So, how do you decide when it’s ok to disavow links? The general rule of thumb is to do so when your site has a ton of bad backlinks, i.e., spammy links that are actively harming your search rankings. This can happen when you get paid links or try to buy edu backlinks (some of the most valuable inbound links) from PBNs instead of credible services like LinksManagement. Sometimes, though, it may just be that, for some reason, you are getting lots of links from spammy websites. 

And, in rare cases, you might be the target of a so-called SEO attack — a situation where a rival brand decides to buy spammy backlinks and target them to your web pages. Also, if you get that anxiety-inducing message from Google, that’s definitely a good time to disavow backlinks. So it’s important to point out that these cases described are totally different situations when you get backlinks from websites with low domain authority (DA) scores. The links have to be actively hurting your search rankings or have the potential to do so.  

So you want to tell search engines, most likely Google, to ignore those bad backlinks, but do you need a special tool for this? Well, even though Google has gotten better at detecting and ignoring bad links, there might be occasions when you have to resort to a special disavow links tool. Some of the more common ones are the Disavow Links Tool, which is in the Google search console, and the SEMrush backlink audit tool, to mention just a few. 

Still, you will need to get a really massive volume of spammy backlinks to justify the use of one of these tools. In fact, overusing it can actually be counterproductive. Besides, there’s also a chance that not all of the “suspicious links” are actually harmful, even if they do not pass on any valuable link juice to your web page.


Remember that the disavow links tool was designed to help webmasters reach out to Google to request that some backlinks should be ignored. This is to be used as a last resort measure after you have reached out to the website involved to remove the links that are pointing to you. So, think of the disavow tool as a safety mechanism that helps you navigate relationships and interactions with other bloggers while avoiding cyber risks from the bad actors in your niche. 

You want to understand in detail the many different factors that can make some inbound links viable and others completely useless, especially if you might be buying backlinks occasionally to enhance your SEO efforts. This knowledge arms you with the right skill set to make good choices, still, what happens when your actions are not directly responsible for the bad links? Here is a quick way to get rid of such unnatural links.  

This part is easy enough if you have the right tool at your disposal. This makes it easy for you to conduct a comprehensive audit of your backlink profile, which will return a list of good and bad backlinks. Here is what to look out for:

  • links that show unusual TLDs like .xyz, 
  • large quantity of links that suddenly came from one site, 
  • irrelevant links, 
  • those backlinks that are from non-indexed sites by the search engine, 
  • links from pages that do not have any DA, etc. 

Make a list (a text file), of all the toxic backlinks. Ensure that the file size is within the acceptable limit — less than 2MB and not more than 100,000 lines. Remember to use the hashtags (#) symbol to add additional comments to the file that you want Google to ignore.

2. Upload the List 

Now you want to upload the list still using the disavow tool. This part is properly the easiest as all you have to do is choose the right “property” (i.e., the list of disavowed links). You have to be careful with this step, especially if you have multiple accounts, as you don’t want to make any mistakes that could harm your search rankings. Keep in mind that if you have uploaded a file previously for this website, then this will replace the old one. But, if this current list has any errors, then it won’t replace the former one, so you will have to fix the errors and try again.

Okay, now what? Now you wait. Sometimes, it can take a couple of weeks for Google to get around to your list and successfully disavow toxic backlinks — this is likely to happen when the search engine crawls the sites affected. You want to ensure that you are running regular checks on your backlinks profile, as this is one of the essential search engine ranking factors that can bring you incredible results.

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