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Bad Backlinks: How to Disavow Backlinks and Keep Your Site’s Reputation Clean

Business owners and entrepreneurs know that backlinks are a core component of successful SEO; links allow users across the Internet to access your site, and tie your business to content directly related to your industry. However, backlinks were a popular tool for black-hat SEOs and unwitting spammers alike, and many backlinks now use nefarious linking methods, or are not related to the content in which they’re embedded at all. Google launched the Panda and Penguin updates to target spammy backlinks, and when the search engine finds bad or ill-gotten links, it penalizes the company that is linked. However, many businesses legitimately don’t know that they have bad backlinks, or that the methods they used to legitimately gain links in the past have now been ruled bad practices. To help those brands, Google has created the Disavow Tool.

The Disavow Tool allows a company’s webmaster to ask Google to disavow, or not take into account, certain links when crawling and evaluating a company website. This is an advanced feature, and should only be utilized by a webmaster or SEO professional, and with great caution. If the Disavow Tool is not used correctly, it can negatively affect your site’s ranking. Google recommends using the tool only if your site has a “considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.” If you do have a spammy link from a third-party site, try asking them to remove it before you move ahead with this process. If that doesn’t work, follow these steps:

1. Download Links to Your Site
a. In your Google Webmaster Tools homepage, choose the site you want.
b. In your site dashboard, choose “Search Traffic”, then “Links to Your Site”.
c. Under the “Who links the most” option, click on “More”.
d. Choose “Download more sample links”. If you’re interested in viewing link dates, choose “Download latest links” as well.

This process creates and downloads a file containing the pages linking to your site.

2. Create List of Links to Disavow
a. Create a text file (.txt) containing all of the links you want to disavow – a link on each line.
b. You can ask Google to ignore all links from a certain domain by adding the line “” to the list, where “ is the site from which you wish to disavow all links.
c. Make sure you don’t upload the entire list of links to your site; this list is only the links you want Google to ignore.

3. Upload List of Links to Disavow
a. Go to the Disavow Links tool page.
b. Select your website.
c. Choose “Disavow Links”.
d. Click “Choose File”.
e. Upload the list you created in Step 2.

It can take several weeks for Google to process your request, but once it is administered, the information provided in the list will be incorporated into Google’s index, and as its spiders recrawl your webpage, they will learn to ignore all of the links you disallowed. You will continue to see them, however, in the “Inbound Links” section of your Webmaster Tools.

Bad links can be a major impediment to your site’s SEO success. If you’ve asked third parties to remove spammy links to no avail, the Disavow Links tool might help you save your site from a Google penalty. Make sure you have your webmaster attempt the process to avoid a costly mistake, and give your business its best chance online.

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