How to Disavow Links: A Guide

How to Disavow Links A Guide

Disavowing links is an action to address penalties imposed by Google on your website. If you receive a notification from Google regarding “unnatural links,” your website is being penalized, regardless of whether you were intentional or unaware of these links. It is crucial to address penalties promptly. A webmaster or SEO specialist most often completes this task.

Why Disavow Links?

Link disavowal is an important tool for webmasters to address penalties imposed by Google on their websites. By adhering to white hat SEO practices, you can minimize the risk of receiving penalties from Google. However, it is crucial to understand the importance of managing your backlinks effectively. Disavowing links that are deemed unnatural or low-quality can help ensure that your website maintains a positive reputation in the eyes of search engines and contributes to your overall SEO strategy.

To simplify the process of link disavowal, use a tool that streamlines the entire process. Tools such as Ahrefs, Search Console, or SemRush help you audit your backlinks and identify and analyze potentially harmful links.

When to Disavow Links?

The disavow tool is a powerful resource for website owners and SEO professionals to manage backlink profiles. It allows you to tell Google that specific backlinks pointing to your site should be ignored when considering your search rankings. However, it’s important not to overuse this tool and only apply it in specific cases.

You should use the disavow tool when identifying spammy or low-quality backlinks that negatively affect your website’s search visibility. These links may come from link schemes, paid links, or irrelevant websites. By disavowing these harmful backlinks, you can show Google that you don’t endorse them and prevent any associated penalties from impacting your SEO efforts.

Another situation in which the disavow tool can be beneficial is during a website migration or significant restructuring. When making changes to your site’s architecture or domain, it’s common for some old backlinks to become obsolete or redirect to broken pages. In such cases, the disavow tool can help communicate these changes to search engines and protect your organic rankings by disregarding outdated or broken links.

Which Links Should I Disavow?

When it comes to disavowing links, it’s important to have a clear understanding of which links you should prioritize for manual action. One effective way to narrow your analysis is by utilizing a scale that identifies a spam score.  By focusing on poor quality, you can save time and energy by not wasting effort on every single link pointing to your site.

During the manual review process, it’s essential to consider the motive behind each link placement. Ask yourself why the author may have included them in their content and if they could be manipulative or unnatural. Understanding the intent behind each link can help make informed decisions on whether to disavow them.

How Disavowing Links Works

Step 1: Decide if This Is Necessary

Deciding whether or not to use the Google disavow links tool is an important step in optimizing your website’s link profile. In most cases, Google’s algorithm can automatically determine which links to trust, making it unnecessary for most sites to use this tool. However, if you have many spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, disavow them.

It is important to note that the disavow links tool does not support Domain properties. Therefore, this tool does not apply to you if you have a Domain property associated with your website. 

Step 2: Create a List of Links To Disavow

To begin the process of disavowing links, you need to create a list of pages or domains you want to disavow. Assemble all unwanted URLs in a text file, which you will later upload to Google. The format of the link file is simple. Each line should only contain one URL or domain you wish to disavow. It’s important to note that you cannot disavow an entire subpath, such as However, to disavow a whole domain or subdomain, you must prefix it with “domain:” like this:

The text file containing the list of links to disavow must be encoded correctly for Google to process it properly. The required encoding formats are UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII. Adhering to these formats ensures that your file contains the necessary characters and can be understood by Google’s systems. Once your list is complete and meets all the requirements, you can easily upload it to Google, which initiates the process of disavowing those unwanted links and improving your website’s overall quality and reputation.

Step 3: Upload Your List

To upload a disavow list, you must be the owner of the property in question. This level of control is essential and ensures that only authorized individuals can change the website’s disavow file. Additionally, after uploading your disavowed links, they will still be shown in the links report. This helps you track which links have been disavowed and their impact on your website’s performance.

It is worth noting that the uploaded list only applies to the specific property for which it was uploaded, including any child properties linked to it. For example, if you own both HTTP and HTTPS versions of a website, uploading separate lists for each version due to potential differences in linking patterns is recommended.

How to Check Your Disavow File

You first need access to Google Search Console to check your disavow file. Once you have access, you can easily download your existing disavow file. Reviewing the file’s contents is highly recommended, as many sites have a historic disavow file with comments explaining why certain links were added and when they were initially added. This information can be valuable for understanding the context and reasoning behind any link disavowal.

To navigate to the disavow tool, you can go to the relevant section in Google Search Console. However, it is important to note that the disavow tool only supports prefixes, not domain properties. You must use prefixes such as “” instead of “”

Additionally, remember that older versions of disavow files may have been uploaded during the era of HTTP rather than HTTPS. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that both HTTP:// and HTTP://WWW are included while reviewing or modifying your disavow file for accurate results.

At SMA Marketing, we know how difficult and time-consuming building backlinks can be. We have a deep understanding of how search algorithms work and what types of links are best for your site. If you need any assistance developing or supplementing your SEO strategy, contact us today!

Contact SMA Marketing

FAQs about Disavowing Links

Why are disavow files important?

Disavow files are essential for website owners or webmasters to maintain and improve their site’s ranking on search engines, particularly Google. In the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) world, backlinks are crucial in determining how reputable and trustworthy a website is. Google considers the quality and relevance of these backlinks when ranking websites.

What is a toxic link?

A “toxic” link, or spammy link, is typically defined as a link that can potentially negatively impact your website’s ranking. However, there is no consensus among SEOs regarding the exact definition of toxic links and their impact on ranking.

Does disavowing actually do anything these days?

A general consensus among SEO experts is that disavowing spammy or toxic links is unlikely to significantly improve a website’s rankings. Search engines now have more advanced algorithms and systems to identify and discount such unnatural links. The focus, therefore, should be on building high-quality and authoritative links rather than spending time disavowing low-quality ones.

However, the situation may be different regarding disavowing “manipulative” links created to artificially boost a site’s PageRank. In a conversation with Google’s John Mueller in 2019, he acknowledged that disavowing such links could potentially have an algorithmic effect. If search engines detect many manipulative or low-quality links pointing to a site, they may penalize its rankings. In these cases, using the disavow tool to signal to search engines that you do not want these links associated with your site could indeed help algorithmically.

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Beth hhhWalker is a Content Manager who is passionate about storytelling. She leads our In-House writing team and works closely with clients and CSMs to ensure all the content SMA creates meets SEO best practices and tells each client's unique story.

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