If you are asking yourself: ‘Should I disavow my Backlinks and what outcome to expect?’, you are not alone. This is a frequent question so I decided to reach out to 19 other specialists and get their views as well.
Before we go any further and dive into a plethora of worthy suggestions, let me give you a little background on the subject.
On this blog, I already wrote about disavow process, where I explained how (and basically when) you should disavow backlinks. I actually had a different idea this time. I wanted to disavow all the backlinks from one site and observe the results by periodically screening the process. During preparations, I stumbled upon Cyrus Shepard’s article and discovered that he already did such an experiment, so I decided to drop it and use his findings… I highly recommend you to read his article about it: https://zyppy.com/google-disavow-caution/
This experiment proved some things. For instance, that backlinks are important, that disavow isn’t instant effective, that you can hurt your website with disavow (if you remove good backlinks) and so on. Now, of course, this is an extreme case which is great for proving things, but I also wanted to provide real case experiences. So, let’s hear some from the experts:
Pinguin works real-time now so for the most websites it won’t have any effect
Tonya Davis from ThoughtLab says: In my experience, disavowing links provides no impact on SEO efforts. I’ve had many clients that we created disavow files for and we saw no difference either way. This is due to Penguin 4.0, which was an update Google released in September 2016. Penguin will evaluate links in real-time and devalue any links they consider to be low quality. You can certainly still receive manual penalties, but as far as Penguin is concerned, they are no longer penalizing sites for their backlinks.
Calloway Cook, President of Illuminate Labs has a similar opinion: I’ve disavowed backlinks in the past, but Google keeps getting smarter and in 2020 there is no need to, unless your site has been hit with a manual penalty. Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Muller has even stated that for the vast majority of sites there’s no need to use the disavow tool.
For companies with a manual penalty from Google, the disavow tool can save your rankings. Be sure to disavow any link that seems spammy. Err on the side of caution; in this case disavowing too much is better than disavowing too little.
Simone Colavecchi from Cashcow was in charge of disavowing links for a casino related site back in 2019: The site got spammed and demoted by Google and we decided to look at our link profile more closely and keep disavowing links every two weeks. During the first few weeks, we never noticed improvements. However, after a couple of months the amount of links to disavow decreased exponentially and we decided to disavow once a month only. To be honest, we did notice a *minor improvement in rankings *but we can’t say for certain whether it was due to the disavowing action or just other improvements we made to the site. I do recommend setting up alerts and checking your backlinks regularly but when it comes to disavowing I am not so sure it is worth the effort.
Dan Martin, founder of Linkasaur.us also didn’t saw the improvement: We’re a digital marketing company and we had some experience disavowing backlinks for one of our clients.
When Linkasaur was first brought on they had a few backlinks but they were almost all spammy bad websites. We submitted the selected sites to Google and nothing happened. We waited almost 6 months before the sites were removed and it didn’t appear to affect our rankings at all, in fact, they still struggle with a high DA likely because the effect of these links hasn’t been removed. We’ve been fighting an uphill battle trying to move past those spammy links.
It was a good and interesting learning experience for all of us.
Nikola Baldikov, a Digital Marketing Manager at Brosix had a similar experience: At the moment, our disavow file contains 5991 URLs and 161 domains. Actually, I`ve expected to see some huge improvements, but almost nothing happened. I update our file from time to time in order to clean spam links sent from our competitors. I believe that Google devaluates these spam links, but I want to be sure that we won`t get a ban.
You might hurt your rankings by disavowing good backlinks
Brett Downes, Head of SEO at Studio 54 also believes in most cases you will not need to disavow backlinks, but he also has something to add: I feel we have the opposite view to most people on the Disavow file, in that I think you should only use it in extreme cases – with super obvious toxic links.
Google has become very good at identifying spam links, and instead of penalising them, like they used too – they just ignore it now.
If you disavow links that Google hasn’t identified as spam, then you will be hurting the SEO of your site as you are negating any positive effect (no matter how little) the link gives to your site. If you disavow other similar links the cumulative effect of this can have a large negative impact on your site.
With new clients, we take a look at their disavow file, then readded 25% of links we deem ok every month; measure the results and do another 25% until they are all back in circulation. In 90% of cases, we have seen significant increases in keyword rankings and organic traffic.
Blocking your growth
Sean Haugh, an SEO Executive at Bionic Group had an interesting theory: I previously worked for one of the leading UK price comparison sites where I founded and lead the Disavow Process for one of their group sites and saw amazing ranking improvements.
The site that I was working on is a very trusted site in the UK that had no active off-page work done to is so all links were acquired completely naturally. I identified an opportunity to increase our rankings by implementing a disavow process to clean up our backlink profile.
I decided to test my hypothesis on a page level. I took a page that was ranking for a head term which despite multiple on-page changes over a couple of years, stayed around position 10 in the SERP. I manually assessed each link to the page for quality and relevance and added anything that I deemed as potentially harmful to the disavow file at a domain level.
Just 10 days after updating and uploading the new disavow file to GSC the page rose from position 10 to position 3 in the SERP for the head term we were tracking.
We later rolled out a similar test on a number of other pages where we saw similar results. From page level, we moved onto full verticals and now there is a disavow process in place for the business where they actively QA all inbound links on a bi-weekly basis.
Girdharee Saran, the Head of Digital Marketing at MyAdvo also felt spammy backlinks had blocked his growth.: After months of relentless efforts and earning some good backlinks, we were unable to see any upward movement in our traffic. After some research on our backlink profile, we stumbled upon the spam score ( on Moz premium) of my backlinks. Some of them even had 90% or more spam score, that’s when I decided to experiment with the disavow file.
We disavowed all 17 domains (Created a domain level disavow file as I had multiple backlinks from the same domains) with the spam score of more than 15%. After two days we started seeing an upward trend in our organic traffic, its doubled in last 45 days. We also earned some quality backlinks during this period but disavow surely played a critical role.
Positive results in the long run
Mathew Peranick a partner at 420interactive said: We use Ahrefs backlink tool to get a good spreadsheet of domains linking to the target site, and try to find patterns of bad links. Sometimes it’s easier than others because there might be a bad file path on the website that you want to kill along with all backlinks. Otherwise, the process can be a fun manual process to dig thru links to see what is clear spam/bad link and what is healthy.
Overall we have seen a lot of good lift from sites after doing backlink disavows. We typically monitor backlink progress again in Ahrefs, and often times after a disavow file is submitted we will see referring domains and pages go down, while keywords and organic traffic trend up.
Depending on site size, it might take Google a while to crawl the site again according to the disavow, so results might take a week or two before you start to notice the keyword or ranking traction. But it should continue as Google processes thru the disavow file.
Charlie Worrall, Digital Marketing Executive at Imaginaire Digital believes you should use it, but be careful at the same time: We specialise in SEO and so we use the disavow tool to allow for a clean backlink profile that Google would approve of. With that in mind, it can often be a dangerous tool and as such, it requires a level of knowledge for proper use.
Most of the time, we find that building new links to a website and disavowing the old, spammy links at the same time is the best way to go. This is usually done in blocks, so if there are 100 spammy links, we might do 10-25 links at a time. All while getting new, good quality links pointing to the site. By implementing this technique, you’re able to balance the number of links pointing to a website which is ideal because sometimes Google ignores the level of spam and just goes off of the number of links.
The effects of a disavow file are often dependant on how competitive the industry is, which keywords you’re tracking and how much the keywords are searched for. If there is a big search volume behind them than its likely to be quick to react. If not, it might take a little longer for anything to happen.
Review the links to a website on a regular basis is an important part of what we do. Without doing this, you’ll just accumulate a lot of spam and it’ll make your website look bad. If there are no new spammy links then we just carry on and leave the latest version of the disavow file up there until it needs to be updated.
Rahul Vij, a CEO at WebSpero saw the positive results in a couple of months: My experience with disavowing backlinks have been a mixed one, For one of our eCommerce clients, we disavowed a lot of backlinks coming from shady places, like gambling sites etc, we disavowed the domains and we got a jump in our rankings after a couple of months.
For one client, we did it last month and we still have not seen any difference yet. Would I do it again? Yes, I will definitely do it again, only for the sites that are harmful. I do not do it for sites whose DA is less or spam score is more on Moz. We manually review websites that we feel are really bad, 0 relevancy, strict no kind of content, we will only disavow such sites.
Tarun Gurang, Digital Marketer at iFour Technolab also saw improvements in a couple of months: After approx. 5 months we are seeing a positive impact on both keywords ranking and links (Google started ignoring unnatural links for our domain).
In the future, either for our website or for any of our client’s websites, if necessary, we will definitely do it to remove unnatural and spammy links from the domain.
Sadegh Mirkhalafi owner of Webicient agency had this to say: Because we are a web agency that offers SEO, we have experience in disavowing backlinks and we often get backlinks from sites that are not related to our business, has a high spam score or has low quality in terms of authority. To prevent the negative effects of those backlinks we often use googles disavow service. It usually takes up to one week before it starts to take effect, but it varies.
In our experience, the effect is positive, and should not come as a surprise. If you get a bad backlink it will affect your website badly, by removing it you eliminate the negative effect. But it’s also hard to draw that as a solid conclusion because Google has such a complex algorithm, and we can’t be sure what effects our actions will bring.
In the end, always look at google as a partnership, do the RIGHT thing. Disavow backlinks that you feel are hurting your website even thou it may have high authority. Your SEO is your resume, and the backlinks are your references.
Kassandra Juarez, SEO Specialist at HalloweenCostumes believes it’s better to disavow spammy links: After the unconfirmed November 8, 2019, Google update, we saw dramatic drops in traffic but no manual actions. After seeing a few sites benefiting from submitting a disavow file, we decided to try it as well.
In early December, we submitted a disavow file with many adult sites and spam links. After waiting for a couple of months, we only saw a slight increase in traffic and have yet to see it come back to what it was before. For the most part, Google understands that not all links should be treated the same.
To summarize, it can’t hurt to disavow the links you know are affecting your website. I’d submit another disavow file again if I saw it was necessary. A site that has manual actions for unnatural or spammy links should definitely consider creating and adding a disavow file.
A good practice when you buy used or dropped domain
Rob Stand has this experience: I purchased the dropped domain due to its age and authority. The previous owner may have let it expire due to the number of bad backlinks it had from non english sites and blog comments.
After I submitted the disavow list, I found that my organic rankings did improve. Landing pages slightly went up and are still climbing.
It might be time consuming
Brogan Renshaw, director at Firewire Digital has mixed experiences: It takes a significant amount of time manually assess whether a URL should be on a disavow list. Could this time be better invested elsewhere? Generally, the answer is yes.
However, in some special cases, we decide a disavow file is worth it. For one client we saw an uptick in rankings within 1 week. Nothing else had been done on this site in that time. For another site, absolutely nothing happened after submitting the disavow file. My guess is the URLs we disavowed had already been discounted by Google.
Would we do it again, yes, but only in extreme cases. If it was just a handful of URLs we simply wouldn’t bother. The time can be better invested elsewhere.
Matt Bassos, an SEO lead at Vuly Play believes it was worth it: After about 2 weeks of the disavow file being uploaded we saw improvement across our core keyword terms. While correlation does not imply causation, it’s something that we now keep doing as a weekly task – checking new referring domains and evaluating if they should be added to our disavow file.
Preventing negative SEO attacks or poor backlinks in general
Scott Bates, a Content Marketing Professional managed to help his client with a negative SEO attack: I had a client who was being attacked with spammy links to their site. We disavowed them after a drop in the rankings. Took about 10 weeks to sync back to normal. There were many other spammy links that we ignored and for the most part, Google ignores. This particular link seemed like it was a strategy negative SEO tactic from a competitor. In any case, there is no exact science for this, but the end result was confirmed a success.
Gregory Golinski, Head of Digital Marketing at YourParkingSpace said: We regularly use the disavow tool to preserve the quality of our backlinks profile.
We don’t see immediate changes or improvements every time we use the disavow tool, but we know that leaving lots of toxic backlinks overtime would penalize our SEO.
That’s why we make a habit of disavowing those bad backlinks at least once a month.
Just like anything in SEO, experiences are different. It’s always hard to tell if some effort or tactic effective is, when we have constant Google algorithm updates, new content, new backlinks, other changes on our website and so on. It is true that Google understands links better these days, and that for most websites, backlink disavowal is not necessary (it is worth keeping in mind that 92% of websites have 3 or less referring domains linking to them).
Still, some sites saw growth after disavowing backlinks. Even though we can’t be 100% sure that disavowal is the reason behind it, it still feels like it is the case. The more backlinks you are getting, the more need for disavowal you might have, but it gets more time consuming. It seems obvious that you will use it in the case of manual penalty or drop after the negative SEO attack, but also in case you feel like there is no other reason behind your ranking stagnation.
If you decide to proceed with disavow, here are some tips on how to do it: https://seobrainiac.com/disavow-backlinks-why-when-and-how/