Oct 5, 2023

Link Cleanup 101: How to Disavow Links in Google

Suman Samal, Asst. Marketing Manager
Suman Samal
Link Cleanup 101: How to Disavow Links in Google
Suman Samal, Asst. Marketing Manager
Suman Samal
Oct 5, 2023

Link Cleanup 101: How to Disavow Links in Google

Learn how to disavow links in Google with our guide while discovering the best practices to disavow unwanted links to enhance your online visibility.
Link Cleanup 101: How to Disavow Links in Google

Table of contents

While building high-quality backlinks can boost your rankings, it’s equally essential to be vigilant about harmful or spammy links that could potentially harm your site’s reputation and search rankings.

In this blog, we will focus on link cleanup and explore the powerful tools you can use for the same. Whether you’re a seasoned webmaster or a novice in the world of SEO, understanding how to effectively disavow links is crucial for maintaining a healthy and optimized website.

Let’s start learning how to disavow links in Google. 

Understanding link disavowal in Google

Before we get into how to disavow links on Google, it’s vital to understand what link disavowal is. 

What is link disavowal?

An image representing the concept of link disavowal 

Link disavowal refers to a process through which website owners or webmasters can inform Google that they want to disassociate their site from certain backlinks. 

Backlinks are hyperlinks from other websites that point to your site. In the past, having a large list of backlinks was considered beneficial for search engine optimization (SEO) as it indicated the website’s popularity and authority. 

However, with the evolution of Google’s search algorithms, the quality and relevance of backlinks have become more critical. 

Why is link disavowal important?

The sole approved purpose for link disavowal by Google is to rectify penalties imposed on your website. If you receive a notification from Google concerning “unnatural links,” you are facing a penalty, regardless of whether you were intentionally involved or not.

As a webmaster or Marketer, dealing with Google penalties is essential to your responsibilities. This shouldn’t be problematic if you adhere to white-hat SEO practices. However, understanding how to maintain a pristine backlink profile is crucial for the success of your long-term SEO strategy. 

When should you consider link disavowal?

finding spammy links on the internet 

Disavowing backlinks is not a decision to be taken lightly, as it carries substantial consequences that can either improve or harm your search ranking considerably.

As a general rule, you should only disavow a link if you have concrete evidence that it negatively affects your website’s performance. 

Keep in mind that a backlink from a site with low traffic or domain authority isn’t necessarily a detrimental link. While it may not have a significant individual impact, each link serves as a vote of confidence in your site, which Google considers in its evaluation.

The impact of unwanted or toxic backlinks

Unwanted, toxic, or low-quality backlinks can negatively impact your website’s SEO efforts in several ways. Search engines may penalize your site for manipulative links, resulting in lower rankings. Additionally, these backlinks can diminish the trustworthiness and authority of your site in the eyes of search engines, further hampering your SEO performance. 

Google’s quality guidelines strictly prohibit the use of manipulative techniques to gain backlinks. If your website is found to have a significant number of unwanted or toxic backlinks, it may receive a manual action from Google, effectively removing it from search results. Recovering from such penalties can be a time-consuming and challenging process.

Step-by-step guide to disavowing links in Google

Learn how to disavow links in Google in our step-by-step guide section. 

1. Conduct a backlink audit

Before you start the process of disavowing links in Google, it’s essential to conduct a thorough backlink audit to identify potentially harmful or low-quality links that might be negatively impacting your website’s SEO performance. Follow these steps to conduct a comprehensive backlink audit. 

Identifying low-quality links

In order to identify low-quality links, you can rely on various competent tools out there. Let’s learn about them. 

Tools you can use

Here are some tools you can use to conduct a backlink audit to identify low-quality links. 

Google Search Console
Google Search Console main page 

Google Search Console is a free tool provided by Google that allows webmasters to monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot their website’s presence in Google Search results. It offers valuable data about the websites linking to yours and can help you identify potential issues with your backlink profile.

Ahrefs, Moz, Semrush

Besides Google Search Console, here are a few other tools you can use. 

  • Ahrefs: Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO toolset with a powerful Site Explorer feature. It provides detailed information about your backlink profile, including new and lost backlinks, referring domains, anchor text distribution, and more.
  • Moz: Moz offers a backlink analysis tool called “Link Explorer,” which helps you assess your backlink profile’s quality. It provides metrics like domain authority, spam score, and linking domains to give you insights into potential toxic links.
  • Semrush: Semrush is an all-in-one digital marketing toolkit, and its backlink audit tool enables you to explore your link profile, perform competitive analysis, and identify bad backlinks that could be harming your website’s rankings.

You can also check out our best backlink analysis tools blog and find some other competent tools to use. 

Assessing the toxicity of backlinks

The next step is to assess the toxicity of the backlinks. Toxic backlinks often exhibit indications of poor quality or intent to manipulate search rankings, including:

  • Originating from websites created solely for the purpose of generating links.
  • Stemming from websites and content that lack topical relevance.
  • Emerging from sites that are not indexed by Google.
  • Clearly inserted in a forced manner within blog comments.
  • Concealed within a website’s footer.
  • Present on every single page of a website.
  • Utilizing ‘exact match anchor text’ with commercial ‘money’ terms and target keywords as the link text.
  • Identified as sponsored links with a ‘followed’ attribute.

Compiling a list of unwanted links

Once you have identified the toxic backlinks, you can compile a list of unwanted links. This list will serve as a reference when you proceed with the disavowal process. 

2. Create a Disavow File

A disavow file is a formal appeal to Google, asking them to disregard the links you submit. This ensures that these links won’t be considered when assessing your website’s ranking factors. Utilizing a disavow file is an effective method for managing harmful or toxic links. 

File Format and Requirements

After identifying the links that you want to disavow, create a text file (txt file) that you will submit to Google’s Disavow tool. Besides that, here’s a specific format that you would need to follow. 

  • Ensure that every entry is placed on a separate line.
  • Commence each entry with “domain:” (excluding the quotation marks).
  • The filename holds no significance.

Check out these tools that can assist you in file creation. 

Tools to assist in file creation

  • Semrush: Semrush is a powerful SEO tool that aids in disavowing file creation by identifying and analyzing toxic backlinks to disavow harmful links effectively. 
  • Ahrefs: Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO software that facilitates disavow file creation by providing detailed backlink data and insights, enabling users to disavow undesirable links for improved website rankings and credibility.

(Check out the best disavow software tools for SEO professionals in 2023). 

3. Submitting the Ddsavow file

The final step is how to disavow links in Google by submitting the disavow file. Here’s how you can do it. 

Accessing Google’s Disavow Tool

Learn how to use the Google Disavow tool below. 

  1. Go to the Google Disavow Tool.
  2. Progress through all the warning prompts until you encounter the dialogue box that allows you to browse your folders and pick a file for uploading.
  3. In case you have multiple accounts, ensure that you choose the appropriate property.
  4. Choose the disavow file that you previously prepared and click ‘Open’ to upload it to the disavow tool.

Understanding the timeframe for disavowal

Submitting a disavowed file to Google involves a processing period where their algorithms review the file. After this, Google crawls and indexes the listed websites and URLs. (To learn more about what a URL is, check out our blog on the same). 

Once successfully processed, the disavowed links’ influence on the ranking is removed. 

However, the time it takes to see the effects varies based on factors like website size, the number of links disavowed, and Google’s crawling schedule. 

Changes may be noticeable within days or take weeks. Google usually excludes the listed domains from influencing ranking within a day or so of file submission.

Best practices for link disavowal

Learning how to disavow links on Google is only complete with the incorporation of these essential best practices.

  • Conduct a thorough backlink audit to identify harmful and low-quality links.
  • Prioritize disavowing links from spammy and irrelevant websites. (You can also check out the best spammy links checker tools here). 
  • Utilize Google’s Disavow Tool carefully, targeting specific URLs if possible.
  • Keep a well-organized disavow file with clear comments for future reference.
  • Monitor your backlink profile regularly to identify new harmful links and take appropriate action. 

Common mistakes to avoid

  • Disavowing all links without discrimination.
  • Neglecting to request link removal before disavowing.
  • Using outdated or incomplete disavow files.
  • Ignoring the importance of high-quality link building. (You can understand the importance of SEO link building in our comprehensive blog). 
  • Failing to analyze the impact of disavowed links on rankings.


Mastering the art of link cleanup and understanding how to disavow spammy links is paramount for any website owner or SEO practitioner. This process empowers you to take control of your site’s backlink profile, safeguarding it from harmful or low-quality links that could negatively impact your search engine rankings and overall online reputation. 

By diligently following the steps outlined in this blog, you can efficiently identify toxic links, assess their impact on your site, and take appropriate action through the Google Disavow Links tool. 

Moreover, the significance of proactively monitoring and maintaining a healthy backlink profile cannot be overstated, as it can significantly contribute to improving your site’s visibility and organic traffic.

Remember that link cleanup is an ongoing practice and should be integrated into your SEO strategy periodically to ensure continued success and a strong online presence.


What is the disavow link format?

Disavow link format is a text file using the ‘.txt’ extension that contains a list of URLs or domains you want Google to ignore as backlinks to your site.

Is there a difference between manual and automatic disavow settings for links?

Manual disavow requires user submission, while automatic disavow settings are algorithmic based on Google’s assessment of low-quality links.

Why ask Google to ignore links that they are already ignoring?

Asking Google to ignore links they are already ignoring ensures a clear signal of your disavowal intentions and aids in maintaining link quality.

Which type of link should I be most concerned about when it comes to being penalized by Google? 

Paid links, link schemes, and spammy backlinks should be of utmost concern to avoid Google penalties.

How long does it take Google to disavow links?

The time it takes for Google to disavow links varies, but it could take several weeks or months for the disavowal to affect your site’s performance fully.

About Scalenut 

Scalenut is an AI-powered SEO and content marketing platform that helps discover and create relevant content for your customers. The tool has simplified the entire process, whether it’s conceptualizing a content strategy, crafting thorough briefs, generating content, or implementing top-notch SEO practices. Click here to create a free account and explore the many features of this tool.

Suman Samal
Asst. Marketing Manager
ABout the AUTHOR
Suman Samal
Asst. Marketing Manager

Suman Samal is a Asst. Marketing Manager at Scalenut. She is a technology enthusiast with a keen interest in content marketing and SEO. She truly believes that with the right set of tools every organization can improve the ROI of their content marketing campaigns. She spends her time managing content operations at Scalenut and ensuring that everything we publish is of the highest quality.

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