As everybody from SEO fraternity understand Google algorithm considers more than 200 signals to determine ranking. Page Rank was an important signal, but recently Google confirmed that PR will not be updated going forward instead will be considering DA & PA (Domain Authority & Page Authority) as major ranking signals. Even Though DA & PA considers multiple factors, relevancy and popularity of incoming link will be one of the major deciding factors. In last couple of years the importance has beenshifted from quantity of backlinks to quality of backlinks. So in short if you have a set of unnatural spammy backlinks pointing to your site, it may hurt your site rather than helping in ranking. We have put down step by step process for how to remove bad backlinks / unnatural backlinks using disavow links tool in Google Webmasters.
Whether the myth around the number 13 being unlucky, is true or not, we had a very bad incident on september 13, 2014. We have been working on an SEO project for a UK client. There was a consistent improvement in the website rankings and the client’s website was in top 20 for most of his keywords. On September 13, there was a sharp fall of rankings to below 500 in Google, without any specific reason.
We underwent a thorough investigation to understand what caused the ranking fall.
Findings of Investigation
- Sitemap – Issue found – A Plugin used to update sitemap was not working properly
- Researched any Google algorithm update reported recently – Found that some popular seo websites confirming a penguin update for US market only and at the time of writing this article there is confirmation that same update is been rolled out to UK, Canada & Australia( to all english speaking locals except India)
- Any Duplicate Content issue persists – No issues found
- Server issues – No issues found
- Crawl Error – No issues found
- Robot.txt blocking – not blocking any google bots
- Any no indexing issue triggered by any plugins – No issue found
- Any manual action initiated in webmasters – No issues found
Even after one month of fixing all identified issues, we didn’t see any ranking improvement. So we decided to go ahead with filtering and removing all bad backlinks to the website. Google advises to use disavow tool only in case if manual action is initiated against your website. So ensure that you are using this tool as last weapon from your arsenal.
Check out what Matt Cutts have to say about Disavow Tool
How to remove bad Backlinks – Step by Step process using Disavow Tool
Step 1 : Download entire list of backlinks for webmaster tool.
Webmaster Tool → Search traffic → Links to Your Site → Dow36nload complete list
Step 2 : Filter out all unwanted / spammy backlinks.
This step will be the most time consuming process, as it requires each domain to be checked separately to identify whether it is a spammy website or not.
Step 3 : Create a .txt file with all links which need to removed.
Things to remember while creating .txt file
1.By adding domain name, google will ignore all links from that particular domain.
2. Add only one url in a line
3. Can add description text about links – Begin with “#” character. All lines starting with “#” will be ignored by google.
Step 4 : Go to : https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main
Choose the domain for which you want disavow links.(If you have access to multiple webmaster accounts)
Step 5: You will get a warning (saying if not used properly, can potentially harm your sites ranking negatively), continue with the process.
Step 6 : Upload .txt file with identified unnatural links, you want to remove.
Step 7: After successful upload will get a notification immediately.Also you will get a message on webmasters site messages section about the same.
The damage control measure seems to have helped the website. Today after 45 days of the activity, ranking & traffic are back. Major keywords are once again back on top 20.
Disavow Links Tool – Statutory Warning
As a statutory warning,use Disavow tool in first instance, only if your website has got any manual action warning from Google. Secondly if your website ranking fall considerably and not recovering even after 2 months (after fixing all other issues), then you should seriously consider cleaning up your backlinks.
Going forward webmasters should focus on getting quality backlinks avoiding all possible unnatural links from spammy websites. Its better to be proactive, rather than getting penalised and recovering, especially when the recovery process is much more time consuming than ranking.
Please share if you have a better process to manage all kinds of bad backlinks.