As we know, your website’s link profile is one of the most important search engine ranking factors of all. In spite of this fact, many less experienced online marketers fall into the trap of putting quantity before quality and relevancy. The result tends to be having large numbers of links on websites which are completely unrelated to your own, or worse still, having links on websites that have already been penalized by Google. In other situations, your website can become the victim of a negative SEO campaign whereby an unscrupulous competitor deliberately tries to discredit your website by harming its link profile.

There are both good links and bad links. A link on a high-quality website that already has a good standing in Google and is related to your own in terms of subject matter will reflect well on you, and your exposure in the search engine will increase as a result. However, a link on a poor-quality website, such as a content farm, article directory or a website belonging to a heavily spammed niche, such as gambling or adult content, will hurt you rankings. In such cases, these links can result in your website being penalized by the search engines, either algorithmically or manually. If you have a lot of bad links, your website may even be removed from Google’s indexes entirely.

If you have ever paid for links, something that is against Google’s terms of use, you could see severe consequences for your website. Likewise, if someone has deliberately placed bad links to your website by taking advantage of the fact that external links are, to a degree, beyond your control, your website may also receive a penalty. If your website has received a penalty, or you suspect that it may do in the near future, you can use Google’s Disavow Tool, and this will tell the search engine to ignore those links when ranking your website.

A Word of Warning

When you access the Disavow Tool, you’ll receive a warning from Google reminding you to proceed with caution. The main reason for this warning is that Google does not want to encourage webmasters to use the tool indiscriminately without attempting to remove the offending links first. In fact, the Disavow Tool is intended to be used as a last resort for disavowing links that you have absolutely no control over, in spite of having tried to get them removed yourself.

When You Should Use the Disavow Tool

The one time when you should always use the Disavow Tool is if your website receives a manual penalty from Google. If you set up Google Webmaster Tools to send you alerts, you’ll know immediately if the search engine penalizes your website. Manual penalties are the most severe, and they tend to be given to websites infected with malware or those with extremely questionable link profiles or content. You should also use the Disavow Tool when you receive an automatic algorithmic penalty and you have been unable to get the bad links removed yourself. While not as severe as a manual penalty, an algorithmic one can still have disastrous consequences for your website.

You can also use the Disavow Tool to remove questionable links when you routinely check your link profile, but you should be wary when doing so. According to Google’s Matt Cutts, the search engine does not have a problem if you use the tool to remove links on suspicious domains, particularly if they have obviously been created by a negative SEO campaign or some automated process.

How to Use the Disavow Tool

Before you turn to using the Disavow Tool, you should request that the link be removed unless you have received a manual or algorithmic penalty that requires immediate attention. You can find offending links using the Google Webmaster Tools, which is also where you’ll find the Disavow Tool. Contact the webmasters of the offending websites and request that you have your links removed, and wait up to a week for a response. If nothing happens, then you can notify Google to tell them that you do not want the links taken into account when it assesses your website.

To use the Disavow Tool, you will need to create a text file called disavow.txt. This file must contain a list of the links to webpages containing links to your own that you want removed. If you want to disavow an entire domain, you’ll need to write ‘domain:’ followed by the domain (without spaces, quotes and the www). Additionally, you can and should provide a record of your link removal efforts by placing a # in front of the message. Finally, access the Disavow Links option from Google Webmaster Tools and upload the text file you created. Note that it can take a number of weeks for the process to be completed.