Disavowing a Backlink: When Is It Okay to Say Bye Bye Bye to a Backlink?

November 19th, 2019 by Kaitlyn Johnson

If the internet was high school, websites would be the students and Google would be a top of the line, elite institution. Think of Google’s search engine algorithm as their admission’s department because it decides which students (websites) are worthy of being apart of their academy (The Top Search Results).

Keeping with this analogy, one of the ways The Top Search Results’ admissions department decides which students to let in is letters of recommendation, aka backlinks. Letters of recommendation from prominent, trust-worthy people put a nice polish on any application, right? On that same note, letters from sketchy people or from yourself can have a negative effect. No letters at all… Well, you get the point.

Thinking of backlinks as letters of recommendation is an excellent way to simplify a multifaceted part of SEO because that’s how search engines treat them when deciding which websites are most authoritative. Backlinks from reputable, popular sites (e.g. CNN.com, Forbes.com, Rollingstone.com) can do wonders for your domain authority and keyword rankings.

A backlink from a spammy site can have the opposite effect.

Although you can’t control who/what links to your site, you can disavow an unwanted link. Disavowing a link lets Google and other search engines know that even though a site is linking to yours, you have no association with it.

Disclaiming a backlink can do wonders for your SEO because it pulls out associations that could be hurting your rankings, and it makes backlinks from authoritative sites stand out even more. If you let link-building-professional Liam Cook tell it, “Link disavowing is almost as important as link-building for SEO.”

The trick (because there’s always a trick) comes in deciding which backlinks are harmful enough to your domain authority that they need to be disavowed. To help you out, here are a few good reasons to think about disavowing a backlink.

Gif from the film The Hangover

1. The link is coming from a spammy site

If you find that a link to your site has ended up on a spammy site, it is probably best to disavow the link right away. How can you tell that a site is spammy? According to Hamish Fitzhenry, three telltale signs are:

  • Having tons of links on one page
  • Taking a really long time to load
  • Having an abnormal amount of pages and links that 404

Cameron Conaway, one of Klipfolio’s senior marketing managers, says that a red flag for him is if the anchor isn’t in English.

However, if it is too hard to tell just by looking at a site, you can always check its Spam Score. As defined by Moz.com, a Spam Score is the portion of a site with attributes that are typically “penalized or banned by Google.” It is believed that a backlink from a site with a Spam Score that’s higher than 7 can raise the Spam Score of the receiving site.

2. The Link Isn’t Relevant to Your Industry

Let’s return to the analogy we started with.

Imagine that your application to The Top Search Results is impeccable. And then… admissions goes to read your letters of recommendation. You have two superb letters from Barbara, who runs a flower shop in your hometown, and your cousin Joey, who you babysat one summer. But none from academic relationships like past teachers or principals.

The two letters you have may be great, but they won’t be that helpful because they’re completely unrelated. The same thinking can be applied to a site’s backlink profile. If a website for used cars has a backlink from Foodnetwork.com, that could be a red flag that something isn’t right, so it’s worth checking out. Evaluate whether or not the backlink is organic and makes sense. It’s worthy to note, though, that an unrelated backlink probably won’t be from a recognizable website like Foodnetwork.com; it’ll likely be a domain that you’ve never heard of before.

(On a similar note, you should also think about disavowing backlinks from sites that are linking to URLs that you’ve removed from your site.)

3. The Link Isn’t Organic

Google values authenticity. It likes to keep it real (in this case). If a link wasn’t honestly earned, you may want to think about disavowing it.

Show us the real you gif

If a large percentage of your backlink profile is comprised of inorganic links, tread carefully. You’d do well to remember these words by Justin Metros: “The long term gain for positive SEO isn’t the number of backlinks you have but the quality of backlinks. Get rid of anything questionable.”

How Do You Keep a Handle on Your Backlink Profile?

Once you clean up your backlink profile, implementing a plan that will keep it squeaky clean will save you time in the future. You can use one of these backlink monitoring tools.

Majestic Bulk Backlink Checker

Majestic.com’s Bulk Backlink Checker is a subscriber-only service that lets users check 400 to one million URLs (depending on how you upload them). The program offers metrics like “Trust flow,” “Citation Flow,” and the number of NoFollow links on a site.


Ahrefs’ Backlink Checker “has the second most active web crawler after Google.” This platform offers URL metrics like the total number of backlinks, “Domain Rating” and “URL Rating.” It also offers a Backlinks report, which shows users every single site that links to theirs.

SE Ranking

SE Ranking uses Google Webmaster Tools data to show users their backlinks. You can use it to monitor your backlink profile and disavow links using a file the site will generate for you. This service comes with a small monthly fee, but the tool also allows you to track your site’s keyword rankings, do a website audit, and generate keywords.

Deciding which backlinks to disavow is no easy feat. So, here’s one last piece of advice from Mike Kawula, the CEO of Social Quant who also was named as one of the Top 100 Marketing Influencers in 2017: “My biggest piece of advice on deciding whether to disavow a link pointing to your site is to be sure SEO is your area of expertise. If it isn’t, either hire someone to handle it for you or bring on a contractor who specializes in this area.”

Luckily, Search Influence has a team of SEO experts who can help you develop a comprehensive backlink strategy. To learn more about our SEO services, call (504) 208-3900 or schedule a consultation.


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