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How to Detox Your Backlink Profile Using the Google Disavow Tool

by | Feb 16, 2016

Your Step by Step Guide to Creating a Google Disavow File

Has your website suffered a sudden drop in Google rankings? Perhaps you have been slapped by a Google algorithm update, or received a Manual Webspam Action notification in your Google Webmaster Tools account?

Whichever it is, one of the major things you need to rule out as a prime suspect is a suppression of rankings due to a high number unnatural ‘toxic’ links from low quality domains. Google is trying to stamp out manipulative link building practices to prevent gaming of the search results by acquiring large numbers of paid links. At the same time they are rewarding link building which appears organic and natural.

You can check for a Manual Action in your Webmaster Tools account, by logging in and clicking on Search Traffic > Manual Actions.

 

Manual Action Notice in Google Webmaster Tools

Manual Action Notice in Google Webmaster Tools

 

Lots of spammy, low quality backlinks pointing to your site can occur for a number of reasons, including;

  • Low quality backlink building efforts undertaken either by yourself, or an SEO Agency on your behalf
  • A Negative SEO attack by a competitor. Unfortunately, it is possible to harm the rankings of another website by pointing a high number of low quality links to it and many unscrupulous online providers offer this service
  • Automated bots that spread your link on low quality or unsecured websites that have been hacked, over which you have no control and which are continually proliferating

The only solution to rule out if this is the reason for your ranking decrease, especially in the absence of any Manual Action notifications from Google, is to check your backlink profile and disavow any low quality links pointing to your site using the Google Disavow Tool, then wait for about 2 months to see if this remedies the situation.

We would recommend you do this at least twice, preferably four times, per year as standard practice to keep your backlink profile healthy, updated and mitigate against the effects of any poor quality, or malicious SEO practices.

If this all seems like too much time and effort, we can provide this service to you to take out all the stress and worry. Please Contact Us if you would like to discuss this further.

In this article we’ll give you the specific tools you’ll need to undertake a link detox and a full step-by-step guide to the process.

 

Software Tools You’ll Need

  • Google Webmaster Tools account
  • Microsoft Excel or Open Office Calc (free open source version of Excel which we highly recommend)
  • Ahrefs and Majestic accounts, or
  • Alternatively to purchasing Ahrefs and Majestic subscriptions, you can source specific ‘Gigs‘ on Fiverr from providers who have access to the full software and will provide you with the relevant backlink reports as required at $5 USD per time. This is a much cheaper option than purchasing full subscriptions, especially if you are only going to use them a few times per year. Gigs we have used and can recommend are as follows;

Now that you’ve got all the tools you need, let’s start compiling our Disavow File!

 

Step 1: Gather Your Backlinks

We will use a variety of sources to gather a comprehensive list of as many of your backlinks as possible.

Google Webmaster Tools

Login to your Webmaster Tools account and click on Search Traffic > Links to Your Site > Who links the most > More

 

Google Webmaster Tools Links to Your Site

Google Webmaster Tools Links to Your Site

 

Now click both the ‘Download more sample links‘ and the ‘Download latest links‘ buttons and save both as .CSV files in a new folder on your computer.

 

Google Webmaster Tools Download Your Links

Google Webmaster Tools Download Your Links

 

Ahrefs and Majestic Backlink Reports

As Google won’t show you all of your backlinks, you should now either use the Fiverr Gigs as shown above, or use the full versions of Ahrefs and Majestic to run and download a full backlink report from each tool.

 

Step 2: Compile Your Backlinks

Now you should have a pretty exhaustive dataset including most of your backlinks. You want to create a new Excel or Open Office Calc spreadsheet and copy the URL columns from each of the Google Webmaster Tools spreadsheets, plus the Ahrefs and Majestic reports into Column A.

Save the new spreadsheet as MasterURLs.xls in Excel, or MasterURLs.ods in Open Office Calc.

This may result in a very large spreadsheet with many duplicates, but don’t worry we’ll remove duplicates in the following steps.

 

Step 3: Breakdown URLs to Subdomains

We want to now remove the inner page URL information that appears after the domain extension.

Eg. We’ll break down http://www.spammydomain.com/spammycommentpage to just http://www.spammydomain.com

Save your spreadsheet as Master1.xls (or Master1.ods in Open Office Calc).

Create a new column to the left and enter the following formula at the top of this new column;

=left(B1,find(“/”,B1,9)-1) in Excel or;

=left(B1;find(“/”;B1;9)-1) in Open Office Calc

For Excel users, highlight Column A then enter CTRL D to fill the column with the formula results.

In Open Office Calc, single click the first cell and double click the black box handle, as follows;

 

Open Office Calc Fill Formula Down the Column

Open Office Calc Fill Formula Down the Column

 

Next we want to replace Column A with the text only values produced by the formula and remove the formula itself.

To achieve this in Excel, highlight Column A and CTRL C to copy. Now go Edit > Paste Special > Paste Values Only

In Open Office, highlight Column A and CTRL C to copy. Now go Edit > Paste Special… > Check the Text option only > OK > Click Yes to Overwrite Existing Data

You should be left with a file that looks like this;

 

Formula Removed

Formula Removed

 

Step 4: Filter to Domain Level

Now resave your spreadsheet as Master2.xls or Master2.ods in Calc.

Next highlight Column A and click Edit > Find and Replace. Enter http:// in the Find field, leave the Replace field blank, and click Replace All.

In Open Office, highlight Column A and click Edit > Find & Replace. Enter http:// in the Find field, leave the Replace field blank, click the More Options button and check the Current selection only checkbox then click Replace All.

Repeat these steps for https:// and www.

 

Filter to Domain Level in Open Office Calc

Filter to Domain Level in Open Office Calc

 

You should now be left with a spreadsheet that looks like this;

 

Data Filtered to Domain Level

Data Filtered to Domain Level

 

Step 5: Remove Duplicate Links

We want to remove the duplicate links. First though we want to re-save the spreadsheet as Master3.xls or .ods

We also need to filter the columns by alphabetical order to help prevent the spreadsheet crashing, which is a common issue if there is a very large number of rows.

Highlight Column A and Column B, then click the Sort Ascending button (Open Office Calc).

 

Filter Alphabetically in Open Office Calc

Filter Alphabetically in Open Office Calc

 

Now create a new Column A, and enter the following formula;

=if(B1=B2,”duplicate”,”unique”) (Excel)

=if(B1=B2;”duplicate”;”unique”) (Open Office Calc)

Copy the formula down the new Column A to show you which are unique and which are duplicate links.

 

Spreadsheet Showing Duplicate & Unique Links

Spreadsheet Showing Duplicate & Unique Links

 

This can now be filtered to show only the duplicate links.

In Open Office Calc, this can be done by highlighting Column A and clicking Data > Filter > Standard Filter > Value > Duplicate > OK as follows;

 

Show Only the Duplicate Links

Show Only the Duplicate Links

 

Delete all the showing duplicate rows. Then remove the filter by highlighting Column A and clicking Data > Filter > Remove Filter in Open Office.

You should now be left with a spreadsheet that includes only the unique links.

Now save your spreadsheet again as a new version Master4.xls or .ods

You can now delete Column A.

 

Step 6: Add Clickable Hyperlinks to Domains

In Excel, this is usually done for you as standard, however if you are using Open Office Calc, you may need to add the hyperlinks, using the following formula in Column C.

=HYPERLINK($B1)

Copy the formula down Column C and then you can right click on Column B and select Hide, as you don’t need to see rows with the same information and you only want to see the column with the clickable hyperlinks for the next stage.

 

Step 7: Audit Your Links

Again save your spreadsheet as Master5.xls or .ods

Now add a new Column A and we can mark each link in that column with the notes disavow or keep.

Click through each and every link and put a note next to each to undertake an in depth audit.

NB. Be very careful not to mark any links disavow that you know are good quality links. This could end up hurting your rankings even more!

Questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not to disavow a link include;

  • Does the link reside on a website which is obviously low quality, a porn website or a site that looks generally dodgy?
  • Does the link reside on a website which relates to the service you provide in any way?
  • Is the link in the context of quality content?
  • Does it appear to be generated by an automated webspam bot?

After looking over a dozen or so websites, you will quickly begin to get a feel which are good and which are probably hurting your link profile.

Your spreadsheet should now look like this;

 

Backlink Audit Notes

Backlink Audit Notes

 

Save the spreadsheet again as Master6.xls or .ods

 

Step 8: Delete the Links You Want to Keep

Filter the data again to show only the ‘keep‘ rows, in the same way that you did the duplicate/unique rows. Delete these rows, then remove the filter.

You should be left with only the links to disavow.

Save your spreadsheet again as Master7.xls or .ods then delete Columns A, C and D.

 

Step 9: Add ‘domain:’ to Every Link

Google disavow file formatting requires that each domain level link be marked with domain: as follows;

domain:spammydomain.com

You should always disavow at the domain level, as there may be multiple links on a single domain that you may otherwise miss, plus it also keeps your disavow file down to a manageable size.

We can now add domain: to each link by inserting and copying down the following formula in Column B;

=”domain:”&A1 (Same for Excel and Open Office Calc)

Highlight and copy Column B, then Paste Special the values only, as you previously did in Step 3, into Column C. Now delete Columns A and B.

domain: should now appear in front of every link as follows;

 

Add domain: to URLS

Add domain: to URLS

 

Step 10: Create Your Google Disavow Tool File

In Notepad, create a new file called GoogleDisavow.txt and select ANSI as the encoding protocol.

 

Google Disavow File

Google Disavow File

 

Copy Column A from your spreadsheet by selecting each cell (not by highlighting the whole column) and paste into your Notepad file and save.

There is no need to comment your disavow file as many people suggest you should, as this is never read by any human employees of Google. The only reason to comment your file is for your own reference.

 

Step 11: Final Audit

We suggest you do a final visual check of all your links in your disavow file and remove any that shouldn’t be there… eg. obviously good links such as domain:youtube.com or domain:google.com as this could seriously hurt your rankings!

 

Step 12: Upload to Google Webmaster Tools

You can now upload your disavow file using the Google Disavow Tool.

Select your site from the list and click Disavow Links.

 

Google Disavow Tool Select Your Site

Google Disavow Tool Select Your Site

 

You can ignore the notice stating ‘You should still make every effort to clean up unnatural links’ as this would be an exhaustive, time consuming and unproductive process, especially with a large number of links. In order to do this, you would have to contact every webmaster, track the contacts, hope they respond to your request and act on it. You would be very lucky to have 5 percent actually remove your link, so it is really a waste of your time and effort.

On the next page, click ‘Disavow Links‘ again then select your GoogleDisavow.txt file, then hit the Submit button. If all goes well you should see the confirmation success message;

 

Successful Upload of Google Disavow File

Successful Upload of Google Disavow File

 

You may have some errors, which will show in the Results field. Take the suggested action to remedy these, then reupload your file.

Some common errors include;

  • Having a port number after the domain, eg. domain:spammydomain.com:888. In this case remove the :888 part
  • Having a missed http://www. extension. Remove this part and reupload your file
  • Having a www2. domain. eg. www2.spammydomain.com. Again remove the www2. part and reupload your file

 

How Long Will it Take to See Results?

The way the Google Disavow Tool work is that it adds an automatic “nofollow” attribute to your disavowed links. So in that sense, it starts to have an effect as soon as it uploaded and Google starts to crawl the links. However it can take a couple of months before every link is re-crawled by Google, so don’t expect to see real results within a few weeks, especially if you have a large list of domains in your file.

Ultimately, when attempting to recover from a suspected penalty, it is a process of ruling out factors that may be affecting your rankings. If you do not have a Manual Action notice, then you have no definite information from Google to work on. Uploading your disavow file is just one part of this process of ruling out potential suspects. If you see your rankings start to recover after uploading, then great, unnatural links probably were to blame. If not then you may need to look at a whole range of other potential causes.

 

Keeping Your Disavow Up to Date

NB. Uploading a new disavow will override the old one, it does not add to it. So when updating your file, you need to add new domains to the previous list. If you only upload new domains, then the old ones will eventually become re-avowed the next time Google crawls them.

If you have a real problem with unnatural links, often due to an automated bot or negative SEO attack then you should redo this process at least twice per year, preferably on a quarterly basis, or even monthly.

If you suspect that unnatural links have had a negative impact on your website rankings in Google and the thought of doing the above process yourself makes you loose the will to live, then Contact Us Now and we can carry out this essential but painstaking task for you.

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