Disavow Links: What It Means, How to Do It, and Why It Matters for SEO

Learn the essentials of backlink disavowal to safeguard your website’s SEO. Discover when and how to disavow links, the pros and cons, and the step-by-step process for using Google’s disavow tool effectively. Gain insights into monitoring your results and ensuring your link strategy enhances your search rankings. Stay ahead with tips for identifying harmful backlinks and making informed decisions to protect your site’s online presence.

Updated: June 19, 2024
disavow links

Need content for your business? Find top writers on WriterAccess!

You already know that your online presence holds crucial importance for the success of your business. You might not know some of the numbers associated with that fact.

According to Forbes, organic clicks account for 45 percent of all web traffic. More of your business website’s visitors will come from successful SEO than anything else you can do.

On top of that, the most important factors for SEO are the quality of content and backlinks.

All of this is to say that you need to control your backlinks for quality. If you’re not sure how to accomplish this, then you’re in the right place. Today, you’re going to learn about backlink disavowal.

    What Does It Mean to Disavow Links?

    The process of disavowing links involves creating a special text file that names specific links on other websites that point to your site. Website owners typically do this when they find unwanted links that they cannot control or get taken down. The disavow file tells search engines to ignore those links—usually because they are low-quality and may even harm your search rankings.

    The best way to really understand link disavowal is to dive into Google-specific rules and recommendations. After all, Google remains the dominant search engine.

    According to Google, if you have bad links (paid, spammy, and/or unnatural), it can lead to something called manual action. This happens when Google decides that there’s something wrong with your website, and spammy links certainly fit that bill.

    When a manual action is declared, someone at Google intentionally lowers your site’s rankings because of these violations (links only being one example).

    Google recommends removing spammy links that might lead to manual action. If you can’t eliminate the links, then you can disavow them by creating a disavow file. That will fix the problem.

    This leads to a natural question.

    When should you disavow links?

    Once again, Google provides a clear answer. Only disavow links when two conditions are met: “You have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and, the links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action.”

    Is It Good to Disavow Links?

    From what you have read so far, it seems like disavowing links is a great thing, right?

    Not so fast. Optimal use of the link disavow process requires discretion. As you learn both the pros and cons of disavowal, it becomes clearer when you should or should not disavow links.


    For the most part, the pros of disavowing links boil down to one simple thing. The technique can improve your search rankings, particularly in response to a manual action.


    As for the cons, it’s easy to disavow links that are not harming your SEO rankings. In fact, you can disavow links to your own detriment if you target links that were benefiting your search rankings.

    When in doubt, it’s usually better to avoid disavowal. Only use it when you confidently know that certain targets harm your search rankings.

    With the pros and cons covered, it’s time to debunk one of the most pervasive myths regarding disavowal. It is NOT a permanent choice.

    After you create a disavow file, you can always edit or remove it later.

    What this really means is that, above all else, keep an eye on how your search rankings fair after you disavow. If you see negative outcomes, reverse the process.

    Google March 2024 Core Update: Low-Quality Sites Being Deindexed
    The SEO Shift: Why Google No Longer Values Links Like Before
    How Google SGE Is Redefining Organic Traffic Across Industries
    What is Generative Engine Optimization (GEO), and how does it relate to SEO?

    How to Disavow Links to Your Site

    Of course, disavowing and reversing disavowals will probably seem a lot easier when you know the actual process, so let’s go over it.

    In order to disavow a specific link, you need to know the URL or domain of the site that hosts the link and the exact link in question. We’re going to use “example.com” to walk you through the process.

    To get started, you will have to create a text file. It needs the proper encoding for Google to recognize it as a disavow file, so use UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII.

    Once you have your file, you are going to list every link that you want to disavow. To do that, simply type the URL on its own line, like this:


    You can do this for specific links or disavow entire domains. The latter would look more like this:


    After you create the file, you need to upload it. Each website you own can have a separate disavow list. You can always add more links to the list later, and you may remove them at will.

    To actually upload the list, you must visit the disavow links tool page. On that page, you can select a file. Choose the correct text file for the website in question. Once the upload has been completed, you’re done. But, keep in mind that it could take a few weeks for the list to be reflected in your SEO rankings.

    What Is the Difference Between Disavowing and Removing Backlinks?

    At this point, we can make some important distinctions.

    Most notably, disavowing a link does not remove it from a website or prevent it from working. If a user clicks on a disavowed link, it will still take them to the link destination.

    What’s the point, then?

    When you have bad links, it’s typically best to eliminate them (when possible). This is commonly referred to as “removing backlinks.” As a practice, you should do this to links that hurt your rankings, along with links that don’t work anymore.

    To the extent possible, removing backlinks is better than disavowing them, with one exception. Once you completely eliminate a backlink, it might be difficult to restore (if it turns out to be a good link). Removing a link from a disavow list is much easier.

    The issue is that you don’t directly control many of the backlinks that point to your website. Perhaps you have paid an SEO company to create backlinks for you. In this unfortunate example, they posted spam links that actually hurt your rankings.

    You can request that the company remove those links, but if they don’t comply, you have no way to get rid of the bad links. Disavowal is the only option left at this point, and that’s why it exists. It’s basically a last resort to help your website comply with Google rules.

    Tips for Effective Link Disavowal

    Now that you understand what disavowal is and how it works, there are still a few more details to cover. How do you use this technique effectively?

    Target the right links

    You want to target bad links and leave good links alone, but how can you accurately identify them?

    In some cases, it’s obvious. Certain websites specialize in link spamming, and you don’t want your site to get caught in that spam. You can always disavow such domains to make your life a little easier.

    But, that line of thinking only goes so far. Google uses rather sophisticated methods to calculate link values, and it’s not always easy to determine which links are good or bad.

    Fortunately, the company offers a tool that could help you. You can go to the Search Console to get a link report for your website. It summarizes all of the backlinks that Google has found and lets you know which ones are undesirable.

    You can use this and other reports as a roadmap to see what backlinks need to be taken down. Any links that you can’t remove can make their way to the disavow list.

    Beyond that report, a little bit of discretion can help your cause. Ultimately, Google is looking for links that add value to content. You might notice some links in this very article. When you read about the Search Console, its name was linked to take you there. That link adds contextual value because it may help answer one of your questions.

    Meanwhile, if the next link took you to a page to buy wool socks, that wouldn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Such a link fails the context test, and it would probably lower the search rankings of this page.

    This line of thinking can help you evaluate links.

    Watch your results

    This was mentioned earlier, but SEO results can also help guide your efforts. See how your website’s search rankings change after you update the disavow list. If the rankings improve, great job! Keep up the good work.

    If they go down, you need to carefully reconsider the links on that list. However, things are a little trickier than that.

    Search results are extremely dynamic. You might create an excellent disavow list and still see your rankings go down for entirely unrelated reasons.

    Nevertheless, you’re going to outperform most of the crowd by sticking to the golden rule. If you were a user, would you find the link helpful or useful? If yes, it’s probably a good link. And if not, it’s a bad link.

    That will remain your guiding principle.

    And with that, you’re ready to tackle backlinks. You know when to disavow, how to disavow, and how to undo the process if something goes wrong.

    As you look for more ways to improve search rankings, traffic, and your bottom line, WriterAccess can help. We can assist as you scale your content production. Enjoy a 14-day trial to get the feel of it and see exactly what it can do for you.


    Human Crafted Content

    Find top content freelancers on WriterAccess.

    Human Crafted Content

    Find top content freelancers on WriterAccess.

    Andrew Jollet Rock author vector
    Technology Researcher and Writer

    Subscribe to our blog

    Sign up to receive Rock Content blog posts

    Rock Content WriterAccess - Start a Free Trial

    Order badass content with WriterAccess. Just as we do.

    Find +15,000 skilled freelance writers, editors, content strategists, translators, designers and more for hire.

    Want to receive more brilliant content like this for free?

    Sign up to receive our content by email and be a member of the Rock Content Community!

    Talk to an expert and enhance your company’s marketing results.

    Rock Content offers solutions for producing high-quality content, increasing organic traffic, building interactive experiences, and improving conversions that will transform the outcomes of your company or agency. Let’s talk.