Be Wary of Backlinks in Disavow Files

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The term ‘black hat’ SEO isn’t bandied around as frequently as it used to, and that’s probably for two reasons. First, developments in the web development industry have made it so that it’s not the buzzword it once needed to be. And then there’s the fact that engaging in less-than-ethical SEO aims via shady link building just doesn’t occur like it used to. There are many reasons for that, but Google’s Disavow File is a big part of why black hat SEO doesn’t get your very far anymore.

Here at 4GoodHosting, like any Canadian web hosting provider we don’t pretend to be web development experts but we are sufficiently knowledgeable regarding the subject. Sharing anything and everything we know with our customers is part of what we do, with the hope that by enabling those managing their website they’ll get more out of their digital and internet marketing efforts. It’s competitive out there, and the value of strong search engine rankings can’t be overstated.

For those of you who may not be familiar with them, a disavow file is a .txt file that contains instructions to Google informing them that you’d prefer if they ignored any number of links to your website. And the reason for doing so? Because they’re having a negative impact on your rankings. Google created it so that webmasters can push back against unsolicited mail and be able to ignore any links that are still pointed to their website after link treatment options have been unsuccessful.

Typically, it’s a last resort option used when certain pesky links aren’t neutralized by standard link removal means. It’s very effective and scads of users have put it to good use over recent years. The best of them contain both root domains and links to individual pages along with comments detailing your removal efforts undertaken for each.

Pay Extra Attention

A recent piece of advice from a Google webmaster trends analyst and industry expert has been warmly received across the industry, and it concerns how some links can actually pair with disavow files to cause your rankings to drop quite pronouncedly. The long and short of it is that you may wish to adjust the links in your disavow file if your rankings drop after submitting it.

There could be any number or reasons behind your employing a disavow file – maybe you engaged in some shady link building practices, or experienced negative SEO, or simply decided to look over backlink profile when auditing and found many low-quality backlinks flagged by link audit tools like CognitiveSEO, SEMrush, or Ahrefs.

These are all good tools for carrying out a link audit, but on occasion there may be some links that you are unsure about, and it’s in these instances when a disavowed file can cause your rankings to drop.

What we can learn here is that we have total control over which backlinks appear in your disavow file and can add or remove them at any time.

The question is typically in trying to understand if the backlinks are bad but have not been flagged by Google yet. A primary consideration in determining this is to see if the backlinks are new. If so, they may not have been categorized or flagged by Google as bad backlinks, but that does not mean they won’t be in the future.

As a result it’s not a good idea to spend a huge amount of time chasing those one or two links that look bad, but that you wish to remove from your disavow file. It’s better to put that time and energy into creating more high-quality content, but that’s somewhat besides the point here. Another common question is how long it takes for links to count after being removed from your disavow file.

Google SEO is constantly evolving, and the ways they counter spammers by incorporating delays in ranking changes after making changes is one of their ways to deter the practice. Spammers can no longer take advantage of instant trial and error testing. When it comes to the use of disavow files, though, the common – and logical – belief is that it will be a little problematic / confusing because there is a time delay from when you remove a link from the disavow before it starts to count again.

That’s not the case, however. Google has clarified that there is NO artificial delay or time-penalty and that rather it involves Google recrawling, re-indexing and reprocessing the pages. It is still unclear whether Google will reinstate links removed immediately, and there is likely a significant time delay.

Just how long this reprocessing element takes is also unclear, but the belief is that it is not something that happens overnight, even if that appears to be the case.

The process does take a small amount of time, so don’t expect an immediate recovery and don’t expect your disavow file to be all-powerful in addressing shady links pointing to your website. Do use them, though, and the consensus is that it’s best to let things settle for 3 months after making any significant changes. You can expect some links to be updated faster than others but overall it seems this is the best bet when trying to analyze the effect of any link network changes you make.

There’s much more on this topic discoverable with a quick Google search of ‘best ways to use google disavow files’, and if this is something that’s relevant for you we encourage you to build on the understanding you’ve gained here. Hope it’s been helpful.

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