How to Disavow Backlinks That Are Toxic

Healthy SEO Garden vs. Toxic Backlinks Weeds

A backlink is considered a toxic backlink if it harms your website's health. These links often come from spammy, low-quality, or irrelevant websites. They result from shady tactics, such as buying links or joining private backlink networks (PBNs). Google's quality guidelines consider these practices violations. A link meant to manipulate search engine rankings, rather than add value, is toxic.

To check for toxic backlinks and spot harmful backlinks, check the quality and relevance of sites linking to you. Watch for links from:

  • Unrelated industry sites or those without contextual relevance.
  • Websites with high ahrefs spam score, characterized by excessive ads and low-quality content.
  • Sites known for link schemes, selling links, or hosting spammy backlinks.

    The Backlink Audit Tool by Semrush helps manage your backlink profile and flags links by toxicity level.Detective Auditing a Complex Web of Backlinks

    Here's a comparative analysis of leading backlink audit tools:

    Tool Name

    Effectiveness in Managing Toxic Backlinks

    Key Features




    Identifies unnatural links with AI and machine learning


    Link Detox Smart


    Genesis AI for data-driven audits


    Backlink Analytics


    Over 50 parameters for detailed analysis


    These tools offer in-depth analysis and insights on managing your backlink profile with AI and machine learning. The right tool for you depends on needs, budget, and the complexity of your backlink profile.

    Maintaining your website's health demands the removal of harmful backlinks, also known as disavowing links. This involves two primary methods: manual removal and using the disavow tool as a last resort.

    Manual Removal Approach

    Semrush's Backlink Audit Tool helps identify harmful links, ensuring you can define disavow accurately. After identifying them, contact the webmasters of these sites to request link removal. This step, though time-consuming, is necessary before considering disavowal. When reaching out, be polite and direct. Explain your removal request and provide the specific URL that needs deletion.

    Using Google Disavow Tool as a Last Resort

    If manual removal fails or the backlink volume is unmanageable, consider using the Disavow Links Tool from Google. For detailed steps on compiling your disavow list and submitting it, refer to the 'Steps to Disavow Toxic Backlinks' section.

    After submitting a file to disavow links Google Search Console, understand the following potential effects on your ranking:

    • Google might take months to review google penalties and manual actions related to disavowed links.
    • Expect fluctuations in traffic and rankings as Google processes the disavow file.
    • There's no specified timeline for when Google will process a disavow request and apply changes to your rankings.

      Disavow tool use requires caution. Google advises against misuse as it can negatively impact your site's search performance. Use it only when manual removal isn't possible, especially for numerous spammy or low-quality links.

      To effectively remove toxic backlinks, you'll need to identify these harmful links, compile them into a disavow list, and then upload this file to Google.

      1. Identify Harmful Links or Domains: Begin with a thorough audit of your backlinks and pinpoint any that are harmful or toxic to your website's SEO.
      2. Compile a Disavow List: Create a .txt file using UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII encoding to list down harmful links or domains:
          • Ensure to list one URL or domain per line. Use domain: prefix for disavowing entire domains.
          • URLs must not exceed 2,048 characters.
          • Your disavow file can contain up to 100,000 lines, which includes both comments (marked with a #) and URLs/domains.

        Example based on Google's guidelines:

        # Two pages to disavow
        # One domain to disavow

        Uploading Your Disavow File to Google

        1. Navigate to Google Disavow Tool page and select the property for which the links will be disavowed.
        2. Upload your .txt disavow list. A new upload will overwrite any existing file, so ensure to combine previous disavowals with the new ones in a single file.
        3. If errors are detected, you'll need to correct them as your file won't replace the existing one until these issues are resolved.

          Note: Google may take several weeks to process your disavow list. Be sure to upload a disavow list for both HTTP and HTTPS versions of your site, if applicable.

          After Uploading: What to Expect

          • Processing Time: It typically takes Google a few weeks to process the uploaded disavow file, which involves recrawling the web and reprocessing the pages with the disavowed links.
          • Impact on SEO Ranking:
            • Enhancements in ranking directly from disavowing links are uncommon. Improvements might be due to other concurrent optimization efforts.
            • Google's algorithms have become adept at automatically ignoring many types of problematic links, reducing the need for manual disavowal.
            • Significant changes in results, if any, may become noticeable after several weeks.

          Refer to the official support document for comprehensive details on the disavow process.


            Success and Recovery Post-Disavow

            It may take weeks for Google to process your disavow request. Google needs to recrawl the web and reprocess its indexed pages. During this period, monitor your website's performance and search rankings closely.

            Recovery from manual actions or ranking drops due to toxic backlinks is gradual. It often takes about 1 month to observe the disavow effects on search rankings.

            If initial efforts don’t bring the expected results, you might need to refine your disavow file. Use the Disavow Tool cautiously. Its purpose is to help sites disown potentially penalizing links. Only disavow links after thorough analysis and unsuccessful attempts to remove backlink.

            The Dramatic Transformation of SEO Landscapes

            SEO Benefits and Risks Involved

            By using Google's Disavow Tool, you communicate to Google which links should be ignored, aiding in the recovery from manual actions caused by unnatural links as outlined in Google's guidelines. This process, when done correctly, can significantly restore your site's credibility with Google.

            However, disavowing links is not without its risks. Incorrectly disavowing beneficial links could inadvertently damage your site's performance by removing links that contribute positively to your site's authority and search rankings. 

            The effectiveness and timeline of a disavow request are also worth noting. According to Search Engine Journal, Google typically processes these requests within a few days, although the actual impact on search rankings may take longer to manifest. This is due to Google needing to assess and integrate the changes from the disavow file into its ranking considerations.

            Successfully disavowing the right links can mitigate the effects of a manual penalty. It's most effective when combined with an ongoing strategy to acquire high-quality backlinks.

            Regular checks for harmful backlinks are essential to address issues before they lead to penalties. Starting with a monthly audit of your backlinks allows you to identify any dangerous links promptly. Look out for links from domains with questionable authority or those irrelevant to your content, as early detection facilitates the removal request process with site owners before needing to resort to disavowal.

            According to Google's guidelines, disavowing backlinks is advisable if they're spammy, artificial, or low-quality and could lead to manual actions against your site. The step-by-step approach involves initially attempting request-based removal due to its higher success rate when webmasters are cooperative. This can vary based on webmaster responsiveness and the volume of links.

            To streamline your backlink management process, leverage tools like the Semrush Backlink Audit Tool, which is effective for identifying, monitoring, and disavowing toxic backlinks. Its features include:

            • Automated Detection: Weekly reports on new backlinks help you stay on top of your link profile.
            • Disavow File Creation: Easily export a list of toxic backlinks in the correct format for Google's Disavow Tool.
            • Comprehensive Analysis: Assess the toxicity score of backlinks to decide decisively which ones to disavow.

              Utilizing these tools not only saves time but also provides a deeper analysis than what's possible through manual reviews. Given the significant impact toxic backlinks can have on website rankings—and the fact many websites face penalties due to spammy links.Wizard Harnessing the Magic of SEO Tools

              Properly managing your backlink profile involves regular audits and taking decisive actions to disavow harmful links. To successfully navigate the complexities of backlink disavowal, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the best practices and to approach the task with a strategic mindset.

              Here are the top 5 most common sources:

              • Poor backlink profile
              • Links from pages with HTTP status error (400, 500)
              • Spammy backlinks
              • Manipulative backlinks
              • Irrelevant or low-quality websites

                Understanding these sources can help you identify harmful links more easily.

                You should consider disavowing backlinks if your site has many spammy, artificial, or low-quality links that could trigger a manual action from Google. While only a small percentage of websites face manual actions for such links, it's necessary for sites affected by negative SEO or penalized by Google.

                Frequency of Updates and Reversal

                Update your disavow file only when necessary, as Google takes a few weeks to process a disavow request. Frequent updates are discouraged. Ensure your list is comprehensive before submitting to avoid the need for constant adjustments.

                Answering Common Concerns and Misconceptions About the Disavow Process

                We'll explore when and how to disavow backlinks and address common concerns.

                You should only disavow backlinks if:

                1. Google has issued a manual action against your site for unnatural links.
                2. You're dealing with many spammy, artificial, or low-quality links that manual outreach hasn't resolved.

                  How to Disavow Correctly

                  To properly disavow backlinks, adhere to these steps:

                  • Use tools like Semrush's Backlink Audit Tool to spot harmful links.
                  • Draft a .txt file listing these harmful links or domains, according to Google's format.
                  • Submit this file through Google's Disavow Tool.

                    When adding new links to disavow, submit a new file that includes both the old and new links. Google might take a few weeks to process these requests, so patience is key after submission.

                    Common Concerns and Misconceptions

                    Misuse Can Harm Your Site: Disavowing backlinks incorrectly can lower your site's search performance. Only disavow if you are certain the links are detrimental and after failed attempts to have them removed.

                    Effects May Take Time: The results of disavowing links are not immediate. Google needs time to process these requests and to re-crawl the web.

                    Is It Permanent?: Disavowing links is not irreversible. If you mistakenly disavow links, you can simply remove them from your disavow file and resubmit.

                    Recommendations for Further Reading on Best Practices

                    1. Google's Official Guide on Disavowing Links: Google's support page is the go-to for backlink disavowal details. It highlights how to prevent misuse and correctly apply the tool. Recent guidelines indicate limited need for disavowal except for avoiding manual penalties. It's essential for SEO professionals to keep up with these guidelines. Read more on Google Search Console Help.
                    2. SEMrush's Comprehensive Disavow Links Guide: SEMrush provides insights on when and why to disavow links, identifying harmful backlinks, and the step-by-step disavowal process. The guide underlines the importance of cautious disavowal. It also features their Backlink Audit Tool for efficient management. Explore SEMrush's guide here.
                    3. Deep Dive into Backlink Audit with SEMrush: This resource covers backlink profile management using SEMrush's Backlink Audit tool. SEMrush supports proactive link ecosystem maintenance, offering a wide range of SEO tools for analysis and management. Discover more about disavowing backlinks at SEMrush.

                      Recent studies show:

                      • Disavowing links can remove harmful links before they affect rankings.
                      • Google advises disavowing links mainly in specific situations, highlighting the importance of identifying harmful backlinks.

                        Staying updated with the latest tools for backlink management:



                        Key Features



                        Fast backlink discovery, comprehensive SEO toolset, backlink analysis, and management



                        Wide range of backlink indexing, domain analysis tools, deep crawl capability, solid reporting



                        Backlink tracking, domain analysis, website audit tools, backlink profile analysis


                        Answer the Public

                        Website audit, rank tracking, keyword research, competitor rank tracking



                        Membership plans from $33/month, unlimited data and downloads, supports website SEO improvement


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