Link building is one of the most important SEO practices that can boost visibility in major search engines such as Google.
Unfortunately, harmful linkbuilding practices can not only damage your websites search ranking but also result in being removed entirely from the search results.
Websites such as Fiverr and UpWork have become havens for freelancers to pitch shady link building services which according to Google would be considered unethical practices or “black hat” SEO.
Unnatural link building tactics are often times done inadvertently by amateur SEO’s trying to exploit search engines in order to improve ranking or purposely against competitor websites but tend to do the exact opposite.
Why disavow backlinks?
By disavowing backlinks, you can let Google know that you are not endorsing any “unnatural” or spammy links pointing to your website.
Through this practice you can improve a websites search engine ranking that has been affected or penalized from harmful backlinks.
What is Negative SEO
Negative SEO is the practice of using unethical or “black hat” tactics in order to deliberately sabotage a competitors rankings.
The harmful backlinks can consist of any of the following:
- Creating fake social profiles
- Building thousands of spammy links from comments and forums
- Posting spun, copied or plagiarized content on other websites
- Attaining links on websites that have a high spam score
- Using keywords in links such as porn, Viagra, poker and others
- Posting links on websites in other languages or in other countries
- Links from harmful link networks or private link networks (PBN)
Sadly, hundreds of freelancers can be hired on sites such as Fiverr for as little as $5 for negative SEO. They will build thousands of low quality backlinks in an effort to damage a websites search ranking.
This unethical practice can cause a company severe financial loss and not to mention is just plain dirty.
How to cleanup your backlink profile
There are several online tools available through websites such as and which allow you to easily export and identify harmful backlinks that may be affecting a website.
Of course not everyone may have access to these tools, so I’m going to provide a simple and free method to cleanup your backlink profile.
1. Setup your website with Google Search Console
Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) is a very handy tool that is often neglected by most web design companies.
GSC provides many benefits that include: improve site indexing and visibility, keep inventory of a websites backlink profile, measure clickthroughs from the organic search results, monitor site health & performance; provide alerts for any indexing issue and more.
2. Export list of backlinks
Once logged into Google Search Console you can export a full list of all backlinks which point to your website in spreadsheet format.
To do this:
i) Select Links from the left hand menu
ii) Click Export External Links button on top right and select the “More sample Links” option from the dropdown
iii) Choose preferred export format
3. Filter & Identify harmful backlinks
Install the MOZ Tools bar which will provide two valuable metrics that will help determine harmful websites: Domain Authority & Spam Score.
Domain Authority – is a search engine ranking score out of 100 that predicts how well a website will rank based on multiple factors including linking domains.
Spam Score – represents a percentage based on several factors similar to sites that have been penalized or banned by Google. A spam score over 31% is likely spammy but you should always check the quality and relevance of the website.
Filter through the links in the spreadsheet, identify each domain and copy any negative backlinks into a second column.
The basic criteria I use when adding domains to a disavow file include:
1) Are not relevant to your site topic/industry. However, there are where this may not apply such as sites that have a high domain authority, low spam score and are highly credible such as Forbes or Business Insider.
2) If they have a high spam score. Anything over 31% is potentially a red flag.
3) Pages that include links with anchor text unrelated to your site; especially if they include keywords such as porn, viagara, poker etc.
4) Are in a different language than your website or use another countries TLD. For example, if you’re website is targeting Canada (.ca) and you have backlinks that are from India (.in).
5) Are low quality link directories.
3. Format your spreadsheet
i) delete the additional columns leaving only the external URLs columns
ii) Filter through each URL and put unwanted domains into a second column which will be the domains to be disavowed.
iii) Create a 3rd column and run the following formula to turn URL’s into the correct format for the disavow file ie domain:spammysite.com
v) Copy the list of contents of the third column and place into a text file. The file name is not important and should look like the screenshot below. This is the file that will be submitted to the Google disavow tool.
4. Submit the file using Google’s Disavow Tool
Countless SEO experts have suggested contacting webmasters to remove backlinks from harmful websites. This is not only time consuming but also puts the onus into the hands of some unknown webmaster who may not take it down.
Thankfully, Google has provided the Disavow Tool which allows website owners to submit a list of domains or page URL’s that they do not consider credible or counted in a backlink profile.
i) Visit Google’s Disavow Tool page
ii) Select your domain from the dropdown list and click the Disavow Links button. You’ll have to click on Disavow Links again on the second screen.
iii) Upload the new file.
If you’ve uploaded a disavow file in the past then you should download and update the current copy with the new entries.
You should receive an email confirming that your file was submitted.
It can take anywhere from a few days to weeks before Google processes the disavow file but you should see an improvement in search rankings over time.
It’s recommended to submit an updated disavow file bi-weekly or monthly to stay on top of any harmful backlinks.
From experience, I’ve submitted disavow files that contained hundreds of spammy domains due to a Negative SEO attack. A week later, target keywords have skyrocketed thus boosting my sites search visibility and increased conversions.