No Google love? – No Problem! Disavowing links is the only untapped traffic source out there. It is raw, fast and will blow your mind – if you are enraged by this type of marketing speak already, then this article really is for you.
But before we get to the magic potion of disavowing links we have to face one unpleasant truth: namely that over the past years SEO has become a total drag.
There, I said it. Creating backlinks to your website is still the bread and butter for anyone doing Search Engine Optimization, but today the fun part is over. What happened here? What about the days when PageRank was still alive and when every link was “created equal”?
These days are no more. Are we giving up? Never! A future post will show you 5 out-of-the-box ways to actively build high-quality links that are sure to give your site a boost in ranking. Today we are focussing on making our current backlink profile shine like the rims of a 1967 Camaro. This guide to disavowing links comes with the following structure:
- How it works
- What you need
- How to disavow
1 | Why The Standard Idea Of “Linkbuilding” Is Dead
If you are in the business of bringing visitors to websites for longer than the last week then you can only scratch your head. Scratch your head – and fight despair. Long gone are the days when “link” simply meant “link”, without any talk of relevance, no-follow vs. do-follow, above-the-fold and god knows what else.
These days, good ‘ole Search Engine Optimization has become trench warfare. Getting a decent quality backlink – after all still the cornerstone of any SEO – today involes mass emails (“outreach”) or even phone calls. And there seems to be no alternative. If you were looking to build backlinks through all the low-threshold options available – blog commenting and the likes – then you are most likely to shoot yourself in the foot: by their nature, blog comments are below-the-fold, often even separated from a page’s main content.
The result? Google will hardly attribute any value to these kind of links. (Google can easily tell apart the footer, the header and the seibar(s) from the main content of your website. And itt will attribute value to links accordingly). So instead of creating “valuable backlinks” and “driving traffic to your site” – a joke, unless you are the number one commenter on, say, the Tim Ferris blog – any low-effort type of linkbuilding mans maneuvering your site into a low-quality environment. And you are doing that voluntarily on top of it.
What is left? Of course, you can network and reach out to all those other websites that basically are – your competitors. While the one or other might be up for a deep link exchange or some syndication, in the majority of cases your outreach campaign will receive an icy response. Even more so the higher you aim, i.e. the more high-profile websites you reach out to. In the end, you might just end out with your “peers” in regard to traffic and website, leaving little room for growth.
Where did all this come from? The answer is simple. With its algorithm improving sharply over the last decade Google has become a massive step closer to its original goal: becoming a legit reflection of reality. What may sound corny simply means that Google wants those pages to rank high that reflect what people are actually talking about, what they consider a valid source of news and of information – and so on.
As a first attempt at “reflecting reality”, Google interconnected their ranking to Twitter. For a limited period of time creating buzz on the 140-character microblogging service was a quasi-guarantee for an increase in ranking. Then again, Google was also quick to realize that most of the things people actually talk about on Social Media are in fact hogwash. It is no coincidence that the top ten twitter accounts in regard to followers are a facsimile of those individuals who also get the most coverage by tabloids.
Google has long given up its ties to Twitter, thus leaving – you guessed it – the good old do-follow backlink as the prime factor for ranking. So what are you to do? The first option is obvious. You can either create so much “quality buzz” in real life (these days refered to as “holistic SEO”) that every writer of The Washington Post, Business Insider as well as the quirky people of reddit (1.1 billion unique hits per month) will automatically feature you in an article/a thread. But unless you are running an up-and-coming start-up or are an aspiring Hollywood celebrity, increasing traffic for you will come down to backlinks, backlinks and backlinks.
But how to proceed? Especially when the overall rule-of-thumb applies that the easier to get, the more likely a backlink will be worthless?
Let’s just have a look at what the competition does.
2 | Buying And Paying For Links?
It can be entertaining to see how little even the makers of highly successful websites know about backlinks. Take, for instance, your favorite blog that reaches anything in between 500,000 and 1 million unique hits per month.
Then do a brief backlink analysis by running the site through the backlink checkers of ahrefs.com (free trial available), Moz.com or Majestic.com – in 99% of the cases I guarantee you that you will come across the one odd backlink from Wikipedia. Diving into said backlink you will also see that it has been added by an editor who has been with Wikipedia for the last 496 years, thus racking up an unquestionable amount of authority with the encyclopedia.
The story behind it? The maker of your favorite blog was so hyped about backlinks from Wikipedia that he paid the minimum amount of 249,00€ (282,00 USD) for a link from one of their articles. And as he wants the backlink to stick around, he hired a senior, read: indisputable editor to implement the link – hence the $282.
The obvious flipside to the coin? Our successful blogger does not know about no-follow and no-follow links. All outgoing links from Wikipedia are no-follow by default, meaning they will have no effect on your ranking whatsoever – a harsh lesson for anyone earning his first backlink from Wikipedia and then desperately missing out on the alleged explosion in traffic.
Now what, Giving up? What about buying links and risking a devastating manual penalty from the all-seeing eyes of the Google Spam Team – or even the deletion from Google’s index? Way too risky.
Our desperate situation is the perfect opportunity for me to go out a limb and proclaim that there is in fact a free, white-hat and laughably easy method to increase your rankings through backlinks, all without founding the new AirBnB or becoming the next Justin Bieber. In fact, this method is so obvious that you are most likely practicing it already. The method I am talking about is disavowing backlinks.
Disavowing links is the passive little brother of active link-building. It can be done effortless, without creating any content and without doing any outreach.
How does it work?
What does it do?
3 | Disavowing Links Will Save The Day (for now)
As you can tell by the term disavowing, it tells Google that you distance yourself from certain links pointing to your site. Google has learned from glitches like the Google Bomb and these days allows you to destroy any effect a link set by a website that you have no control over may have on your own website. How do you destroy said effect? You disavow the link.
Disavowing links means leaving a text file with Google, simply letting them know what links you want to be considered for your ranking – and what links you don’t.
Sounds logical so far? All that is left to do now is finding each and every link pointing at your website and then parting the wheat from the chaff. In that sense, we can now bake ourselves a delicious SEO cake. The only ingredients we need are as follows:
- A Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) account
Free of charge and among the first accounts you created when you started out with SEO. Can easily be added once you have signed up with any other Google service like Gmail etc.
- A Google Analytics (GA) account
Industry standard in traffic analysis. GA will also help you find more backlinks to your site as it tells you about referrers through which visitors reach you. These referrers often slip through the hands of GWT’s link crawler.
- A simple text editor
Microsoft’s notepad.exe will do the trick
- An account with Monitorbacklinks.com (MBL)
Free of charge for the first 14 days. No need to give out credit card details or anything, the founders of the backlink checking tool even reply to individual SEO questions you send in via email.
Equipped with the right tools, we can now get to work. Here is a step-by-step guide that will take you to the actual disavowing. I am breaking the disavowing into three parts:
- Discovering all of your backlinks
- Making out bad backlinks
- Submitting the disavow file
3.1 | Collecting Your Links: Monitorbacklinks And The Google Products
Adding your site to MBL will have the site crawl all of your current backlinks. MBL is using the crawling database of Majestic.com and discovers a good 74% of all backlinks pointing at your site. In order to have MBL complete a full crawl of your site you will need to wait a couple of days. It will take an additional day or two in order for the backlinks’ metrics to show up. As a highly detailed tool, MBL will show all major metrics of your backlinks such as Majestic’s Trust and Citation Flow, Moz’s Page and Domain Authority as well as several other important aspects (below).
- Linking GA and GWT to MBL
Lots of abbreviations here. But it is very simple. When adding your site to MBL you are asked to give them access to Google Analytics. This is not to sell your statistics to a third party, but to sniff out those links that Google Webmaster Tools did not discover. Go ahead and give them access.
- Importing Google-found links to MBL
On the “backlinks”-tab in MBL navigate to the blue button that says “Add New Backlinks”. While manually adding backlinks will very quickly have you wound up in confusion, “import links from file” is the way to go.
Here, choose the .csv files you obtained from GWT:
In the GWT sidebar there is a link that says “Search Traffic”. Underneath, you will find “Links to Your Site”. On this page you simply click on the three grey buttons one after the other which each time will trigger the download of a .csv file. Adding all three .csv files to Monitorbacklinks seals the deal. You now have a solid base of your backlinks implemented into a tool that will make disavowing low-quality backlinks child’s play.
3.2 | Diavowing Backlinks: Monitorbacklinks Does All The Work For You
From here on we are approaching the finish line in full speed. After a couple of days (above) Monitor Backlinks will present you a full list of your current backlinks. All you have to do now is bring them in order, make out the bad apples in the bunch – and then hit them hard.
In MBL, click the ‘Status’ link in the right toolbar where you can choose to have only do-follow links shown to you. As no-follow links are not considered by Google, this is exactly what we want. Then it is time to click twice on a metric like Trust Flow or Page or Domain authority. This will sort the links in a descending order, presenting you the bad guys right at the top.
From here on, simply check the box of all links that do you more harm than send you quality link juice. MBL have written a useful blog post about how to spot bad backlinks. They have also converted the same blog post into a helpful video which will allow us to leave out screenshots of their site.
When disavowing links it is crucial that you have a look at the actual websites containing a link to your site. This is the only way to really find out if a link is of low quality or not.
For instance, seeing a lot of “EXT.”-links (top right on the backlinks-tab) on Monitorbacklinks.com – “EXT.”-links external do-follow links on the page linking to you, spammers will often create a low-quality blogs and pages where they add dozens of follow-links to their competitors in order to cause harm – often is an indicator of a bad backlink.
But at the same time, drudgereport.com has hundreds of outgoing do-follow backlinks. And would you mind a backlink from a DA 85 site that sees over 110 million visitors every month? I know I wouldn’t. Looking at the website linking to you is the only real way to know whether a link is low-quality or not.
As a rule-of-thumb you should disavow every link that:
- Comes from a domain that below you in Domain Authority
Embrace the status quo! If your current Domain Authority (DA) is at 30, then links from a site with a Domain Authority of 20 or less will have very little effect on you. Here, it is important to stay in balance: While their DA might be low, all the backlinks fro DA 15-20 sites that you currently have make up for the backbone of your backlink profile! Disavowing them all would make your profile collapse like a cardhouse. Therefore: Go hard after all those DA 0-15 links and easier on those with a DA of 15-19. Go really easy on the DA 20-39 links.
- Has more than 25 external follow links
Again, the overall impression is what counts.
- Comes from a 0 DA and 0 PA
No matter the content or whether the site is brandnew, backlinks from such a site of failure.
- Is not indexed in Google.
Now, MBL is often inaccurate in giving you the right information. Often they show URLs as non-indexed when they are in fact indexed. The solution: a manual check.
Unless you are sure the URL will be indexed soon – this might often take a while with fresh pages on bigger sites – non-indexed sites can be very harmful. Why? Google may not show non-indexed sites to users (they are non-indexed), but will nonetheless consider their ranking.
- Comes from a “thin content” page/site
These are made out fast: simple text, few images, bad layout, bad design, no features – often the even the text makes no sense as it is spinned by a software that rephrases existing text only to put it on spammy blog posts.
And there you are. After checking the box on every bad backlink in BML you can hit the “With Selected” button and choose disavow. Unless you are sure that that one bad backlink is an exception to the rule you should always disavow domains, not single URLs. MBL will now compile your selection into a readily formatted text file that you can submit to Google Webmaster Tools. (Note: the official formatting for Google’s disavow file is simply:
domain:thedomainyouwanttodisavow.com, with one top level domain per row).
All you need to do now is lean back. Disavowing is said to take up to two weeks to take effect, but my personal experience is that it works much faster.
And then you see it. After 2 days. Perhaps even over night: Your traffic. It spikes first and then resettles on a much higher level. The average increase in traffic through disavowing bad backlinks is at no less than a hefty 30%. And as it all depends how many bad links you have actually pointing to you, the sky really is the limit.
No social media, no outreach and no money spent. If raking up traffic by the very modest means of disavowing links is no “untapped” resource in traffic building, then I don’t’ know what is.
To give you a glimpse of what is possible with the armchair-SEO method of disavowing links have a look at the chart below. This one stems from a website that for the last three weeks has not seen any noteworthy loss of backlinks nor has it seen any noteworthy gain. What it has seen, however, is some massive disavowing of links that set in about 5 weeks ago.
Just to sum it up: in just three weeks the website almost doubled its traffic. From dangeling around 115 clicks per day on April 20 – to an impressive 210 clicks per day on May 14. Not bad at all, I say.