Creating a disavow file doesn’t need to be a mystery, with our guide below I’ll walk you through the steps for creating a disavow file. There are some important things to note though. In our professional experience the disavow file is an ineffective tool. We help local companies with their search engine optimization and in this process have seen just about every type of possible link profile. From companies that utilized low priced overseas outsourcing vendors that spammed their websites to death to companies that relied on paid links and just about everything in between. During this process we dealt with companies with a wide range of budgets, some that could afford a full scale link removal campaign to others that could only afford our disavow creation service.
Those website owners that could only afford our disavow service saw little to no impact by submitting a disavow file. In our opinion Google is aggregating the data from the disavow file to help further refine the Penguin algorithm and there’s no direct connection between submitting a disavow file and any actual recovery in rankings.
Our clients that have seen the most recovery are those clients that performed a full scale link removal campaign. If you are serious about regaining lost rankings due to links then you’ll need to perform a full-scale link removal campaign. Having said all that lets move onto the disavow creation guide.
Identifying your backlinks
The first step of creating any disavow file is to first compile an entire list of the links that are pointing to your website. This will require added expense as you’ll need to create accounts with the following backlink checkers.
- Google Search Console (free)
Once you’ve compiled all of the links from the above sources you’ll then need to start to manually review each of the links to determine the quality, and context of the link. I recommend copying each of the backlink URLs into a Google spreadsheet, excel file or OpenOffice spreadsheet depending on your favorite spreadsheet tool. At this point there will be many duplicate links that we will want to have removed to make this process easier for you.
Auditing your backlinks
Now comes the fun part, depending on your previous SEO experience and the volume of links pointed to your site this process could take anywhere from a few hours, to a few hundred hours.
Once you’ve compiled a list of all of the links pointed to your site I’d recommend using a tool like Scrapebox to make sure that the links are actually pointed to your website. That way you aren’t wasting time visiting websites that no longer exist or are now offline. While the backlink checking tools are great they often have outdated data as they only can revisit a site so often. Scrapebox is an excellent tool to have in your arsenal if you are somewhat serious about SEO. Unfortunately the tools gets a lot of negative press due to its spamming functionality, however it is still my number one utilized tool and I never used it for spamming purposes.
After you’ve checked all of your links to determine whether or not they are still active and online you’ll want to add the active links back into your spreadsheet.
At this point you will now need to begin auditing all of the links in your spreadsheet to determine whether or not the links should be disavowed. I recommend creating a new column to indicate the unnatural links that you’ll be disavowing.
Generally speaking here are some good guidelines for vetting links:
- Was this link created for SEO purposes?
- Will this link honestly drive customers and business to your website?
- What would happen if a Google employee saw this link?
These questions are a good framework for determining the context of a link, but I like to take it a step further. Most of the spam and unnatural links that you’ll see in a link profile consists of the following types of links:
- Forum profiles
- Link directories
- Blog comments
- Social bookmarks
- Business directories
- Paid links (just have these removed if you don’t know what you are doing)
- Blog networks
- Paid/sponsored posts
Those are just a general guideline, there are many other types of links but those will make up the majority of a low quality and spammy link profile.
Keep in mind that this process can take a significant amount of time, on average when we perform disavows our team can spend tens of hours on this. This is with SEO professionals that regularly deal with link building and reviewing backlink reports. As an amateur you can expect this process to take a lot longer.
Creating your disavow file
Now that you’ve vetted all of your links it’s time to build the actual disavow file. At this point you will want to sort your spreadsheet to easily access the links that you plan on disavowing.
Open up Scrapebox again and load the list of URLs into the harvester list. From here you’ll want to trim the list to root domains only. This removes the full URL and makes it easy to identify the sole root/sub-domain of a link. When you disavow a link we always recommend disavowing the entire domain. That way if the link checkers missed links on the pages you’ll be telling Google to just disavow the remaining URLs that you may have missed.
When you’ve trimmed the list of URLs to the root domain you should have the entire list of domains ready for the next step. Export this list as a .txt file. Open up the file in your favorite txt editor (something like EditPlus).
Now that you have the full list of URLs you will need to prep the file with the following steps.
- Search and replace the following
http://www. to site:
https://www. to site:
http:// to site:
https:// to site:
At this point ALL of the URLs in your file should all be formatted with something like site:domain.com. This is critical as mentioned above we need to disavow the entire site, and Google relies on the site: query to determine the root domains to disavow within your file.
Important: Saving the text file may not be as simple as pressing save. Google has specific requirements regarding the type of txt file that it will parse. You need to save this text file as UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII. EditPlus and other more advanced text editors provide the option to save txt files in specialized formats as described above.
Submitting your disavow to Google
To file your disavow file you’ll need to access the disavow tool at the following URL: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main
Select your domain from the drop down (in case you have multiple sites within your Google Search account)
Click on the disavow links and then select the file that you just created and press upload.
Upon success you’ll receive a notification that says something like the following:
Results for submission on DATE
You successfully uploaded a disavow file (filename.txt) containing XXX domains and X URLs.
When does the disavow start to work?
Now comes the bad news, there’s a lot of controversy as mentioned in my original disclaimer that the disavow tool doesn’t work at all. It really depends on a variety of factors. Was your site affected by Penguin? Does Google actually do anything with the files to help your site?
In the event your site was affected by a Penguin update you’ll likely need to wait until Google reevaluates your site using the Penguin algorithm. If it’s not an issue with Penguin you’ll need to likely wait until Google recrawls the links again.
However in our experiences the client sites that have recovered the best are those that have a link removal campaign performed in tandem with a disavow submission.
Removing a link is black and white, you either have the link pointing to your site or you don’t. When a link is removed there’s no longer anyway for those links to count against your website. With disavowing there is a lot of unknowns and grey areas with no definitive proof of a link being disavowed. This is why I always encourage a link removal campaign because you can recover faster from any penalties and more importantly prevent any future link related manual or algorithm penalties.
If you don’t want to waste hundreds of hours of your time and ensure that you don’t mess anything up I’d highly recommend checking out our approved link removal service provider. They not only will create your disavow file but will also remove the unnatural links pointed to your website.