Everyone knows that Google uses its own proprietary algorithm to rank pages in the search results. Codenamed "Penguin", the algorithm is a complex process that takes several things into account when ranking your website, which can either increase your ranking or decrease it.
If you're a seasoned SEO, you might already be accustomed to potential damage that can accompany unnatural (paid links, excessive article marketing, link exchanges etc.) links. Regardless of how you acquired said links, they will hurt your rankings. If your website has been targeted by such pests, you'll receive a message on the Manual Actions tab. Taking care of this issue should be a priority.
If you have discovered these links to your website, there are several options available.
Firstly, you should contact the owner of the website responsible for the links. Whether you ask them to a) take down the links down, or b) redirect them through a URL that doesn't pass through the page-rank algorithm, is your choice.
However, if for some reason you can't or don't want to contact the owner of the links, you can use Google's Disavow Tool.
Since 2013, the disavow tool allows webmasters to create audits on unnatural links, asking Google to exclude them from their page-rank count. However, in order to reduce abuse, there are certain guidelines and limitations. If used incorrectly or abused, the ranking of your website will take a hit and as such decrease.
How To Create an Audit Spreadsheet
Gather the Links
Before you use the disavow tool, you're going to need the complete list of links that are linked to your website. You can either do this manually, or use an external resource. Whichever path you choose, you're going to need to place them in a spreadsheet. If you're taking the easy way, which involves the use of an external source, we recommend using one of the following:
Each of these tools have their own pros and cons, but in the end, they're going to deliver very similar results.
Truth be told, if you want to be very thorough with your spreadsheet, you might end up using all 3. On the other hand, if you don't care for fancy 3rd party help, here's how you can create the link spreadsheet manually.
Keep in mind that if you have more than 1000 domains linking to your website, you should click "Download more sample links" every day for a few days. This will give you even more links to add to the final audit spreadsheet.
Combine The Links In a New Spreadsheet
By now, each process should have provided you with a long list of links. Once you've gathered all of your links, it's time to put them into one final spreadsheet. Google Docs should be your best and easiest to use option here.
Remove Duplicate Links
If you've used more than one tool to gather the links, you should have a lot of duplicates.
Audit the Links in the Spreadsheet
Now that the easy part is out of the way, meaning you've gathered the links and sorted them into a spreadsheet..it's time for the actual audit.
After assessing each link, it's time to separate the "keep" from the "disavow". Since we've created a separate column that uses these exact terms, we can filter the spreadsheet so that only the links marked as "disavow" appear.
Create the Disavow File
File the Disavow
The final step of the process is to actually use Google's tool.
According to Google, disavowing happens immediately and on a continuous basis. Each time the algorithm crawls your website, it adds a "nofollow" tag to the unnatural links, thus removing them from your ranking calculations.
How to Modify the Disavow File
There are multiple reasons for modifying a disavow file.
You could want to add more domains to it, or remove some of the existing domains. In both cases, the process is very similar. Unfortunately, you can't automatically add or remove the domains. Any file you upload to the tool will overwrite the previous one. So in order to modify it, you will have to download it.
Disavowing Versus Manually Removing Links
There's not much room for debate here, because it comes down to how easy it is to manually remove the link. If you either own it or are in good terms with the owner, manually removing the link can spare you a lot of trouble. However, if the manual removal process is going to be lengthy, you're better off using Google's Disavow Tool.
The only case in which you need to manually remove links before using the tool is when Google sends you a Manual Action notice.
In the end, this tool was intended to be used by anyone who owns a website. Once you understand how the tool works, you should be using it on a monthly basis to protect your domain authority and get rid of all those unwanted, unnatural links.