Disavowing Links – The Proper Way, I Guess

I recently noticed a downfall of organic traffic and my decrease in Impressions on Google was frightening. I soon came to learn that a large number of sites were linking into my site, a majority of which were spammy sites, like a2zmasturbation.com and stiffypushpoles.com. Those totally sound like web development sites…pause NOT.

The only way to get them to no longer link in is to let Google know they are not legit links. The only way to let Google know is by disavowing the links. I tried adding in a .txt file with all the domains, but saw no change.

Turns out Google wants you to do a bit of work before they pay attention to your disavowed .txt list. This will be a sort of tracker to see how well and how long the transition is to get these links excluded and get my traffic back.

Checking Your Backlinks

Webmaster Tools does a pretty decent job of letting you know who is linking into your site, but isn’t really a good source of up-to-date links. Using a site like SEOmoz or ahrefs could save you a good deal of time and hassle when looking for the faulty links. If either of those sources aren’t showing links that Webmaster Tools is showing, then it’s highly likely that a hack has tossed spammy hidden paragraphs into the accused sites (either that or Google hasn’t re-indexed). More on how to check these out later.

Contacting the Sites

The big sites that were linking in I went to and tried finding their contact info, but couldn’t see anything so I figured, “meh, I can’t contact them, I’ll just let Google know that.” As I started going through more sites, I realized that I could find at least one email address by finding the WHOIS information with whois.net. Let the games begin. I started contacting all the “webmasters” (term used loosely) and letting them know about the spammy links. Currently at 222 domains, an increase of 80 from July.

I let them know the large amount of links, that Google was marking them as spammy and for the health of both our sites, the links should be removed. They also were given the option to find out where the links were coming in from, but I didn’t bother attaching the spreadsheets because I figured I wouldn’t get any responses.

My hands were getting tired form copying and pasting the same email over and over (I had over 100 sites to contact) so I created an email template.

Creating a Gmail Template

Click the Settings Gear and manuever your way to the “Labs” tab. Under “Canned Responses” switch from Disable to Enable and Save Changes. Now, start writing your “Please Remove Links” email. Save it as a “Canned Response” by clicking on the arrow next to the trash can icon, hovering over “Canned responses” and clicking New Canned Response… Now whenever you compose an email, click that same arrow and click the newly created canned response. Change the number of links linking in and add the appropriate email recipient.


When sifting through all the links from Webmaster Tools it can be tough to know which links are legit and which links should quit. When I re-submitted my disavow.txt file after going through every single link to my site I saw a few patterns:

UPDATE (9/17/13): I finally heard back from a webmaster who, for good reason, thought I was just a spammer. He apologized for any linking but didn’t have any idea of what I was talking about. I went to Google groups to see if anyone had any ideas. The thing that tipped me off was that I couldn’t see any faulty links in the source of pages. User: Redleg x3 saw this as a case of getting hacked (which happened back in June-ish) and others getting hacked as well. He mentioned that the links are most likely placed in hidden text on the pages. So now I at least have something to look for. Someday site…someday we’ll return to our former glory.

September 5, 2013

Note: It seems like for each of the sites, there are 26 total linked pages…interesting. 1 for every letter of the alphabet. This must mean something. The constitution is a TREASURE MAP!

I began with just the top sites linking in since, well, I have a job so I can’t just spend an entire day emailing people. All sites with links of 100+ or more went into my .txt file and were added with notes (I kept all the other sites in also, but without notes).

September 11, 2013

Good news everyone! There has been some progress. Numbers in the top killers of my site are down. This could be from me commenting about each of the top sites in my disavow.txt and mentioning that I got in touch or tried to and could not with the top linkers. Either way, it’s nice to see a bit of a drop after no progress in the previous month. I am re-submitting the .txt file tomorrow with updates on links and trying to reach out again to people who I don’t want linking to my site. Hopefully I can eventually get rid of the two links from nipponshaft.com (who buys these domains?!).

Total Sites Linking In: 267

September 19, 2013

Huzzah, another week and another drop in links coming in. Note the update above with the same date for the conversation I’m having on Google Groups. I’m putting comments into my disavow.txt file about possible hack for a few sites. I’m nervous that some of the top culprits continue to rise but am encouraged that others are starting to dwindle away. Seems like it’s easier for them to get rid of the smaller links in. Understandably so!

Total Sites Linking In: 259

October 4, 2013

This is the first time I’ve seen it below 10,000 in quite some time so you can imagine my excitement that something is working. I’ve learned of a new thing, where if you have common pages that people linked to, you can change the URL. I’ve done that as a test for a few pages like the one below and we’ll see if it helps at all.

Total Sites Linking In: 262

November 11, 2013

Slow and steady seems to win the race. I haven’t touched the disavow links .txt file since October and am now down to 7,450. I’m not sure if it’s a case of Google slowly but surely getting there or me just not tweaking and actually giving Google the opportunity to deal with it. Who knows. I think the bottom line is, patience is key.

Total Sites Linking In: 247

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John Hartley is a Director of Product Engineering at Beam Dental in Columbus, OH. With 5+ years of leadership experience he has worked in startups, agencies, and began his career as a freelance Front End Developer. Always looking to iterate, this blog is a place for him to share his knowledge as well as hone his craft, challenge assumptions, and build a strong base of leadership and management knowledge. Connect with him on LinkedIn

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