In this post, we're going to create a disavow file using the SEMrush Backlink Audit tool. If you've been thinking about cleaning up your backlinks profile, this post is for you.
Before we get started, I want to highlight that I have another in-depth tutorial post explaining how to clean up your links using an alternative backlink tool called Monitor Backlinks. Check it out here.
How often do you check your backlinks profile? Would it bother you at all if you discovered that half of your links were toxic? Or would you carry on like everything is fine?
Have you recently recieved a manual penalty from Google regarding your backlinks? Or have you noticed a gradual decrease in rankings and traffic?
OK, enough questions, let's get on with the tutorial.
SEMrush is a popular search engine and digital marketing platform used by thousands of bloggers and marketers. This isn't just a backlink analysis tool; it's used for keyword research, website SEO audits, rankings tracking, competitor analysis, and much more.
I started using SEMrush (Premium) for a little while back in 2018, and whilst it's a platform that I now use moderately, it's used by millions of professionals around the world.
SEMrush is not the most affordable tool out there. Prices start from $99 per month. Here in the UK, it's a lot more than that - Around $120 per month, to be exact, including the VAT. Which is part of the reason why I now use MonitorBacklinks.
One of the apparent features built into SEMrush is the Backlink Auditing tool. This is the feature we're going to be using to create a disavow links file to export and submit to Google!
Before we get started, if you don't yet have a SEMrush account, you can grab a 7-day free trial using the link below. Even if you don't signup for the premium option, seven days is plenty enough time to go through your backlinks and even export the file onto your computer.
Thinking of going premium? If you're planning on becoming a premium user of SEMrush, my advice would be to use it for a few months maximum. If you're a blogger looking to boost your search engine marketing, clean up your links profile, do a little extra keyword research, you don't need to be paying the premium fee month after month if you're only going to need to use it short term.
Right then, let's dive straight in!
In a nutshell, disavowing links means telling Google to ignore any spammy links pointing to your website or blog. These links are submitted in the form of a .txt file known as a disavow file.
Before we move onto creating the list of disavowed links in SEMrush, I want to highlight a few critical things about using this tactic.
Do not submit a disavow list to Google unless you're absolutely certain that the links in question have resulted in -
If you accidentally include links that are actually helping your rankings, yes, even a few of the spammy looking ones, you're going to cause yourself some problems. You may have to remove some links from your list and then resubmit. This can be quite tedious, and you may have to wait even longer to feel the effects.
Only use the Google links disavow tool if you received a manual action notice and penalty from Google. You should see this in your webmaster dashboard. Or if you know for sure that your rankings and traffic have been affected by the steep number of spammy links you have to your site or blog.
Keep in mind that Google is smart at detecting and ignoring many spammy links, so be sure you know what you're disavowing, and use the tool if it's absolutely necessary.
OK, now let's make a start, finally.
Log into your SEMrush account. From under SEO, in your dashboard, go to Backlink Audit and run your domain through the tool.
Once you're done scanning your website, head over to the tab marked 'Audit' to view your links profile. See the image below.
Here you can begin sifting through each link and deciding which one to keep and remove.
Before you begin managing your links, you have to analyze them carefully. The Backlink Audit feature in SEMrush gives you some options for this -
The filtering tools are useful if you really want to dive deep into your links analysis. Some of these features are quite advanced; however, you don't need to dive too deep into understanding the nature of a spammy link at the end of the day for general link cleanup.
One feature you might want to pay close attention to is the Link Toxicity Score. While this is a time-saving metric to consider, I would recommend that you analyze the link carefully before deciding and agreeing that it is, in fact, toxic.
From my own experience with using this metic, yes, eight times out of ten, it was correct, but I also found a few links to highly relevant, credible blogs that were marked toxic, which of course, were not.
One of the cool features in SEMrush's Backlink Audit tool is the ability to drop links into a disavow list. You can do this by selecting the link or links using the checkbox, then going to the Disavow button, and under the dropdown, click on Move to Disavow.
Alternatively, if you prefer to contact website owners to request link removal, you can select the link and add it to your remove list. This tactic doesn't always work.
Here is a full list of options in your Backlink Audit management dashboard in SEMrush -
OK, so once you've added all the links you need to the Disavow file, you can head over to the Disavow tab and carefully review each link once again. Going through it a second time is always recommended.
Note: Don't forget, you can also import links you want to disavow to SEMrush. Perhaps you have a list taken from your Google Webmaster or other link management tool such as MonitorBacklinks.
When you're ready to export, hit the green Export to .txt button to create a file.
Drag this file to your desktop which you'll need for the next step.
Right then, you're almost done with this. Next, you need to open up Google webmaster and log in. If you don't have a webmaster account, you need to create one.
Once you're logged in, go to the submit a disavow file option in the dashboard. If you can't find the link, click the button below -
Note: The button above will not work unless you are logged into your webmaster console.
You should see the Disavow links box appear on a page like the one below -
Select the website you want to disavow links from the drop-down menu. On the next page that loads up, read the advanced feature message, and click on Disavow Links.
Now, select the file you want to submit, which should be on your desktop. Again, make sure it's the file ending with .txt, then click on submit. Confirm submission, and then you're done!
That is it; you're all done telling Google to ignore all of those spammy and shady-looking links when crawling and ranking your site and pages in search. Keep a copy of the disavow file on your local computer for the future.
Google only allows you to submit one disavow file. So, if you need to update this file in the future, you can simply edit the .txt file on your computer, add any new links, or remove any, and resubmit. When you resubmit, it will replace whatever file you already have uploaded to Google.
That depends on why you submitted your disavow file in the first place. If you received a manual penalty, you could submit a reconsideration request in your webmaster console.
I have no idea how long it takes for a reconsideration request to go through. But check out this post for tips and ideas on writing an impactful reconsideration request to Google. Best of luck with it all.