Disavow Links and Toxic Domains

Updated 28-Jun-2024

Toxic backlink profile

Google says they don't have a concept of toxic domains. Yet they have a disavow links tool. And in particular there are situations where manual actions are accomplished based on paid links. So, if the domains aren't toxic, certainly links from certain domains might be.

The idea that domains or links might not be toxic, just wouldn't count for anything (essentially be zero) is not bad on the face of it. However, it seems clear that there isn't just a linear regression at work but a multiple linear regression, which means that the interaction effects between a bunch of bad links (spam, paid, or otherwise) and other site factors might have a negative effect. Since we can't know without a lot of data, it makes sense to have best practices and heuristics to operate with in good faith.

This means we should disavow links from pages and sites we don't trust (and that Google shouldn't either). It also means that when building links, they should be as natural as possible, in terms of niche and topics, keywords, number of links, number of pages linked to, follow vs. nofollow.

How to not build backlinks

Many otherwise quality organizations may resort to linkbuilding and link-buying which is against Google policies. The world is rife with shady SEO promoters who may or may not have had success with these tactics. In any case, even if effective, there is a relatively short shelf-life on these promotional tactics.

When new and potential clients have engaged with this kind of poor quality linkbuilding, it is important to provide a good primer to what makes these links toxic and how to build better, higher quality links.

Toxic Backlink Profile

Disavowing bad links is considered a good practice. Either bad links are built by mistake, or by a competitor, to harm a site. Mistakes are when people hire someone to build links, thinking that those links are either legitimate or that there is little risk of harm. The reality can be quite different.

Kinds of harm from bad links

Bad links come in several flavors

  • Obviously paid links
  • Links from toxic domains
  • Links in articles that are guest posts

Google states that it is careful that no bad links should harm a site (only be ignored). That should be the case as potentially anyone could build toxic links to a site, which means ill-spirited competitors or others with an axe to grind could harm a site. However, there are disavow tools and there is a general consensus that Google does penalize sites with excessive toxic links, has in the past, or potentially will in the future, through manual or automated actions.

It is a simple matter to stay on top of this issue, by:

  • Not building toxic links,
  • Disavowing any toxic links, and
  • Monitoring any new toxic links being built

Steps to Disavowing Toxic Links

Backlink Analysis: Quality and Toxic