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Toxic Links and Disavows in SEO

Toxic Links and Disavows in SEO

Are you grappling with the intricacies of toxic links and whether you should employ the disavow tool to combat low-quality, spammy links? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions on the subject.


Unraveling Toxic Links

Let's cover the basics first.

What Are Toxic Links?

A toxic link is typically a link that has the potential to harm your website's ranking capability. However, the SEO community doesn't unanimously agree on how to define toxic links and whether they genuinely pose a threat to your site's ranking.

Toxic Links vs. Spammy Links: A Distinction

Some argue that any link considered unnatural, as per Google's documentation on link schemes, should be deemed "toxic" and seen as a potential threat. Others employ the term to describe spammy links, which Google's algorithms supposedly ignore. Interestingly, Google itself doesn't officially recognize the concept of "toxic links."

The Role of SEO Tools

Many SEO tools attempt to pinpoint and assist in disavowing unnatural links. They compile lists of links that their algorithms deem potentially harmful according to Google's standards. However, these tools often generate links that are primarily spammy and of little concern to Google's algorithms.

The Impact of Spammy Links on Ranking

Why do you care? You care because spammy links could (not necessarily will) hurt your site.

Can Spammy Links Harm Your Google Ranking?

In most instances, spammy links directed at a site are unlikely to affect its ranking negatively. Google's algorithms are adept at identifying such links and disregarding them. However, there is some debate on this topic.

Understanding "Cruft" Links

Common examples of spammy or "cruft" links include those from sites displaying domain statistics, random foreign language gibberish pages, wallpaper image site links, and sites linking to almost every website on the web, like theglobe.net. Google typically ignores these links.

The Shift Post-Penguin 4.0

Before Penguin 4.0 in 2016, a plethora of spammy links could potentially harm a site's ranking. However, Google's approach has evolved to devalue spammy links rather than penalize sites for them.

When Should You Disavow?

Disavowing toxic links is important as a part of site hygiene and SEO best practices.

Disavowing Spammy Links

Disavowing spammy or toxic links is unlikely to yield significant improvements in ranking. Google is efficient at identifying and ignoring such links. Nevertheless, some in the SEO community still believe in the value of disavowing these links.

Cases of Manipulative Links

Manipulative links, unlike spammy ones, are created with the intention of boosting PageRank and, subsequently, rankings. If your site has a history of extensive link building designed for manipulation, disavowing could be beneficial, especially after Google's July 2021 link spam update.

Manual Actions and Manipulative Links

Sites with manual actions should undergo a comprehensive link audit and disavow process. The same applies to sites with a high volume of manipulative links that could attract a manual action.

The Role of Automated Tools

Automated tools can help identify spammy or toxic links but often fall short in detecting manipulative ones. Manually reviewing links remains essential to making accurate disavow decisions.

Deciding When to Use the Disavow Tool

Determining whether to use Google's disavow tool can be perplexing. The key considerations include:

For sites with manual actions: A thorough link audit, self-made link removal, and disavow, followed by a reconsideration request, are advisable.


For sites with manipulative link profiles but no manual action: A link audit is necessary, and disavowing manipulative links is recommended.

For sites with some manipulative links but little manipulation: Depending on the scale, disavowing may be considered.

For sites with spammy links: Disavowing is generally not recommended unless manual actions or prior manipulative link patterns exist.

Disavowing Toxic Links

In conclusion, disavowing should be reserved for specific cases, such as addressing manual actions or tackling extensive manipulative link building. Understanding the nuances of toxic, spammy, and manipulative links is crucial in making informed disavowal decisions.

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