Should You Disvaow Backlinks After a Negative SEO Attack?

If you happen to follow this blog you already know I am almost never a fan of disavowing backlinks. It’s rarely necessary and Google has put a lot of effort into ignoring junk backlinks. They have a tremendous amount of data and are well aware of junk links.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, feel free to see my articles which include quotes from Google here: Disavows are almost never necessary or Disavows are usually worthless without a manual action.

But, should you disavow links from a negative SEO attack? Yes, as long as you know what you’re doing. Disavowing bad links will have no negative affect on your site and could have a positive impact.

Again, Google is very good at ignoring most “junk” links. But that’s not what we’re talking about today. Today we are talking specifically about very rare links from a negative SEO attack. Negative SEO links are links specifically created by someone with a decent understanding of SEO whose intent is to harm your website’s performance in Google’s search results. These links can indeed have a negative weight to them. As recently as 2019, Google has stated that disavowing bad links may help Google algorithmically trust your links. More specifically, Google said that bad links can “definitely” hurt your site.

A few types of Negative SEO backlinks:

Philadelphia personal injury lawyers are in a very unique position. Around 2017 someone blasted the top 10-20 websites with a negative SEO attack. This is not a secret; anyone with a SEMRush or AHREFS account can see the inbound links pointed at these sites. This can happen in any niche, I just happen to work with personal injury law firms in several major cities and closely monitor the entire landscape. I will say that the attack is rare and unique to Philly; this has not occurred to law firms in LA, Chicago, Miami or any other major city.

If I recall correctly, the attack was implemented in three phases.

  • Initially the attacker blasted the site with “adult” links. We’re talking terms I’ve never heard of. More specifically, the anchor text of the backlink was for strange fetishes which have never crossed my mind before. 🤢
  • They then moved on to low quality links from foreign sites. These links came from pages such as “سلاسلاسلاسلام”
  • They also began building utlra-low quality links for terms such as “accident lawyer”, “divorce lawyer” and “criminal lawyer”. (Keep in mind the client site is a personal injury lawyer who does not handle divorce or criminal defense).

The vast majority of the links were blog comment spam. Yes, these are indeed NoFollow links and Google shouldn’t be paying close attention to them. But the sheer volume of them made me nervous. When you see 1,500+ links for “divorce lawyer” come piling in, you should be nervous. Blog comment spam is also a tactic used by some people in an effort to rank their sites, so, it’s a big red flag. You definitely don’t want Google thinking you’re trying to manipulate search results using blog comment spam. More on this in a moment.

Note: Effective March 1, 2020, Google WILL be using NoFollow links to an extent.

What are “junk links”?

I recently wrote about disavowing “toxic” (junk) links. And, of course, I wrote about why it is almost never necessary. Any website which has any type of traffic in Google is at the receiving end of a lot of junk links. I have worked with law firms who have a few hundred junk links and I’ve worked with news sites who have millions of junk links. Junk links are described well in my above linked article, but in a nutshell, these links come from scraper sites, sites stealing your images, sites scraping YouTube, etc. These are totally safe to ignore.

The danger of Negative SEO links.

In the example above, I don’t feel as if the junk links hurt the site. I also don’t think the adult links hurt the site In general, I like to think that search engines do a pretty good job. I personally own a few sites which do not have Google Analytics or Search Console configured on them – that’s really the way it should be. No business owner, blogger or other webmaster should be worried about search engines doing their job if they’re doing theirs. Of course, that’s not the case in a highly competitive niche like Philly personal injury.

In this specific case, the links which bother me are keyword rich anchor text links for “accident lawyer”. Believe it or not, some SEO companies still try to get links this way. Many years ago, it was an effective tactic used by black hat SEO practitioners. Google watches for this kind of thing; they could indeed be on the lookout for people trying to improve their rankings by blasting the web with this form of spam. In fact, Google calls this comment spam.

This particular Negative SEO attack mimics what an inexperienced or spammy SEO agency could try to do when spamming the web.

The volume of the links bothered me as well. While there were around 700 domains which I could find that linked to the client site, there were multiple inbound links from each domain. So, we’re talking about THOUSANDS of links for “accident lawyer”, all from crappy websites in the form of comment spam. In fact, in some cases, a single site linked to a lawyer’s site 1,500 times.

Will disavowing Negative SEO links help?

This is, to be honest, impossible to measure.

Two points though:

  • Disavowing spammy links can’t hurt
  • Disavowing spammy links could help

On the aforementioned site in Philly, we did indeed see a positive impact approximately 3 – 4 months after submitting the disavow file. However, we were working on several other aspects of the site as well. Did the disavow help? Yes, possibly. Other experts in the field I communicate with on a regular basis have had very similar results as well.

How long does it take to benefit from a disavow file?

On February 16th, 2020, I was just explaining to a client that once a disavow file is submitted, the effects will NOT be felt until the source page (the page linking to you) is recrawled. Funny enough, the very next day, this came up online. Indeed, it has not been documented well. I speak from experience but it’s always nice to have confirmation from Google on things in case a developer or SEO lead is confused. Google clarified that submitting a disavow file is an instant process, however, the links in the disavow file are not discounted until Google recrawls the linking page. So if page A links to page B and you just disavowed page A, that link is still affecting you until Google recrawls page A.

On pages which infrequently change, Google may take 3 – 4 months to revisit the page. (There are pages which Google crawls several times per day, and other pages which may not get re-crawled for 5, 6, 7, 8 months.)

Final thoughts.

I have seen people disavow good links far too many times. If you need an expert to examine your links please feel free to reach out to me. I have worked with link issues on sites with millions of links. There are only a handful of us in the industry who are hyper-focused on links – it truly is a specialty.

If you go about it yourself, be sure to NOT disavow links which could be helping your site.

If you have thousands of links similar to the links I mentioned above, which Google classifies as a spam signal, it is a very good idea to get rid of the links with a disavow. You do not want to mess with the “Trust” of your website. When a search engine loses trust in your site you begin to lose traffic and rankings.

To compile all of your links into one place, it’s a good idea to export what you have from GSC (and AHREFS if possible) and import the data into SEMRush, combine it with their data, and go through each domain linking to you, determining precisely how the link occurred, then prepare and upload a disavow file.

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