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How to Perform a Disavow File Audit

Disavow File Audit

You May Have Some Great Links in Your Disavow File

Website owners upload Disavow Files to their Google Search Console to remove Google Penalties and keep their sites safe from harmful and unnatural inbound links. During this process, the disavow file tends to get overwritten with a larger one each time. This is normal, but what if some of your disavowed links, later become good links? How do you get them back?

This was covered earlier in 6 Reasons why you should check your disavow file again. Here we look at two real-life examples where you can find out:

  • Which disavowed links are now good ones in a heavily spammed domain
  • How to find links to undisavow after a manual penalty removal
  • How to get better links which are similar to the ones you undisavowed
  • The importance of regular link monitoring

Recovering disavowed links from a heavily spammed domain with a Manual Action Penalty

Back in 2012, motorhomesdirect.co.uk was a site that was ranking wonderfully in Google. Here is the historical data from March 2012 from SEMRush:

SEMrush overview of motorhomesdirect.co.uk from 2012

The numbers speak for themselves:

  • The site was ranking in the top 20 for 1,200 keywords
  • The organic traffic provided traffic that was worth $26,900/month
  • It ranked #1 for ‘campervan hire’ with a search volume of 22,000
  • It ranked #2 for ‘motorhome hire’ with a search volume of 14,800

The owner of this site built many links to it, thousands in fact. Like many SEOs at the time he did not believe this could do any harm. This all changed when Google issued a warning on April 7th, 2012. Later that month on April 24th, 2012 Google Penguin 1.0 hit. All Google traffic was then gone.

The domain suffered a manual penalty for nearly two years. At the beginning of 2014 the owner discovered Link Detox, and by April 2014 the penalty was revoked. Meanwhile, the owner had decided to start over and build a new site on a new domain without all those crazy links.

During the two year period, the disavow file had been uploaded and overwritten many times. Each time more domains and URLs were added to it. What if some of the links that were originally disavowed are now good? Could this domain be used again? This is what we are about to find out with the Disavow File Audit mode of Link Detox.

Link Detox in Disavow File Audit Mode

The set up for Link Detox in Disavow File Audit Mode is very similar to how it is normally used for a Link Profile Audit. Although the aim here is to evaluate the links in the disavow file, you do need to know as much information about the existing backlinks too. Link Detox is then able to calculate the DTOXRISK™ for the disavowed links compared with the current links.

For best results, you should connect your LinkResearchTools account to your Google Search Console; this allows Link Detox to get as much data as possible about your backlinks. You should also upload your current disavow file. You can decide if you want to evaluate NoFollow links or not. I always evaluate NoFollow links as I believe it is possible for them to harm your rankings. The only step you need to do differently now is to select the Disavow File Audit mode.

Select Disavow File Audit mode

Classifying the Anchor Text for MotorhomesDirect.co.uk

If this is the first Link Detox you have performed on the domain, you will probably have quite a few anchor text keywords to classify. If you have previously run a classic Link Profile Audit, you will find that you have already done most of the hard work. You can save lots of time and effort by using the Automatic Keyword Classification:

03-auto-keyword-classification

How the Disavow File Audit mode works

The disavowed links in this report will be marked with a “Disavow Review” Link Detox Review.

The Link Detox help pages says:

This means the user told us, that links were reported to Google for disavow and he wants to review the DTOXRISK scores in our application for them. Contrary to the normal application behavior, we then calculate DTOXRISK scores for these links. Normally we report a DTOXRISK value of zero for disavowed links.

Using this method, the user can review the quality of the disavow file.

The overall result of such a “Disavow Review” Link Detox report resembles a fictional situation, in which the disavow file was not uploaded to Google. In this mode, the user can edit the disavow file and rerun the report in classic mode to calculate the risk estimations before deciding to upload the disavow file to Google.

High Domain-wide Link Detox Risk

We can now look at the breakdown of Link Audit recommendations. Here it says, “34% (2,022) of your backlinks were reported for Disavow-Review". Surely there must be some good ones in there!

Link Detox Breakdown

By clicking ‘Show me these links!’ we can see the links that were previously disavowed. The DTOXRISK column shows the level of risk, and the Rules column shows what rules would be triggered if the link was undisavowed:

Disavow-Review links

A good place to start would be to look at the Very Low Risk and Low-Risk links. You could then sort the Power*Trust Column to show the strongest links first. You can use the Link Detox Screener™ to review these links if you wish.

Some of the results surprised me, here are five of them:

http://camper.jouwpagina.nl/

This is a typical ‘Start Page’ type directory that is very popular in The Netherlands. This is a 15 years-old directory with a brand DoFollow link. Although most directories seem to be bad news these days, this one looks OK. The page has a Power*Trust=1 and a Very Low DTOXRISK™.

http://www.smartcarofamerica.com/forums/f5/towing-your-smart-car-301/

This is a genuine link posted in a forum in 2007. It is a NoFollow link, but it's certainly very much ‘on topic’ and worth undisavowing.

http://www.chaletmix.com/

This is a domain that has a link placed by a friend. The site hasn’t been used since 2007. The DoFollow link is on the homepage. The domain is over 14 years old, with a Dom Power*Trust=2 and Very Low DTOXRISK™.

http://www.rbs-propertymarking.co.uk/links_53.html

This 2004 style links page has a Very Low DTOXRISK™. The link is DoFollow with a Power*Trust=6

http://www.husbilhusvagn.se/fragaexperterna/arkiv/fragor-och-svar-486

This is a Swedish page discussing a motorhome holiday in England. This is a DoFollow link with brand anchor text. It has a Very Low DTOXRISK™ and Power*Trust=8. Why was this ever disavowed?

In total there are:

  • 34 disavowed links with a Very Low DTOXRISK™
  • 11 disavowed links with a Low DTOXRISK™
  • 17 disavowed links with a Below Average DTOXRISK™

These could all now be considered for undisavowing.

Some thoughts about MotorhomesDirect.co.uk

John Müller stated here in February 2014,

It's never a decision to make lightly, but there can be situations where a website has built up so many problems, that it may appear easier or faster to start over with a fresh & new website, rather than to try to fix all of those problems individually. This isn't an easy way to get past problems that have been built up over the years, it's a lot of work to create a new website, even if you already know the business area."

The decision to build a new site on a new domain rather than to try and get this one to rank again properly was correct back in 2014. The SEO work on this domain had caused so many problems that it was probably wise to start again.  I do feel that it is worth doing something with this domain though. Full link audits are now possible with Link Detox, so it is possible to do a thorough clean up of the link profile. Sure, it will always need to have a large disavow file to protect it from all the spam links, but there are still quite a few good ones. Using the Disavow File Audit, you could potentially regain 62 links with minimal effort. I think if this domain was repurposed to a slightly different aspect of the business, maybe sales rather than rental, it would do well.

For now, let’s look at another example of a much healthier site with a bright future.

 

Understanding-Google-Penguin

Find out what you need to know about Google Penguin, so you can boost your rankings

As Google confirmed, links remain the #1 ranking factor, alongside content and “RankBrain.”

Get the ebook now and learn how to use Google Penguin to your advantage.

 

Recovering disavowed links after a successful Google Manual Action recovery

First of all, thank you to Raymond Stone from RaveReady.com for permitting to share his story here.  Rave Ready is a Los Angeles based business selling rave clothing and accessories; colorful, fun and sexy clubbing gear for men and women. This site is now very successful, but it has had problems in the past. In 2013 the site suffered from a Google Manual Action because of unnatural inbound links. After a serious clean-up of Rave Ready’s link profile, the Google Manual Action was revoked in October 2013.

I asked Raymond if he would like to perform a Disavow File Audit on Rave Ready. He said,

“It sounds like I am a good candidate. I did a massive disavow to get rid of the Google Manual Action, so there is a great chance that there were some 'good' links that I removed.”

I asked him more about the site's history and the penalty it received,

“It was in mid-2013, I believe it was right around the time Penguin 2.0 hit. It was due to unnatural linking, they were very clear about that. I didn't lose all rankings since it was a partial match but did lose most of my main keywords at the time. It took me two tries with the disavow and reconsideration request process. The first time I didn't know what I was doing and disavowed as little as possible. The second time I was way more thorough, and it took me about two weeks to complete. I submitted it in mid-October, and by late October 2013, the manual penalty was revoked. The penalty was lifted, but I had issues regaining placement. A link audit was done in September 2014 using Link Detox (DTOX). More domains were added to the disavow file. We were bouncing around between the 5 and 6 placement for our main keyword in the middle of September when we ran Link Detox Boost (BOOST). We then jumped up to the 4th position and have held in there pretty good.”

This all sounds promising so far, a great success story in itself. The question is, can this be improved further by regaining some of those disavowed links that should not have been disavowed?

Rave Ready Disavow File Audit

I already had the Google Search Console connection set up with my Link Research Tools account. I also had the Link Detox report from September 2015 still in my account. Performing the Disavow File Audit is very easy, just rerun the report, change the mode from Link Profile Audit to Disavow File Audit and start the report. It is very important to make sure you have the current disavow file, so I would always recommend downloading it from the Google Disavow Tool.

Classifying the Anchor Text for RaveReady.com

It was interesting to note that in the last 3 years the number of URLs in the report had increased substantially. This is for two reasons:

  1. There are more links
  2. In 2017 LinkResearchTools introduced their 25th link source which vastly increases the amount of links found, making full link audits possible

RaveReady-DTOX-history

This increase in the number of URLs became evident when classifying the anchor text, as there were now 235 more anchors to classify. Link Detox works correctly when you have 80% of your anchors classified, but it makes sense to get to as near 100% as possible. This can be done quickly with the help of the Automatic Keyword Classification feature. After classifying your anchor text, you should recalculate the report.

The Very Low, Low and Below Average DTOXRISK™ links of RaveReady.com

One of the first things I noticed there was some links such as this one on Polyvore.com:

https://www.polyvore.com/fantasias/collection?id=3837868
This should not have been disavowed. The link is a NoFollow link, but it is highly relevant, has a Low DTOXRISK, and the domain has a Domain LRT Power*Trust = 18:

Polyvore links DTOX

This kind of mistake happens a lot where there are a lot of subdomains. In this case, these are user generated subdomains such as https://dorydegan.polyvore.com/. This domain is not indexed by Google, so it is possible that the entire domain of Polyvore.com could have been mistakenly disavowed.

The Wikipedia entry for Polyvore says,

Polyvore is a community-powered social commerce website. Members curate products into a shared product index and use them to create image collages called "Sets." Active Polyvore communities exist in the areas of fashion, interior design, and artistic expression. As of May 2014, Polyvore received 20 million monthly unique visitors.

I’ve seen many fashion based websites with backlinks from Polyvore, so I don’t think there is any reason to disavow them. These links are all NoFollow.

http://auth.local.com/business/results/courtesy/los-angeles-ca/costume-sales-and-rental/

One of the initial reactions to a manual penalty is to disavow anything that looks like a directory. Many directories are terrible places to have your link, but not in this case. This directory is 22 years old, and the DTOXRISK™ is Very Low.

https://pt.pinterest.com/pin/154600199680961135/

I’ve seen this before where a foreign language Pinterest page may have been disavowed because it was triggering a TOX1 rule. This sometimes happens because the page is new and Google only indexed the US version. The DTOXRISK™ for this link is Low.

http://www.cancuncare.com/forum/threads/where-do-you-find-glow-irradescent-clothing.29005/

This is a site all about vacations in Cancun, Mexico. The emphasis is on ‘adult only’ hotels and entertainment. The site includes a large and lively forum. The link here is somebody suggesting party outfits. This looks like a legitimate post. This domain is very strong with a Domain LRT Power*Trust = 20.

Legitimate forum links

Legitimate forum links

Rave Ready already have an account here, so they need to make a post on the page that is about ‘Famous People That Play Dungeons and Dragons’. This will get them a Power*Trust=2  link on the most powerful page of the EDM Planet Forum.

http://ink361.com/app/users/ig-186389196/raveready/photos

This is the Rave Ready profile page on INK361. There are several websites that allow you to use Instagram on your computer rather than a mobile device, INK361 is one of them. The DTOXRISK™ for this link is Very Low. The link is NoFollow. This domain is very strong with a Domain LRT Power*Trust = 20.

Some tips for undisavowing links

So far you have seen how to find links that have either been accidentally disavowed or ones that have changed over time. Now that you know how to identify them easily, here are some ways to make them even better.

Use the Strongest Subpages Tool (SSPT) to get a better link

In the above example, I mentioned the Rave Ready link on Cancuncare.com. The link was fine, but not on a powerful page. The page has a Power*Trust=0; surely we can find a better one? The SSPT is the simplest of the Link Research Tools to use, just enter the domain and hit go. Here are the results that I filtered to show the results with the word ‘forum’ in the URL and an LRT Power*Trust of 1 or greater:

Strongest SubPages Tool (SSPT) results

Strongest SubPages Tool (SSPT) results

Of course, some sections of the forum are easier to get a link on than others. It is worth noting that the forum is quite heavily monetized with Google Adsense, so they might also be open to other advertising opportunities.

Use the Link Juice Recovery Tool (LJR) to make sure the link target exists

One of the dangers of undisavowing links is that the page it was linking to might not exist anymore. If you are only undisavowing a handful, you can check these manually by showing the ‘To URL’ column in Link Detox. This column is normally hidden by default.

If you are undisavowing a lot of links, you can check the link targets quickly with the Link Juice Recovery (LJR) tool. This will find URLs of pages that no longer exist, but still, have backlinks. You should either get the link changed, recreate the page or create a 301 redirect to the most appropriate page. The Link Juice Recovery (LJR) tool will also check all your existing links.

Run Link Detox in the Link Profile Audit Mode

Once you have created your new disavow file you should then rerun Link Detox in the Link Profile Audit Mode to check the Domain-wide DTOXRISK.

Run Link Detox Boost to make your Disavow File work

You can launch Link Detox Boost from within Link Detox itself, which is the easiest way. You will want to Boost the links that you have undisavowed as well as any new links you have decided to disavow. This way Google will crawl these links, and your disavow file will work faster.

Conclusion

The web changes all the time, good links can become bad links and bad links can become good. Links appear, and links disappear. The goal is to keep your link profile looking natural. The Disavow Audit Mode of Link Detox is a wonderful process for finding links that should not be neglected.

seo-superhero-list

This case study was created using an LRT Superhero account.

Some of the use cases explained in this case study are not available in lower plans.

The LRT Superhero Plan (and higher) includes all our 25 link data sources and allows you to perform link risk management, competitive research, professional SEO and backlink analysis for your own or your competitor's sites. You get to see your website's full backlink profile picture and this can make all the difference for your SEO success.

Christoph C. Cemper
Christoph C. Cemper is the CEO and Founder of LinkResearchTools and Link Detox. A well-known and distinguished expert in SEO who started link building for clients in 2003, building the Link Research Tools since 2006 and marketing it as SaaS product since 2009. When the famous Google Penguin update changed the rules of SEO in 2012, Christoph started Link Detox, software for finding links that pose a risk in a website’s backlink profile. He introduced ongoing link audits and risk management to the market in early 2011. In 2015, Christoph introduced Impactana, a new technology platform and SaaS product to measure the success of content beyond "social buzz", to find content, videos and people that make an impact.
Christoph C. Cemper
Christoph C. Cemper
Christoph C. Cemper

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1 Comment

  1. Rick Lomas on July 3, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Yes, as I said above, use Link Detox Boost, “You will want to Boost the links that you have undisavowed as well as any new links you have decided to disavow. This way Google will crawl these links and your disavow, and undisavow, will work faster”

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