Are Backlinks and Disavow Files Still Important for SEO in 2022?

Since initially rolling out the Google Penguin Update 4.0 back in 2012, there’s always been a huge debate around backlink profiles and links in general. Whether that’s a debate on links actually being a ranking factor, or follow vs nofollow link equity; SEO’s often have a difference in opinion.

This has been even more in the spotlight over recent years, as Google has continued to release further documentation on how they’ve evolved and how they can now ignore ‘low quality’ and ‘toxic’ links

Like many other topics, this has sparked debate countless times within the SEO community. But does this really mean that links shouldn’t be a focal point in your strategy anymore? 

Not in my opinion, and here’s why…

A Recent Study

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting study which was recently carried out by backlink giants, Ahrefs. They really put these theories to the test. 

In a nutshell, Ahrefs disavowed all of their links to three of high traffic driving content pieces; which was a total of 3,476 links across three blog posts. Pretty scary, right? 

They carried out the study to test whether links really do impact rankings. Instead of building links to a page, they decided to disavow all links and monitor the impact. Interestingly, they almost instantly monitored a drop in traffic. One of their pieces even lost around 18% of its search traffic in the first month, with some rankings even dropping from position 1, to position 4. 

For me personally, this just highlights how powerful your backlink profile really is. If your site is currently in position 4, with a solid technical foundation and high quality content, just think of the additional benefit links could have. And this study proves just that. 

Although this is the case, I also firmly believe that link building is crucial for any successful SEO campaign; but these have to be aligned with your SEO strategy at the right time to make a real impact, or at least to reap the most benefit anyway. In the same way that you can’t ignore content on the page and just focus on your technical SEO elements, link building works the same way.

Google is learning.

This isn’t something that will come as a surprise, but Google is forever continuing to evolve and better understand it’s users. Whether that’s rolling out those all important core updates or making very minor tweaks to the algorithm on a daily basis, the world’s most dominant search engine is forever one step ahead of the game. 

Google has told us over the years that they’re now smart enough to ignore low quality links, meaning the need for a disavow is reducing over time.

So, do we need to even do a disavow anymore?

Just because Google is continuing to evolve, this doesn’t mean SEO’s can throw in the towel. We need to continue to learn and understand Google’s enhancements, whilst keeping this in consideration when forming strategies moving forward. 

Again, in recent months, there’s been a lot of chatter around disavows now being redundant and no longer important. In fact, I recently created a Twitter poll, where a staggering 32% of respondents said they didn’t think disavows were important any longer; and 48% of the remaining respondents chose ‘it depends’.

In a sense, I get it. 

Yet personally, from being in the industry for many years, I’m a firm believer that we still need to be analysing our backlink profiles regularly, and disavows should be checked and carried out too, as and when these are required. 

We can’t ignore the fact that a lot of spam still exists, and although Google’s getting smarter at understanding these links, we should be using disavows in extreme case; such as when we see manual actions in place. If you’re seeing impact from a high number of irrelevant links and are sure that this is impacting performance, uploading disavow files to Google Search Console will ensure these are ignored, rather than relying on Google’s learnings to ignore these

Although this is the case, disavows should only ever be carried out with caution. Over the years I’ve spent in SEO, I’ve been gobsmacked at some of the sites I’ve found; both linking to the site we’re analysing, and from within the disavow file itself. 

Of course, I’ve come across some pretty spammy sites, and those which are purely scraped by bots. But the worst thing I’ve found when analysing disavows, is how disavowing a link could cause so much damage to your site. I’ve seen sites such as Pinterest and included in these files, BUT WHY?! 

Google even states:

“This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google Search results.”

More often than not, an analysis of a backlink profile can be quite a tedious task, whether that means people can often make mistakes, or these are carried out by in-experienced SEO professionals, I’m not sure. 

But one thing is for sure, if you’re not 100% certain on whether a link could cause harm, don’t just disavow it. 

Link Acquisition 

It’s not only performing a regular backlink analysis that’s important. 

Let’s take a highly competitive industry for example, you may have a well-balanced backlink profile. An even distribution of relevant anchors, from highly authoritative and trustworthy sites. But now what? 

In order to stay on top of your game, acquiring new links, and coverage, is more important than ever. 

In 2022, there are many ways you can achieve this, but I’m a firm believer that the only way to compete with those big players is with creative content and Digital PR as part of your SEO strategy

No more irrelevant link acquisition or coverage. But natural, trustworthy coverage for high quality content which you’ve produced. 

Google has told us for years that links should only be acquired naturally, for quality content which we produce. Yes, it may still be relevant to acquire links which form a firm foundation for your site, but producing content which people want to link to will take your site to a whole new level.

To conclude, despite the SEO myths we come across from time to time, disavowing and building backlinks are still, very much a part of your overall SEO strategy. Although Google’s evolving and the algorithms are getting smarter, we still need to be on top of our game. If you’re interested in finding out more, get in touch with our team today.


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