The short answer. The truth is most sites will never require you to disavow any domains that link to it. Google has made a lot of advancements since Penguin 4.0 that has made it easier for their algorithm to recognize bad backlinks, and ultimately ignore them. The belief is that Google will ignore these bad backlinks, and will keep the authority of your own site intact.

Google’s own John Mueller has gone on record a number of times making it clear that not every site needs to consider a backlink audit or disavow.

So, how does this apply to your business in regards to local search? The fact is backlinks are still an incredibly powerful ranking factor for search engine optimization, and is one of three ranking factors that Google’s core algorithm weighs heavily, the other two being content and RankBrain, Google’s machine learning AI.

Now for the long answer. What to disavow or not disavow, is not that simple. There is plenty of truth to Google’s claims that they are more capable of ignoring the spam that links to your website. On the other hand there are instances where your site could still face manual penalties, even if you are aware of the penalty or not.


What Are Manual Actions?

Manual actions are usually sent to webmasters in their Search Console dashboard. There are over a dozen different manual actions. The common message webmasters will see is the following if they have unnatural backlinks detected: “Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. These may be the result of buying links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.”

If you receive a manual penalty like this, then the only course of action is to complete a full manual backlink audit to discover spammy links, and submit them to Google using their disavow tool.


What Links to Target with Google’s Disavow Tool?

There are a lot of link types that you should always be looking out for when reviewing your backlink profile either with tools like, or Search Console.  Here are a handful of examples of bad backlinks that could land your business site in penalty hell.

Private Blog Networks (PBNs): A common practice of SEOs a while back consisted of purchasing domains with exact match keywords in the domains, or domains that had established authority. They would create generic content that was relevant and would link to their clients’ websites.  More often than not, these would be purchased backlinks.

Forum Spam:  Another common practice years ago was to find relevant forums and build links in the threads of those forums to your website. For example forums like, a SEO professional would find relevant threads for “Injury Law”, and would simply link to the law office or lawyer they are doing SEO for. The issue with these links is they are considered spam, and really don’t provide any authority today. It is also known that moderators of most forums are much more aggressive in shutting down attempts to build links on their forums.

Bad Neighborhood Spam: There are three categories of sites that are almost always going to lead to a manual penalty; Porn, Pills and Poker (online gambling sites). A lot of these links are built on purpose as a means to harm competitors rankings, this is called Negative SEO, a black hat tactic. Thankfully, a lot of these bad neighborhood domains have been recognized by Google’s spam team, and ignored. Regardless, you should still disavow them, in case Google has not ignored those links.

Simple Low Quality Sites: A lot of sites will accumulate any number of low quality links from mostly irrelevant websites over time. This is usually caused by sites purposely linking out to local businesses as a means to try and leach authority and trust. Again, this is something that Google has stated they have been able to recognize and ignore.

What Links Should You Keep?

On the other hand there are a number of backlinks that you should look to keep, or even consider building more of. These are links that actually will pass authority and trust to your site, ultimately helping you to rank organically.

For Local SEO, there are two areas you want to build and keep links. In your backyard (local citations, local newspapers, .org and .edu) and area of expertise (relevant blogs, niche industry citations and .edu).

Local & niche industry citations are two givens for any local business. These include links from Google My Business, Yelp, YellowPages, etc. As well as, links from niche sites like or if you are a lawyer or law firm. If you are a primary care physician, then you would look to sites like or

Guest posts on relevant blogs is another route to consider when building new links. But it is also something you need to make sure you do not disavow. When you review backlinks from blog posts, you should always review the sort of links that blog is also receiving. Reason being if that site has bad backlinks, and is penalized, then chances are the link from your guest post is now worthless.

Local newspapers or news station sites are also great for providing strong local SEO value to your website. These sites usually will only link to your business if you have something newsworthy, or they have a directory in which you can pay to be a part of. In terms of newsworthy, you usually don’t want it to be something negative, so your best bet is to look to sponsor a local organization or charity. Donations or sponsorships are a great way to receive good publicity, and this could be a great way to receive that link from your local news station or paper.

The irreplaceable .org and .edu backlinks are without a doubt the most challenging links to acquire, but that is because they arguably provide the highest level of trust and authority to your site. The easiest .org backlinks to acquire would be your local chamber of commerce. In order to have your business added to the chamber, you will have to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars annually to be listed, as well maintain that membership annually. Other valuable .org links come from charitable organizations, which we have already discussed. They too can be a challenge to have a link to your site, because they don’t always want to link, even if you are a sponsor.

Education links (.edu) should never be disavowed, unless you find a .edu domain that is linking to your business is in fact no longer an institute for learning. Some local colleges, universities or trade schools will offer you a guest speaker opportunity during a lecture, and that could land you a link from their website. The other option is to find a resources page on local schools, and make an inquiry about having your business added to that list.


Final Thoughts

Is there truth to Google’s statement that they do ignore most unnatural links? Of course, but protecting your site’s trust and authority should not be ignored and entrusted to Google’s ability to ignore bad links.

If you are noticing a decline in organic traffic, you should have a thorough website audit completed. That includes a backlink audit. You should review all referring domains, anchor text and backlinks now that you know what sort of links you should keep or disavow.

A trick of the trade is to always monitor new and lost backlinks with tools like or You should also analyze organic clicks, impressions and average position for specific pages using Search Console. Search engine optimization is more than just content, link building, and managing a Google My Business listing. Backlink audits should become a regularly completed task. Prevention of a manual penalty is always easier than trying to fix a penalty from Google.

Related Article: Backlink Strategies That Still Work for Local SEO