It’s every SEO’s worst nightmare to wake up to a notification in Google Search Console that your site has been penalized for unnatural links. Identifying and removing the harmful links in question is often a painstaking and tedious process, and fully recovering from a link penalty can take several months. The easiest solution? Make sure you’re working with a transparent SEO agency that adheres to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. But since you’re reading this post, you’re probably already in the penalty box and need help getting out. Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, I’m going to share my fast & dirty hack for finding toxic backlinks to disavow, using Majestic‘s powerful Flow Metrics.
Before we dive in, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with some quick definitions.
What is a Disavow File?
A disavow file is a text file that contains a list of low-quality links and bad domains that you want Google to ignore. Google’s Disavow Links Tool allows webmasters to tell Google that they do not want certain backlinks and sites to count for or against their ability to rank. Submitting a disavow file to Google is typically only necessary if you’ve discovered you have a manual penalty for low-quality backlinks in Google Search Console. If you find yourself in that unlucky boat and are looking for answers, this post is a great place to start.
Note: Google’s Disavow Links Tool should be used with extreme caution, and only as a last resort once you’ve attempted to manually remove harmful links on your own. If you don’t have experience with disavowing links, get in touch with a reputable, white hat SEO agency to do the heavy-lifting for you (or you run the risk of accidentally disavowing valuable, hard-earned links).
What Are Flow Metrics?
Majestic’s Flow Metrics can get complicated, so I’ve provided some succinct definitions, along with links to good blog posts & video content for additional info.
Here are the official definitions of Trust Flow and Citation Flow (according to Majestic’s glossary):
- Trust Flow: Trust Flow, a trademark of Majestic, is a score based on quality, on a scale between 0-100. Majestic collated many trusted seed sites based on a manual review of the web. This process forms the foundation of Majestic Trust Flow. Sites closely linked to a trusted seed site can see higher scores, whereas sites that may have some questionable links would see a much lower score.
- Citation Flow: Citation Flow is a trademark of Majestic. Citation Flow is a score between 0-100 which helps to measure the link equity or “power” the website or link carries. Citation Flow is used in conjunction with Trust Flow. Together, Citation Flow and Trust Flow form the Majestic Flow Metrics algorithm.
My take on these powerful backlink metrics:
- Citation Flow is a Flow Metric designed to predict how influential/powerful a site might be, based on the backlinks pointing to it. It does not take into account the quality of backlinks pointing to the domain. Rather, “influence” is defined as the site’s ability to make an impact on readers. Thus, the more backlinks pointing to a page, the more influential it is.
- Trust Flow is a metric designed to predict how trustworthy a site is, based on the quality of backlinks pointing to the site. The more authoritative, trustworthy backlinks pointing to the site, the greater the Trust Flow. If Citation Flow is significantly higher than Trust Flow, that’s an indication that a site has a large number of low-quality backlinks pointing to it.
Two-sentence summary: Citation Flow is essentially a measure of the quantity of backlinks and referring domains pointing to a domain. Trust Flow, on the other hand, is a metric designed to determine the quality of those inbound links, making it one of the most important metrics for determining the health of your backlink profile.
Further reading and resources on Majestic’s Flow Metrics:
- Majestic Tutorial: How to Understand and Use Flow Metrics (Trust Flow and Citation Flow)
- What Is Majestic Trust Flow and How Do I Improve It?
- How to Use Majestic SEO’s Trust Flow Metric
Alright, on to the fun stuff – time to dive into your backlink profile and find those spammy domains and bad backlinks to disavow!
How to Quickly Prep a Disavow File Using Majestic
Step 1: Open Majestic Site Explorer in your browser and enter your domain, then navigate to the “Ref Domains” tab.
You’ll notice Majestic now breaks down referring domains into 5 different “views”: “Default,” “Links,” “Outbound,” “Geo,” and “Crawls.” You can also select “Classic” to revert to the old Majestic layout. I’m not going to cover each of these views in this post, but if you want to learn more about this update to Majestic’s layout, check out this post on Majestic’s blog.
For this post, we’re going to analyze referring domains using the “Default” view.
Step 2: Next, locate the “Order By:” bar at the top of the chart.
Step 3: Order by “Backlinks” (“Descending”), then “Trust Flow” (“Ascending”).
Order by “Backlinks” (“Descending”), then “Trust Flow” (“Ascending”) to identify low-quality domains that point a high number of links to your site. This identifies top referring domains (by quantity of backlinks pointing to your site) that also have the lowest Trust Flow.
Why this helps with finding toxic links for disavow: Any domain pointing links to your site that has a very low Trust Flow could potentially get you penalized by Google. But a domain pointing lots of links to your site that has a low Trust Flow is even more likely to get you hit with a manual action.
Step 4: Order by “Trust Flow” (“Ascending”), then “Citation Flow” (“Ascending”).
Order by “Trust Flow” (“Ascending”), then “Citation Flow” (“Ascending”) to identify all low-quality referring domains. This identifies referring domains with low Trust Flow and low Citation Flow metrics.
Why this helps with finding toxic links for disavow: Domains with low Trust Flow and Citation Flow are either new, smaller sites that are just getting their feet off the ground (not necessarily candidates for disavow), or spammy/low-quality domains (definitely candidates for disavow).
To identify only domains that are definite candidates for disavow, I prefer to use the following sorting method:
Step 5: Order by “Trust Flow” (“Ascending”), then “Citation Flow” (“Descending”).
Order by “Trust Flow” (“Ascending”), then “Citation Flow” (“Descending”) to identify established referring domains that are definite candidates for disavow. This identifies referring domains with low Trust Flow and high Citation Flow.
Why this helps with finding toxic links for disavow: Remember from my introduction to Flow Metrics earlier – if Citation Flow is significantly higher than Trust Flow, that’s an indication that a site has a large number of low-quality backlinks pointing to it. Domains with low Trust Flow and high Citation Flow are domains that have attracted backlinks (high Citation Flow), but those backlinks come from untrustworthy or spammy areas of the web (low Trust Flow). These are not the websites you want to be getting links from, and likely are your prime candidates for disavow.
Step 6: Download links.
Once you’ve tried out these three sorting methods in Majestic, download the domains and export the data into Microsoft Excel. Here, you’ll need to review manually to ensure you don’t accidentally disavow a domain that isn’t hurting your website. However, if you’ve used the above three methods, you should be working with a data set that’s near-ready for disavow.
Step 7: Format your disavow file & submit it to the Google Disavow Links Tool.
Once you’ve identified a list of bad links & low quality domains that you definitely do not want your website to be associated with, it’s time to format your disavow file with the syntax required by Google’s disavow tool. Check out my follow-up article for step-by-step instructions for formatting your disavow file in Excel.
That’s it! Hope you found my method helpful. Do you have a tip for lifting manual actions, cleaning up bad link footprints, or speeding up the penalty recovery process? Share in a comment below!