In the aftermath of Google’s Penguin 2.0 update, more attention is being paid to sites’ link profiles. Whether your objective is a complete link audit and rebuild or simply removing a questionable link from your site’s history, the good news is that there are several ways to do it. If requests to webmasters go unanswered, Google’s Disavow Tool lets you report links you’d rather that the search engine ignore.
But as with any new tool, it’s surrounded by a number of concerns and even what I’d call myths. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of Google Disavow and avoid critical missteps that could hurt your site’s rankings in the long-run.
What is Google Disavow?
The Disavow tool was rolled out last year. Its purpose is simple: If there are some unsavory websites in your link profile, Google Disavow can help you clean them up. The tool lets you submit a list of those sites from bad neighborhoods for Google’s consideration. Disavow will not remove the links, but it lets Google know you’d like to ignore them when it comes to your search rankings. But know this: the tool is not a cure all, and you should proceed with caution if you plan to use it as the primary means of cleaning up your link profile.
Why the limitations? Let’s start at the beginning. Google’s chief spam fighter, Matt Cutts, said in a video that it’s important to use the tool judiciously. Instead of wholesale uploading every bad link to your site via the tool, consider it as your last resort. He specifically says that Google expects you to reach out to webmasters multiple times before resorting to Google Disavow.
To repeat: Google wants you to take steps to have the links removed before you begin disavowing. This means identifying the sites and reaching out to them the old fashioned way, with an email request indicating that you’d like the link removed from their website. While sending hundreds or even thousands of emails is time consuming, the time you invest will be worth it because it can help you avoid incurring future penalties. For a detailed overview of how to identify which links need to be disavowed or removed, see my article “How to Know Which Links to Disavow in Google.” If you’re not the DIY-type and would like to have a link audit done for you, look into a professional link profile audit.
What To Do Before You Resort to Disavow
Before you resort to Google Disavow, take the time to launch an outreach campaign to site owners to request that links to your sites are removed. I always recommend a systematic approach. Start a spreadsheet that records the following information:
- URL/site name
- Link URL
- Anchor text
- URL that it’s linking to
- Owner name/contact information
- Records of contacts
Ideally, try reaching out to the site at least three times before adding it to your Disavow file. In terms of what your request should include, keep it very basic. Personalize the message, and ask them to remove the link including the information above. Try sending your messages a week apart, and follow up in an organized way. Use Boomerang for Gmail to automatically remind you if you don’t hear back from a Webmaster. If, after the third try, you still don’t get a response, make a note in your spreadsheet of the dates each message was sent and copy the messages into your spreadsheet.
If you’re under a manual penalty or some other circumstance where you’re submitting a reconsideration request, include this information with your request to Google. That will help prove that you’ve taken serious steps to cleaning up your link profile. Finally, if you reach out to a webmaster and they want to be paid to remove a link, don’t do it. Simply note the request in your spreadsheet, along with a copy of their message, and submit it with your disavow request.
Common Myths About Disavow Tool