Google’s Disavow Tool: What You Need to Know, and 4 Common Myths

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

Jayson DeMers
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.
Jayson DeMers

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10 thoughts on “Google’s Disavow Tool: What You Need to Know, and 4 Common Myths

  1. I’m not 100% sure that I agree that using the disavow tool won’t hurt your site. I have seen a number of sites who did pre-emptive disavow to try to avoid a Penguin hit and they were hit severely by Penguin when other sites with similar backlink profiles were not. (I have no proof that disavow was the culprit though.)

    Cyrus Shepard of Moz disavowed every link to his site as an experiment even though he had all good links. Nothing happened. Then, when Penguin refreshed his traffic took a significant drop: http://moz.com/blog/google-disavow-tool#update

    I personally would only recommend using the tool if you are trying to lift a manual penalty or *perhaps* if you are trying to recover from Penguin.

    1. Great Post! One thing Google tells often to the webmasters is that before using the Disavow Tool, its important to identify and remove the spam links pointing to the site manually and then use the disavow link tool for the links which cannot be removed manually and for the ones which are of no use and harms the reputation of a brand.

  2. It’s excellent post Jason. Thanks for your intelligence. You are very persuasive in dealing with the Disavow Tool. It attracts me to try taking it with a grain of salt, it this really works well as you said. But i always have trust in you. Keep sharing your wits Jayson. love it.

  3. “It’s also key that you take responsibility for your actions…”

    Phrases like this don’t help matters. You’re implying that I’m following black hat tactics when I’m getting slammed by negative SEO. Not everyone who has experienced al algorithm penalty is black hat.

    I have a better idea for an article. Tell us if the Disavow process actually works. It’s a lot of work to analyze hundreds of backlinks. Will Google actually remove them from our profiles? Is there any evidence that the links are really removed?

  4. Great article, Jason. I wonder though, how would Google Webmaster’s know if you actually made a valid attempt to contact webmaster’s and ask them to remove referring links to your website, before submitting a disavow request? What’s your thoughts on this?

    1. You must share your spreadsheet of work with Google to show what you have done. From link profile Google can also sure that you have done some removal work or not, If carried our link removal work there will be decline in bad links. Google knows

  5. In Manual penalty I have seen that Google reject the first request in many cases. So again link removal and again filing request. Do you think filling two or three time bring you in eyes of Google and will harm your site in long run.

  6. As always you again rock Jason. I truly believe that this tool should be used very very wisely after making enough efforts of removing link manually by sending mails to site owners. Thanks for clarifying the common myths regarding this tool which people are generally having. I also came to know about the myth through many people that by disvowing the links we’re clearly giving signals to Google that we’ve done something wrong very badly and we are telling them to trigger penalty to the site which is not fact actually.

    Indeed a very efficient and powerful tool to repair your backlink profile if used very precisely and carefully. I was wondering about the one thing that in how much time your bad links would disappeared from the links to your site of Google webmaster tools after disavow links from this tool. One of my friend has done this before 5 months and yet all of the links are coming in Google links to your site section which are already there in disavow sheet. Kindly reply.

    Cheers!
    Stephen

  7. disavow tool is really good but it is not done in a good way. Lets say every time I find a bad link I want to add in my disavow list I have to overwrite or delete the previous one. Any suggestions?

  8. There’s always advantages and disadvantages with regards with Google’s Disavow tool but on my experience this is my last option. I always try to remove them by contacting the owners of the website but contacting them was never been easy, some might respond and some might not. Although this is a very tedious job but I want to show Google that I am making efforts before asking for my links to be disavowed.