The Link Disavow Tool – Google Just Isn’t That Into You

When the link disavow tool was introduced at Pubcon 2012, many greeted it as an answer to their prayers. Looked upon as a reset button to rebuild a website or link profile, many were stunned when their link disavows were met with – nothing.  I’ve read a few stories where websites have bounced back after a link disavow was processed, but in every one of these cases, a painstaking process of link removals and reconsideration requests were also involved.

Meanwhile back at the Google Ranch

In slide 12 from Matt Cutts Pubcon presentation , two important points were highlighted in red:

“Don’t use this tool unless you are sure you need to use it”
Most sites shouldn’t use this tool

In Matt’s Disavow Links Video, he drives home the point that you need to make multiple link removal requests on your own. Once you have a “small fraction” of links left to remove, you should then use the tool.

In a follow up interview, when asked how long it would take to see results, Matt answered:

“It can definitely take some time, and potentially months. There’s a time delay for data to be baked into the index. Then there can also be the time delay after that for data to be refreshed in various algorithms”.

I’ve suspected from the introduction of this “new tool” that it may be nothing more than a “new feature” added to an old tool – The Spam Report. I don’t think Google is interested in a micro approach to fixing link spam one website at a time. Like spam reports, I believe Link disavow reports go directly to Web spam engineers and are used to devise scalable solutions. This could also explain the “baked into the index” comment.

That’s my take – what do you think?

Chuck Price
Chuck Price started his internet marketing career in 2002 with the launch of Pro Web Promotion. Four years later, in 2006, he teamed up with Jim Boykin of We Build Pages (aka helping grow the company from 6 employees to more than 50. Today he is the founder of Measurable SEO . You can follow Chuck @measurableseo

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49 thoughts on “The Link Disavow Tool – Google Just Isn’t That Into You

  1. I think that the reason so many are seeing so little in terms of results is that when you take away all the bad links that used to have their sites ranking high, there are not enough good links left to get them to where they once were. In effect, nothing is really accomplished except that you may have a manual “action” removed. Then, to start climbing again, it’s time to get good links the old fashioned way – you earn them!

    1. Scott – I agree with your thoughts. The only way to know if the disavow link tool is working is to do nothing over several months, which isn’t very realistic. New good link must replace the bad. I’m hopeful that all of this will lead to better SEO and less link spam companies giving SEO a bad name.

  2. Scott – you are exactly right. Penguin is just the latest in a long line of updates designed to depreciate or eliminate the value of low quality links . Unless new high quality links are being acquired at a volume greater than the depreciation, you will naturally see a ranking decline.

  3. I agree – it will be baked into the algo using all the data everyone gives them. “These are what spammy links look like to us, Google. Please use it to kick spammer butt.”

    We’ll just see how many cry after Google actually uses that data. I expect a LOT of crying.

  4. Matt: Groans, tears and complaints have gone hand in hand with every update since Florida – that will never change:)
    Make it a point to work within the Webmaster Guidelines and you will never have to worry about Google sending you a link warning. The days of easy SEO & spammy link building are coming to an end.

  5. Hi.

    Our website is being sabotaged by someone building thousands of spam blog comment links all using the same anchor text.
    Do you think that we should disavow all of these links, even though they have not affected us yet. Pre-emptive basically.

    1. Definitely: If those links are from a blog circle or content farm.
      Definitely: If you can track down how they are paid links
      Definitely: If you notice that blog being deindexed by google (or any blogs in that circle being deindexed)
      Definitely: If it is anchor text that will be bad for your reputation, like “crappy product.”

      Otherwise you could consider holding off. There is no proof that we have any algo pieces working against spammy anchor text.

  6. To Matt @ High On SEO

    If i create a removal request of my home page and it’s sub pages. so, after removal when we resubmit our site to google, how much time will google takes to reindex a site

  7. Hi,

    After getting about 200 url’s with links removed manually I decided to use the disavow tool to remove the remaining 20 or so I thought were iffy which I found through Majestic SEO.

    I resent a reconsideration request and after a 5 week wait have been rejected again. I am at a bit of a loss what to do next.

    After studying the link profile in WMT they are reporting 530 URL’s of which I need to remove about another 200 URL’s to the disavow tool.

    Is this too many or do I need to try and get them removed manually again?

    I would really appreciate any guidance.

  8. I personally dont think anything of this tool. For a new business it would make sense but an old business been online for quite a while why would they loose all their backlinks and build them again. It might be as good as building a new website from scratch.. What google fails to tell us is the after effects of using this tool.

    Maybe a few case studies of people who actually used this tool would be good. A great option would be where google detect these negative backlinks and then give us an option to diasvow a particular site. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are actually working on it.

    1. We still need time to see how this tool plays out, but one thing is certain – Google is looking for scalable solutions – not one offs. If you want to disavow a site you can do it now – it’s called filing a spam report.

  9. @ Heath Showman ~ Matt Cutts in his video quantifies it this way – AFTER all manual link removal attempts have been made and only a “small fraction” of links are left, then its time to use the link disavow tool. So the answer is yes – you need to make an earnest attempt at manually removing all of these links and it needs to be well documented. In your reconsideration request, you need to identify the link – the contact info for the removal request and the date of the removal request. I would suggest a minimum of 3 attempts be documented for each link that you are attempting to remove. You may want to go so far as establishing a dedicated email account for this and offering Google login credentials to verify the work.

  10. @Chuck Price, Thanks for your response. I guess my mistake was using a link profile from Majestic SEO first, which having removed 400 URL’s i though I had cracked it. Only since downloading the link profile from WMT i notice I still have 530 url’s linking to my site, with about 250 of them needing to be removed.

    I’m concerned that this Disavow tool has only served to harden the webmasters attitude to link removal requests, not only because they might as well ignore requests now, but also as the technique of asking for removal of links as a pre-cursor to being reconsidered they have probably been inundated with removal requests and are just fed up with it by now.

    I’m going to keep up with the link removal requests and hope that with all the evidence I am going to provide Google will see that I couldn’t possible have tried any harder.

    Thanks for your time.

    1. My pleasure Heath. I think the best bet for you now is exceptional documentation. If you can prove, without question, that you have made multiple link removal requests, G will be far more likely to consider your request. The killer is that penguin is algorithmic, so G can’t remove a manual penalty that was never placed.

      1. I agree, I followed your original advice and set up a dedicated email address purely for link removal correspondence and an excel sheet logging every email request/response and contact us page request/response .Fingers crossed, its enough.

  11. So, they want you to do their work for them with little or no benefit to yourself?

    You have to wonder what the future holds when Google seems to be moving towards manual spam intervention.

    1. Hey Mike:

      As long as people are willing to play along, Google is more than happy to use “crowdsourcing” to assist them in tweaking their algorithm. With an 80% share of Search, they are a near monopoly and if you want to play in their sandbox, you need to at least be aware of the rules. Should you decide to break the rules, just don’t be surprised, when they drop the hammer.

  12. Couldn’t agree more – spam engineers are using Disavow tool data to create scalable link spam detection algorithms.

    The Disavow tool is still probably doing it’s job to “devalue” reported links, but it’s part of something much bigger, which we will probably find out about soon.

    See you at the next Chicago SES Chuck!

  13. Irrespective of the Matt Cutts video there is till confusion on the proper use of Disavow. The post , comments and links are great as it gives me that little bit extra to show clients (without Penguin penalty) who feel that the tool is there to do a little gardening as and when. I’ve not used the tool yet.

    1. Hi Mick:

      Agreed. The Disavow Links tool is meant to be a tool of last resort and just ONE component of a comprehensive link cleanup effort. I think a lot of people visualize this as some sort of a “redirect” where the bad links are redirected to space and don’t count in your backlink profile. Just because you disavow a link doesn’t mean that Google will.

  14. Hi, Though I would give an update on my now 3rd REJECTED reconsideration request.

    I removed links to the point of only being left with sites that just refused to communicate with me. I provided Google with login details for a dedicated email account used only for link building, shared them in on Google Docs for the contact history of every URL and for the Disavow list.

    I am literally at a dead end, I have no more links to remove ( that will communicate with me ), no more links to disavow and still my reconsideration request gets rejected.

    Any suggestions for someone who has done everything possible but still been refused?

    1. Hi Heath –

      I know how incredibly frustrating this can be – I’m really sorry to hear that.

      When filing your reconsideration, here are some key points that could help to facilitate success:

      •Be specific. Carefully review Google’s webmaster guidelines. Disclose all activities that you were engaged in that fell outside of the guidelines as well as the steps taken to come into compliance. This is where your documentation will be helpful.

      •Confess everything and hide nothing. This is the time to be completely honest and upfront. Nothing bugs the spam team more than a reconsideration request that simply says, “My site now adheres to the guidelines.” Avoid wasting everyone’s time and burning goodwill. If your link building efforts were centered on SENuke and the BuildMyRank blog network, then say so. You won’t be telling Google anything they don’t already know. (Yeah – they know about that really juicy paid link too – it must go).

      •Accept responsibility and promise it will never happen again. Explain what you’re doing differently now and why it will never happen again (e.g., you fired the person who was doing your SEO or you’ve changed your policy). If the spam team doesn’t get the sense that you have put the effort in to change, don’t expect a quick resolution.

      •Don’t bring up your AdWords budget, expecting to get preferred customer status.The spam team couldn’t care less about your PPC budget. It’s irrelevant.

      If you were successful in getting a significant number of links removed AND provided killer documentation AND covered the points above, there is nothing left to do. Is it possible that any of this was missing from the reconsideration request?

  15. I used the tool for the first time today, for a client that got spammed by a SEO agency and had his links on banned blogs or pages where tens/hundreds of links were stuffed. I am anxiously waiting for some results, I hope its rankings will improve after those weeks/months of waiting, as Cuts said. I didn’t read all the comments, so sorry if it was discussed or asked before, but anyone having a clear success story with this disavow tool?

    1. Hi Eric: I thought I commented on this before, but check out my reply to the comment below. The answer is yes – the disavow tool works IF it is used properly – as the last step in a link removal campaign.

  16. I’ve found that the best way is to remove de-indexed using this disavow tool….. although I use it, I still haven’t seen concrete evindence that this will help us in the ranking

    1. Follow the steps above and you will get one of these:

      Dear site owner or webmaster of

      We received a request from a site owner to reconsider for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

      Previously the webspam team had taken manual action on your site because we believed it violated our quality guidelines. After reviewing your reconsideration request, we have revoked this manual action. It may take some time before our indexing and ranking systems are updated to reflect the new status of your site.

      Of course, there may be other issues with your site that could affect its ranking without a manual action by the webspam team. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200
      different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users. If your site continues to have trouble in our search results, please see this article for help with diagnosing the issue.

      Thank you for helping us to maintain the quality of our search results.


      Google Search Quality Team

      The link disavow BY ITSELF isn’t enough – it is ONE PART of the process to recovery

  17. I have commented on here a number times after having no success with 3 reconsideration requests.

    I am delighted to say my 4th attempt was successful and I have received the much coveted Manual Action Revoked email from Google.

    From my experience here is my opinion:

    1) Each piece of software claiming to show the links to your site are all inaccurate. You have to combine all of them, weed out the duplicates and use a combined list.
    2) Google Webmaster Tools link report DOES NOT show all the links to your site.
    3) Use software called Link Detox. This picked up many links that were not on any other report. It also categorises the links into toxic, suspicious and ok links, which again is something no other piece of software I used offered.
    4) I personally think ( this is only my opinion ) that there is a time limit on sites being reconsidered. For instance unless you are a brand like Interflora I think that Google will make you wait a period of time no matter how good or detailed your link removal requests were. After all if you can get added back in quickly, would you really have learnt your lesson.
    5) Be ruthless using the disavow tool. If it takes you more than 1 second to decide whether a URL is dodgy or not, then my decision was that it needed adding to the disavow tool.

    Those are my opinions anyway.

    Thanks for you comments in the past Chuck!


    1. Hi Heath – that is great news – congrats. With the exception of point 4, I would say you are spot on. I have had small clients emerge within 30 days of reconsideration. I still think the key is full disclosure, solid documentation of the removal process, a sincere apology and a believable explanation of how / what you will do differently moving forward.

      1. Hi Chuck,

        The other great advice you gave me was the dedicated gmail email address that they could log into and Google Docs for the link removal requests and disavow lists. I dont know whether they bothered to look at any of them, but sentiment I think goes a long way.

        I also rewrote my reconsideration request .

        Quite pleased with myself for achieving the manual penalty being revoked.

        I think my point about the time frame was me rushing my comment. Its a very time consuming process is what I really meant, so it kind of teaches you a lesson, not to do it again.

        Search Engine Journal is the place to keep in touch will all that is relevant.

        Thanks Chuck.


    2. I’ve one more thing to add;
      You will gain a lot better results if you delete `spammy` and `unnatural` links rather than add them to disavow.
      OFC, it’s a little more time-consuming, because you need to send an email to website administrator, but sometimes it’s worth it.

  18. While we definitely always want to do our SEO by the rules, we are for example seeing a real load of spammy links appearing in the past few months. Nothing much, all of them are featured with no anchor text, but from what it seems come from bookmarking websites where we didn’t place them at all. Now the big mind game comes to play, whether to use the disavow tool, make those links disappear, alert Google of it, or simply disregard them as they are not influencing our healthy link numbers right now. That’s what we are going through now. Thanks!

  19. I have used disavow tool from Google one time. It is, no doubt a very careful task to do. You have to be 1 million percent sure that the links you are submitting to the disavow tool are really unnatural and spammy, and that you do not need the link value/devalue from that link anymore.
    A successful submission of the links to this tool will certainly help you get back restoring your old reputation on the Search Engine in terms of ranking and traffic. Reading this post and the comments were of great help!

  20. Before we start using this tool, we must first try and remove bad links manually. The links that we fail to remove even after multiple efforts should be listed using disavow tool. Google wants to see positive effort from our side before it terminates the manual action.

  21. Let’s face it.. Big G won’t really care about you and they wanted to control everything ($).. Most of us are always affected in one way or another when they roll out any updates.. No matter you are black/white..