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Does Using Disavow Signal that a Site is Shady?

Google's John Mueller answers if filing a link disavow sends a negative signal about the site uploading it

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller answering a question in the SEO Office Hours video show

Something that’s been somewhat unclear is if using the disavow creates a flag that a site might be suspicious. That’s the question that John Mueller answered in a recent Google Office Hours Hangout.

Link Disavow Tool

What is the Link Disavow Tool?

The link disavow tool is a tool in Google Search Console that allows publishers to tell Google to ignore specific links to their website.

The link disavow tool was something that the SEO community asked for in order to help deal with sites that were affected by Google’s Penguin update around the mid-2000’s.

Uses of the Disavow Tool: Improve Rankings

Gradually the use of the disavow tool evolved to help improve rankings for sites that didn’t do anything wrong but still have spammy looking links. The assumption is that the spammy links caused the site to lose rankings.

Anecdotal evidence from publishers (not the SEOs who charge for this service) indicates that using the disavow to improve rankings doesn’t help improve rankings.

Uses of the Disavow Tool: Recovery from Negative Link Attack

Another disavow tool use that evolved was to defend against a “negative links” attack. A negative links attack is when a competitor points a significant amount of spammy links to a site.

This is a dirty trick that was originated within the online gambling industry. The online gambling space is highly competitive and the negative links attack is one of the strategies that evolved from that high pressure ranking environment.

Original Use of Disavow Tool: Paid Links

The reason why publishers asked for the disavow tool was for cleaning up the backlink profile of sites that had participated in link schemes. In the beginning, ever site that used the disavow tool had broken Google’s webmaster guidelines about links.

Does Filing a Disavow Mark a Site as Shady?

Over the years it was natural for some to suspect that filing a disavow can make a site appear to be suspicious. The idea was that filing a disavow is the same as admitting that your site is shady.

So if there’s a list somewhere at Google to note sites that voluntarily acknowledged shady SEO practices, those who uploaded a disavow file would surely be included in it.

The disavow tool was suspected to be an easy way to identify shady sites.

And that’s the background to the question that Google’s John Mueller was asked.

Here is the question that was asked:

“After the disavow tool is used, does a domain carry any mark that… may hold it back?”

John Mueller sometimes pauses to think about his answer, particularly when the the complexity of the question demands an answer that simultaneously consists of a yes, a but and a no.

There was no such ambiguity to answering this question.

Mueller responded quickly:

“No, no, the disavow tool is purely a technical thing, essentially, that tells our systems to ignore these links.

It’s not an admission of guilt or any kind of bad thing to use a disavow tool.

It’s not the case that we would say, well, they’re using the disavow tool, therefore they must be buying links.

It’s really just a way to say, well… I don’t want these links to be taken into account.

And sometimes that’s for things that you have done or someone working your website has done in the past.

Sometimes that’s for things that you just don’t want Google to take into account for whatever reason.

And both of those things are good situations, right? It’s like you recognize there’s a problem and this is a tool that you can use to resolve that. And that’s not a bad thing.

So it’s not the case that there is any kind of a red mark or any kind of a flag that’s passed on just because a website has used the disavow tool.”

Using the Disavow Tool Does not Flag a Site as Suspicious

Considering how fast and confidently Mueller answered the question, it’s safe to agree that there is no possibility of Google giving a negative score to a site that uploads a disavow tool.

This approach acknowledges that many innocent and well-meaning sites use the upload disavow tool. For Google to give a site a negative score for using the disavow tool would result in making it hard for good sites to rank.

That would be a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.


Watch Google’s John Mueller on SEO Office-hours Hangout

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Does Using Disavow Signal that a Site is Shady?

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