Google Disavow is in the Details

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DisavowGoogle’s Penguin update firmly solidified my love for penguins. I mean, penguins are super cool creatures, working as a team to find food and protect their tiny egg all the while braving insanely low arctic temperatures. When the process aligns just so, and the long dark days of winter are over, a baby penguin is born into the waddle. In a lot of ways Google couldn’t have done a better job naming this algorithm update because it takes a superb team to brave the algorithm and protect the website so that it can become reborn in the SERPs. Real penguins instinctively understand that survival and the birth of the next generation is in the details. In the land of internet search, SEOs and website owners should strive to replicate this same attention to detail which is becoming less of a choice and more of a necessity.

Knee Jerk Reactions to Google Penalties

A strong case of agita is felt when you view the nasty cliff in Analytics that once was your traffic. Instead of analyzing the cause of the discomfort, the knee jerk reaction is to scramble for a reconsideration request or submit a disavow – essentially grabbing a handful of antacid and hoping the pain goes away. In my view, the Penguin algorithm update isn’t a penalty, it’s a brutal lesson to change behaviors that Google has been long warning us about.

Without doing the hard work of link pruning and link removal, these knee jerk actions will ultimately fail and only prolong the negative effects. The disavow tool was intended to be used after a website owner or SEO has removed spammy, paid for, or otherwise illegitimate links that intended to or appeared to have the intent to game the system and not to be used without first applying maximum effort.

The rush to cut corners during the penguin recovery process verifies that the original link building strategy hasn’t been corrected and the Penguin algorithm that was applied to a website is justified. When a disavow or reconsideration request is properly paired with documents and documentation that show the depth of work performed, the website is proving to Google that they stopped, looked and listened. They accepted the problem, pulled together data, analyzed the situation, strategized how they could improve and did the painfully tedious work to rectify the situation. Ultimately, the hard work and showing how that work was performed will set a site free as it shows that former practices have been rectified.   

The Details of the Disavow

If you some Googling, there are multiple shoddy disavow and reconsideration requests available for review. There are also quite a few really strong case studies on how to remove links effectively. In many of these examples, the success of a recovery effort is in the documentation.

The link removal documents should answer:

  • How URLs were contacted for removal
  • How many attempts were made with dates
  • If the requests successful
  • What additional contact methods were used
  • If payment was requested for removal
  • If a link originally reported as active became stripped

Additional details to consider

  • Since this is Google’s game, give them some love and document every last detail using their products.
  • You may have an email address that matches the domain but sync it to a Gmail account and organize the folders similar to the spreadsheets that are being used. Not only will it make your life easier, but at the end of the process you can drop your spreadsheets into an associated Google Drive and share the link in your disavow file.
  • This will give depth to the disavow’s text file and offer the ability to view the complete, well documented play book of the clean up process while offering further reassurance that Penguin was taken seriously.

Disavow After Your Room’s Cleaned

Many associate penalties with being on Google’s radar. In some respects this is accurate. If Google is truly interested in giving users the best answer to their query and is able to deduce that a website is gaming their ability to judge who should compete in a SERP, surely they are going to take a deeper look around a website than they normally do with a crawl. Addressing onsite issues is hugely important with Penguin recovery as it enables additional insights into a website owner or SEO’s level remorse.


  • Take the time to perform a deep site audit and correct the issues that are uncovered. Implement changes such as rel=author, rich snippets, and other adjustments that have been ignored in favor of other marketing activities.
  • Update content and improve the user experience and interaction on the website.
  • Verify that Webmaster Tools is clean, without any 404 or server issues and keep an updated and accurate sitemap.
  • Verify social media profiles associated with the website and encourage interactions that result in a visit to your website.

Include all of these updates in your documentation to highlight the additional steps and work performed beyond the scope of Penguin. Cleaning up on-site issues won’t cure a website of its Penguin ills on its own but it will help sooth any unforeseen ruffles in the reconsideration process.

What details have given the greatest impact with your link removal and disavow process?

Image Credit: Shutterstock / fotoscool

Jason White
Jason White is an integral member of the SEO team at DragonSearch in the NYC area. A natural linkbuilder, Jason enjoys the chase of hunting... Read Full Bio
Jason White
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  • Andy Morley

    Great post Jason. Do you have li is to the good case studies you mention early on in the post ?



    • Ralti

      Well nice work jason. Now i get some more points on google penguin and there disavow.

      Thanks for that.


  • Andy Morley

    Sorry that should read *links to the case studies (damn iPad)

  • Andrew

    This all sounds well and good in theory, but it’s still not a practical solution at all, and it keeps the door wide open for negative SEO tactics to be successful. If a malicious individual wants to blast their competitor with a few thousand SPAMmy links through a couple of blog networks and/or directory networks, this could be done with very little effort or expense.

    By contrast, the manual process of not only contacting every single blog and/or directory to request removal, but also fully documenting the process and outcomes is exponentially more labor and cost intensive. I think the “old” tactic by Google of penalizing the sites that HOST the SPAMmy links, rather than those that receive them, was a much better system.

  • Paul Rakov

    Penguin has been a pain for my company but I like Jason’s “No problem” attitude about it!

  • Josh McCoy

    This is a very neat observation for a criteria based form for the submission of Google disavowal requests. I wonder if it would help.

    With this being said, it may actually validate spammy sites, and paid link sites. Additionally, there needs to be a better way to catch SEO’s in the act of negatively blasting other companies in order to promote another one.

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