In a Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller stated in clear terms that the “vast majority of sites” do not need to use the disavow tool. He noted that Google actually hides the tool and makes it hard to find in Google’s Search Console on purpose. The reason is because the tool is primarily useful if you know the links are bad because you or your SEO are responsible for the bad links.
John Mueller Says Disavow Links You Paid For or Unnaturally Gained
Google’s John Mueller recently tweeted that publishers should not worry about random low quality links that websites tend to acquire. Every site that ranks for anything tends to acquire random low quality links. Below I explain why these links don’t matter.
Here is what Google’s John Mueller tweeted about disavowing links:
“Random links collected over the years aren’t necessarily harmful, we’ve seen them for a long time too and can ignore all of those weird pieces of web-graffiti from long ago. Disavow links that were really paid for (or otherwise actively unnaturally placed), don’t fret the cruft.”
What are spammy Links?
Spammy links are defined as low quality links from spammy websites. Sometimes they can link to a site with very bad anchor text. Some SEOs suggest that these links could have a negative effect on rankings.
Google however has consistently said that for most websites those links will not hurt rankings. The reason is because link algorithms are able to distinguish between bad links and normal links.
For example, link ranking algorithms tend to create maps of the web that isolate spam sites, reducing in what’s called a Reduced Link Graph of sites that don’t have any spammy type sites in them.
In these kinds of algorithms, bad pages linking to good pages become isolated because no quality pages link back to them. Link communities (both spammy and legitimate) are formed by sites that link to each other.
Virtual links called Latent Links are also formed. For example, if site A links to B, and B links to site C, then a Latent Link between site A and C is created. These kinds of latent links are used to further reinforce the link structure between good pages and bad pages.
No Need to Disavow Random Spam Links
Many publishers believe they must identify low quality “spammy” links and disavow them. They believe that failure to do so can cause a site to lose rankings.
But Google never recommends this practice. Google says it is not necessary. Googler’s have been consistent that the the disavow tool is not necessary for the vast majority of sites. This likely means you.
Furthermore, if you understand how links form communities and make it easier to identify normal links from bad links then it becomes clear that the only time to disavow links is if you know a link is bad or manipulated because you or your SEO created it.
Should Low Quality Links Be Disavowed?
The concept of disavowing random “low quality links” isn’t mentioned or discussed on Google’s official Webmaster Help pages. There are no official Google pages that make reference to disavowing random low quality links.
The 100% true fact is that Google does not anywhere recommend disavowing random low quality sites that you have nothing to do with.
What Links Should be Disavowed?
Google’s official web pages makes it clear that low quality links that you or your SEO are responsible for should be disavowed. Google is clear and without ambiguity about this point.
“For example, you or a search engine optimizer (SEO) you’ve hired may have built bad links to your site via paid links or other link schemes that violate our quality guidelines.
This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution.
In most cases, Google can assess which links to trust without additional guidance, so most normal or typical sites will not need to use this tool.”
Google is Consistent About the Disavow Tool
This is in line with Matt Cutts’ guidance in 2012. Matt encouraged publishers to use the tool to disavow spammy links that they were directly responsible for.
According to Matt Cutts, when asked who should use the disavow tool:
“…anyone with an unnatural link warning. It also mentions anyone hit by Penguin, but I keep getting asked about this. I’m going to reiterate that if you were hit by Penguin and know or think you have bad links, you should probably use this too.”
Google’s John Mueller Reaffirms Proper Use of Disavow
Most recently, Google’s John Muller stated that for most sites the disavow tool is not necessary. In fact, the disavow tool is so unnecessary Google purposely made it difficult to find in the Google Search Console (Watch the Webmaster Hangout here) .
“…I think for the vast majority of sites that kind of have that normal mix of things where like you followed some bad advice in the past, and it’s like you moved on and things are pretty natural now, then they really don’t have to.
That’s kind of the goal with all of this. And that’s why the disavow tool isn’t like a main feature in Search Console. You kind of have to look for it explicitly. That’s all done on purpose. Because for most sites you really don’t need to focus on links that much.
What I kind of do like about the disavow tool though is that if you’re worried about this you can still go there and be like ok, I know there is like these handful of things that we did a couple of years ago and I’m really worried about that. Then disavowing them, from my point of view is not a problem.
I wouldn’t go out and specifically search for all of that stuff. But if you know about it and you’re really worried about it, then you can kind of take care of it.”
Anecdotal Reports of Disavow Tool Helping
In the normal process of ranking losses and recoveries, there is in general a ten to fifteen day window in which a site that loses rankings may experience the return of their rankings. In some cases it could be up to thirty days. The reason is because Google sometimes refines the changes made to it’s algorithm in order to minimize false positives.
Publishers who file a disavow file regarding random links within this time period may experience a false correlation between the filing of their disavow and rankings returning.
Use the Disavow Tool for Actual Spam
It may be the case that many people are needlessly spinning the disavow tool hamster wheel. While it may be useful to disavow particularly vile backlinks, the actual issue afflicting rankings might lie somewhere else. So focusing on the disavow tool could keep you from digging deeper to find what the real issue affecting the site may be.
The takeaways here are:
- Google hides the disavow tool because it’s not generally necessary
- Google has consistently discouraged use of disavow tool except for spammy links you know about
- Use the disavow tool for links that you or your SEO are responsible for
- Google has been consistent since 2012 to 2019 about how to use the disavow tool
- There is no reason to be confused about when to use the disavow tool. Random links are normal.
- Too Many Links: Strategies for Disavow & Cleanup
- Should You Disavow a Link That Sends Lots of Traffic?
- 38% of SEOs Never Disavow Links [POLL]
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Screenshots by Author, Modified by Author