The Dos and Don’ts for Google’s New Disavow Links Tool
Josh Patrice Oct 16 2012
For the first time in what might be ever, Google has followed Bing’s lead and announced a tool to disavow links. We asked (or demanded), and they listened! Cleverly named the Disavow Links tool, Google Webmaster Tools’ latest feature gives power back to webmasters and takes it away from spammers.
Here are our tips for using the new Google Disavowinator™:
Don’t disavow links unless you’ve carefully researched them
What does that mean? Well, it’s not just looking at domain names, domain authority, or whatever else you use to get a rough understanding of the quality of said site. Thoroughly researching your links is much more complicated and will take time. However, you’ll be better off in the end for having done it.
Building a database of your current backlinks is your first step… and then there are about 19 other steps after that. Follow Ian’s master list – he’s a good man, and thorough.
Don’t use this as a short cut
The disavowal tool is not a magic shortcut. Only submit links that you’ve already tried to remove.
As you read the rest of this article, you’ll see Google makes it clear that this isn’t a 100% guaranteed way to get links removed from your profile. Nor is it there to make life ‘easier’ so much as it’s there to tip the balance of power away from spammers and back towards webmasters. Treat it as such.
Don’t disavow an entire domain unless you’re 100% sure every link on that domain is garbage
This applies to the odd industry blog, news site, content site, etc. Yeah, they look like garbage. Yeah, they smell like garbage. And yes, they likely are 90% garbage…but that 10%. When the website got that link from Microsoft, or Yahoo, or CNN – before they let their site go to hell. That link still matters, that piece of content still matters, and your link from them might still matter.
If the domain is filled with spammy content and other forms of web crap, go ahead. To quote Ian, “If not, think. Use your brain.” (Seriously, he says this all the time)
Don’t assume that all rankings issues can be fixed by disavowing links
There are a lot of reasons your site may have dropped in the rankings. In fact, your site’s drop in the rankings on the same day as the last Penguin update might just be a coincidence. Yes, it’s true! Your site might not be all that good. That’s OK. You can make it better, but disavowing a bunch of questionable links is not going to turn it around in a heartbeat.
Be smart. Disavow the links you know to be spam and that you’ve already tried to remove. Then re-evaluate your site, and see where you can improve.
Don’t file a re-inclusion request until you’ve uploaded a disavowal file
Oh man, this would be a classic FAIL.
We saw quite a few examples of sites filing for re-inclusion before they’d even done any link cleanup after the first Penguin release. You know what that does? If the request is answered, it will likely keep you out of Google even longer because it may trigger additional review of your site by Google.
Before you file for re-inclusion, make sure you’ve done your research. Leave no stone unturned, and be sure to clean up the rest of your site as well.
Don’t become a serial uploader
Find a bunch of lousy links. Submit them. Then wait.
Don’t sit there submitting every 3 hours and then wondering why you’re not back in the rankings. This is a new, fairly advanced tool. It’s best to proceed with caution. Google agrees.
Do party like it’s 1999
We got the power to filter out spammy links. This is pretty huge. Enjoy it for a day. Then, get to work.
Do properly fill out your file of links to be disavowed
All you need is a plain text file with one URL per line. Simple, I know, but someone will screw that up. Google also gives us a few commands
- Lines that begin with a hash # are considered comments.
- Lines that start “domain:” allow you to disavow all links from a particular domain
Your file will look something like this:
Do use Webmaster Tools: Links to Your Site
Don’t be ridiculous, go to the source to find the easy links first. Webmaster Tools is your insight into Google’s view of your site. Grab the links they’re reporting first, and filter through those.
This is also a helpful reminder for any site that doesn’t have access to SEOmoz or MajesticSEO, or ahrefs – you can still find links pointing to your site. While the database might not be as grand, it’s still going to help you fix your site’s backlink issues.
Do think of this like rel=”canonical”
Google is equating this tool to rel=”canonical” in that it’s more of a strong suggestion than a directive. Think about it, they’re not going to give us the keys to the kingdom just because we all complained about the power the spammers gained from Penguin.
It’s important to note that, just like rel=”canonical,” this is meant to be used when necessary. We’re still expected to clean up as many links as possible on our own, request that webmasters be taken down, etc. Then we can use the disavow tool.
Do give it time
You won’t see anything change overnight. Google says:
We need to recrawl and reindex the URLs you disavowed before your disavowals go into effect, which can take multiple weeks.
I wouldn’t expect to see positive results for a month. Have you checked out the Disavow Links tool yet? Let us know in the comments.
Director of SEO
With his background in UX design, PPC and SEO, Josh is king of the search-nerds. He educates both our clients and SEO experts how to optimize websites so that search engines want to shout their urls from a mountaintop. When Josh isn't teaching everyone else how to be awesome, he is the epitome of a modern renaissance man, playing music, cooking, and finding the perfect quip for any situation. Read More