The Dos and Don'ts for Google’s New Disavow Links Tool

Disavow Link Tool dog

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.

Disavow Links tool

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.

Disavow Links tool suggestions

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:

Disavow Links example file

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.

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  1. Josh, we are for sure on the same page.
    Obviously there are many webmasters out there who will shoot themselves in their foot, if they do not consult a professional before they try to use that tool.
    We had since months the Penguin mourn, and I see now the “Disavow Links Tool” mourn coming.
    I hope the tool is mature enough to prevent the huge damages it can cause.

  2. Firstly, the positive. I think the article gives a good rundown of what to expect from the tool and how to go about using it.
    However, your 3rd point is incredibly wishy washy. It gives the impression that you don’t know how to determine a good link from a bad link. So how can a novice user hope to tell the difference?
    I could find a good link to almost every spammy website out there. Does that make the site good? Heck I bet even some of them are DMOZ listed, or in Yahoo Directory, or have a CNN link.
    So then where does the line get drawn.
    This is why a disavow tool will probably do a lot more harm than good. People simply do not know the difference between good and bad links. Even very good SEOs don’t.
    I was dumbfounded recently when reading an SEOMoz article regarding directory links where the author was talking about quality links and then went and grabbed a list of spammy .info directories off an even spammier directory website to use as their list of “quality directories”. Then they wondered aloud with surprise why so many of them were de-indexed. Seriously? That concerns me.
    If people are going to disavow, and they are stuck at point 3 (it’s 90% spammy but I’m not sure if it is spammy or not), then this tool is going to be a complete fail.

    1. My point with the 3rd recommendation was to disuade folks from blanket disavows. If you do your research, or hire an SEO firm to do your research, you’ll be able to make confident decisions on how to use the Disavow Links tool.
      I’d tailored this point to speak more to those that aren’t as sophisticated in how to determine quality from non-quality links.

  3. Great information here …most importantly when NOT to use Disavow and when to ENGAGE BRAIN! 🙂
    We’ve been pretty much expecting that the need for cleaning up unhealthy links would stay around when the Disavow tool was finally unveiled, so no great surprises in the announcement.

  4. This is actually one of the better posts I’ve come across that offers some actionable advice about the tool instead of the generic Google juice drinking posts I’ve read so far.
    I think most people are blindly following the crowd on this one and will ignore your Don’ts which in my opinion are essential guidelines.
    My personal opinion is that you shouldn’t use the tool at all and its actually bad news for the SEO community on the whole, I’ve explored the darker side of this tool in my post here

  5. Great rundown, Josh.
    I am still partying like it’s 1999 as this is definitely something we’ll find useful for one or two projects we’re working on where there’s something of a history of cheap outsourced link building plaguing matters.
    Having been quoted almost £2000 by someone to remove some links from one of their dodgy networks, I’ll take pleasure in disavowing and keeping hold of the cash!

  6. In the process of cleaning up a lot of sloppy SEO done by a client’s last firm. A large portion of the links they were building were very low quality blogs that weren’t canonicalized correctly. Meaning a large number of indexed links were duplicate from topic tag pages in a blog. Will I have to also disavow these duplicated links, or will Google be good with just disavowing the original, genuine link in the article? I suppose I could just disavow on a domain level, but I would just want to know how to approach this problem if there are some sites I want to treat on a more granular level.

    1. Well, as “don’t” #3 covered – don’t disavow an entire domain unless you’re 100% sure it’s garbage.
      If you can follow Ian’s 19 Step plan, then you should be able to figure out which links to disavow and which domains to disavow.
      With regard to the duplication issue, if there are multiple URLs pointing to your site, you’ll be able to find them in your link profile research. I’d suggest disavowing them individually, so as to ensure that Google sees the request.
      Since we haven’t seen results of how the tool works yet, I can’t say whether it’s sophisticated enough to understand the duplication and rel=canonical problems.

  7. good tips, everybody is going crazy with this tool, but the very same Matt says that most of the people wont have the need to use it.

  8. This tool does help you if you have any link on which you don’t have trust. If we promote our website in a natural way then we don’t have need this tool. 🙂

  9. This is kind of like a breath of fresh air for SEOs and web masters. For the past few years, Google released a lot of updates that made our lives harder (unprovided keywords for example.) I’m happy to see Google extend us an olive branch every once in a while. 🙂

  10. Thanks for the info Josh,
    Google has definitely launched a tool that can save loads of money as people charge a lot to remove all these unwanted links.
    But we should also be cautious before using this tool.
    I would suggest to take a professional advice or wait for more details before adopting it.

  11. Great write up. I think it is a very fair tool after the craziness of Penguin and Panda.
    There are a lot of people thinking this is a crowd source way of taking care of spam, but I watched a webinar following the release of the disavow tool that stated there are over 5000 engineers making an average of 40 changes per engineer per week! With that amount of work going into it, I doubt they need our help. This, at face value, seems like something Google is, as you said, to “tip the balance of power away from spammers and back towards webmasters”.
    Me likey so far!

  12. Great article on the disavow tool. One thing people need to remember as well is that when disavowing links google requires a reason why. They want to know why you want these links removed and if you have tried to contact them to get your links removed. If you see a low quality site or someone linking to you over 400 times in a short period make sure you let them know it’s not only low quality links but that the person is link spamming your site.
    Make sure you use the tool right and make sure the links are links that are actually harming you. Just randomly deleting every link can cause issues with google and you could even get in trouble or have the link removal request denied. So use the tips in this article when going through your links and deciding what is junk and what is acceptable.

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