Google Disavow Links Tool

The tool that many webmasters have been waiting for is finally here. The Disavow links tool lets you tell Google that you don’t want specific links or even entire sites to count as part of their assessment of your link profile. This allows for recovery from unnatural links warnings as well as negative SEO attacks.

In this video Matt Cutts explains the intended use of the tool. Watch it and then continue reading for more in-depth analysis of what the new tool means for SEO from this point on.

Who should use the Disavow Links Tool?

As Matt mentioned in his video, the tool is mainly aimed at webmasters who received an unnatural links warning from Google in their webmaster tools. While he wasn’t explicit in saying that only people who received those warnings should use this tool, he did mention more than once that most people will not need to use this tool.

disavow links warning text from Google

This warning was taken from http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2648487

In other words, do not use this tool if you are not 100% certain that dodgy backlinks are your problem.

Are you sure Penguin is affecting your site?

Google have released several Panda and Penguin updates lately, not to mention EMD (exact match domains) and page layout updates. All of these potentially damaged your sites performance

Penguin is the one that deals with spammy link patterns and the last update (at time of writing) was on 5th October 2012. This was the third update commonly referred to as Penguin 3.  The others occurred on 24th April (Penguin Release) and 25th May 2012 (penguin 1.1). So if you see a significant drop in traffic around these dates then it is likely that Penguin is to blame.

SEO Training has received a lot of questions about which animal is responsible for damage to site ranking, and I may visit the topic in my next post.

Does this mean that you should dump all your links as fast as you can with the Disavow Tool?  No it does not.

Did you receive an unnatural link warning from Google? This would have been in the inbox of your webmaster tools.  If you didn’t then don’t be too quick to shed links. Links are still the currency of the web.

Be careful of your Link Profile

If you never built a link to your site and just built good quality content then you will find that your backlink profile contains a mix of high and low quality links. By high quality I mean sites which are trusted by Google.  In general this can be seen by sites with a high Page Rank.  Defining high quality is not a problem.  It is low quality links where the waters get a bit murky. However, links coming from blog comments, and forum posts must, for the most part be considered as low quality by comparison to a link from The Irish Times for example.

I suspect that we are about to see a lot of webmasters go out of their way to disavow any link of low value, leaving only high value links. That in itself in unnatural. There is evidence that Google looks not only at your own link profile but compares it to the link profile of other sites in your vertical. So, there is a danger that you could actually end up harming your site in two ways.

How Using The Disavow Tool Could Harm Your Site

  1. By removing a large number of links.  Having less links is not always bad.  But if you accidentally remove links that are not damaging your site, you are in effect undoing some of the credit your site already has.
  2. By changing your link profile to make it unnatural. By getting rid of too many low value links, you are likely to make your link profile considerably different to other sites in the same vertical. For instance, If I was to disavow all links that came from pages with a Page Rank of less than 3, then I am not using the tool as it was intended. The tool is there to help Google with combatting spam. I’ll say it again….. Spam. A link can be of low quality without being spam.

Forum Spam and other areas where you may want to dump links

If you have created a lot of profiles containing links on a lot of forums that don’t necessarily relate to your business, then you could be in trouble.  If those links all contain the same few anchor text terms then they are nearly certainly doing you more damage than good. A lot of forum spammers don’t even bother posting.  They just create profiles which contain links.  Signature links are not a good idea either for the most part.  However, this does not mean that links from forums are bad.  On the contrary.  If you are writing on a topic that relates to your business and it is natural to include a link to your site then why not?  The chances are, if it is a relevant link that other users participating in, or just watching the thread will click on it. That makes it a useful resource rather than spam.

If you have been using Xrumer, or ffiver.com for your SEO then you surely have a lot of cleaning up work to do.  If you have been spinning articles of little to no value, or if you have been inserting links with no relation to the text of an article then you are going to be busy fixing it about now.

If you have created microsites, which have sitewide links with targeted anchor text back to your main site, then you’ll need to clear that up a bit too.

If your company has more splogs (Spam Blogs) than employees, then it’s time to assess their worth.

When Using the Disavow Links Tool is a Bad Idea

  • For most Webmasters, do not even consider using this tool unless you have received a unnatural links warning in your webmaster tools. It will take weeks for your links to be disavowed, but even longer to get links to count again if you make a mistake… with no guarantees!
  • If you are not really really competent when it comes to the internet. If you are not sure how you are going to assess links for example, then don’t use this tool or get some help from somebody who really knows what they are doing.  You don’t want to cause more harm than good.
  • If you have not seen a drop in traffic.  Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it right (or at least you have not been caught doing something wrong with your SEO).

How does the tool work?

You upload a list of pages with links to your site that you want to disavow. These should be in a text file with one url per line. eg:
http://www.spam.com/somepage.html
http://www.anothersite.com/links.php
http://myoldlinkbuildingsite.ie/great-links/subdirectory/blah/theresalinkhere.asp
However, to make life a little easier it is also possible to disavow whole sites like so:
domain: pornorgamblingsite.com
It takes a few weeks for Google to process it.

Where Can I find the Disavow Links Tool?

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main

You will have to log in before you use it, then pick the site you want to disavow links for from the list and click on the big disavow links button.

What Google can do with the information it gets from the use of this tool.

I suspect that the use of the disavow tool is going to be a major information boon for Google. Webmasters in their thousands are going to be submitting lists of sites where they created spam links. Wow.

You can guarantee that this will pick up more sites that had gone under the radar.  If I ask for a link on a site to be disavowed, then what are the chances that other links on that site to other sites are also likely to be spam?  I’d say they are fairly high wouldn’t you?

This is Google allowing SEO’s who breached their guidelines to hold their hands up and say “I dunnit, fair cop, I confess, and here’s all the details of what I was up to when I was trying to cheat you”.

It’s a fabulous move of Google’s part to release this tool.  They will get the people who they had already caught, but they will get more information from them. They will also get a ton more that they hadn’t caught, but think they have been caught.  How sickening would it be as a webmaster to disavow a load of links only to find that nothing changes because it was actually a Panda update that did the damage?

I suspect another round of major SERPS shakeup is not far away!

About Ian Wortley


Ian is one of Irelands leading SEO consultants with over 8 years experience in the Irish market. Ian discovered his love of all things internet related in 2005 and has been living nearly exclusively online since then, causing much worry to friends and family, but getting great results for clients. Contact Ian: Phone: 01 6854806 Mobile: 086 3817149

One thought on “Google Disavow Links Tool

  1. Oh, One more thing…..
    Google are going to be doing spot checks to see if you’ve actually tried to get the links removed first. They want the links removed from the web where possible rather than just disavowed. What will they do about it if people don’t bother to try and get links removed? Who knows, but I’m not going to be finding out!

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