When and How to Use the Google Disavow Tool

disavow

The higher the number of relevant sites linking to you, the higher your rankings will be, right? What happens if a non-relevant site keeps linking to you? Or worse, you get a backlink from an adult or gambling site?

These irrelevant links can be hurting your rankings. For this reason, Google released the Disavow Tool as a way for you to tell Google to not count specific backlinks.

The Disavow Tool allows you to ask Google to remove certain URLs or domains as a ranking factor in the indexing of your site. You do this by creating a .txt file with a list of these domains or URLs and submitting it to Google.

Google explains it this way:

You can ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site.

Understanding Google’s warning on the Disavow Tool

When you access the Disavow Links Tool, you’ll see this message:

This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you only disavow backlinks if you believe that there are a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.

Why would Google provide such a warning? Are they concerned about any damage you might inflict upon your site by accidentally amputating valuable links?

More than likely, they issue this warning because indiscriminately disavowing links without making the effort to remove them first is dangerous. Just as problematic as the toxic links themselves is the rush to disavow them without making any reasonable effort to remove them.

I wanted to point out this issue because of its importance and because Google provides this easily-misunderstood warning on the very entry point to the Disavow Tool.

Now that you understand the warning, let’s go into the reasons for using the tool.

Three reasons for using the Disavow Tool

The Disavow Tool has one main purpose — removing harmful links from Google’s consideration. There are three reasons why you would want to do that. I’ll go through each one, from the worst-case to best-case scenario.

Reason #1: Use the Disavow Tool if your site receives a manual penalty

Manual penalties are the bogeyman of the Google-dominated web world. If you receive a manual penalty, you will need to use the Disavow Tool. Manual penalties are the reason why Google created the Disavow Tool in the first place.

Reason #2: Use the Disavow Tool if your site receives an algorithmic penalty

Although not quite as horrific as the manual penalty, an algo penalty can still deliver a knockout blow to any website. If you have experienced a traffic drop due to an algorithmic change, there is a good chance that toxic backlinks are to blame. The Disavow Tool will help you recover.

Reason #3: Use the Disavow Tool as you routinely check for and remove toxic links from your site’s link profile

Should you use the Disavow Tool even if you haven’t felt the sting of a manual or algo penalty?

According to Matt Cutts, yes. Here’s what he said:

If you are at all worried about someone trying to do negative SEO or it looks like there’s some weird bot that’s building up a bunch of links to your site and you have no idea where it came from, that’s the perfect time to use disavow as well….even if you don’t have a message in your webmaster console….So if you’ve done the work to keep an active look on your backlinks and you see something strange going on, you don’t have to wait around. Feel free to just go ahead and preemptively say, ‘You know what; this is a weird domain. I have nothing to do with it, and no idea what this particular bot is doing in terms of making links,’ so go ahead and do disavows even on a domain level.

Here is the video where he discusses this:

He’s telling you to use the Disavow Tool as a matter of routine link auditing. Cutts hates spam. So should you. Thus, to get rid of the spam and heroically battle the nefarious forces of the Internet, use the Disavow Tool.

I recommend regular auditing of your link profile. Your link profile is one of your most important SEO assets. Protecting it with vigilance will help you to reap traffic and ranking dividends for years to come.

The Disavow Tool is one more tool in your toolkit as an expert SEO or webmaster. You should know how to use it.

Three laws for using the Disavow Tool

There are three main principles I want you to follow when using the Disavow Tool.

Law #1: Request removal first, disavow second

Here’s the most important thing: Don’t use the Disavow Tool unless you’ve tried to remove the link first.

This is the only way you should go about things. First, try to remove the links by requesting removal from the “offending” webmasters. Once this has been attempted and proven unsuccessful, go through the disavow process.

I’ll provide a quick overview of this process so you can have a clear understanding of how to prepare for a disavowal.

Be sure to keep records of this process. I recommend using a removal request service or creating a detailed spreadsheet with complete information on every link, every webmaster contact information, every date, and even screenshots of every email you send with a removal request.

  1. Locate the offending link. The best source for your backlinks is in Google Webmaster Tools > Search Traffic > Links to Your Site > Who links the most > More > “Download more sample links” and “Download latest links.” Audit this list using an automatic or manual review process.
  2. Research the link to find webmaster contact information for the site. A contact form or email address is sufficient.
  3. Contact the webmaster and request removal.
  4. Wait a reasonable amount of time – about a week.
  5. If no action, reach out to the webmaster again to request removal.
  6. If the webmaster does not respond, create the disavow.txt file, following the instructions below.

Now you’re ready to disavow. But please, do not attempt to disavow unless you have first gone through the process of requesting removals!

Law #2: Create an impeccable disavow file

In this step, you will develop a file that lists all of the URLs and domains that need to be removed from Google’s consideration.

The list that you create should contain a record of your removal efforts. As I explained above, prior to any disavowal, you should go through the process of removal request while keeping detailed records of that process. This is why: Google wants to see that you have made an attempt to contact the webmaster who can remove the offending link.

Here is a sample of a disavow file that Google declares to be legit:

disavow text

You should make sure that you’ve formatted your list correctly. Many webmasters have experienced rejection of their entire lists due to improper formatting. Here is how to develop your file:

  • It should be a text file (.txt)
  • It should be encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII
  • Each line should contain only one link or domain
  • Domain removals require “domain:” at the beginning of the URL, e.g., domain:toxiclink.com
  • When you record your effort at removals, your description must begin with “#” on every line of text that you do not want to be part of the disavowal

When you upload a new file, it will replace any previously uploaded file.

Law #3: Disavow accurately

Now, you’re ready to submit the disavow file. The hard work is done. It’s time to give the list to Google.

  • Log in to your Google account
  • Go to the Disavow Tool
  • Select your site
  • Click “Disavow Links”
  • Choose the file you created
  • Click “Submit”

Keep in mind that it will take a while for the disavowal to be processed through Google’s crawling and indexing. Disavowals don’t happen instantly. Google describes the process as taking “a number of weeks.” Matt Cutts explained in an interview with Danny Sullivan that it could take a lot longer:

It can definitely take some time, and potentially months. There’s a time delay for data to be baked into the index. Then there can also be the time delay after that for data to be refreshed in various algorithms.

Conclusion

The Disavow Tool is not an SEO cure-all that will usher your site into new heights of ranking and traffic. It is, however, one of the tools that you can and should use to improve your site’s SEO.

Disavowal isn’t glamorous. It’s far more fulfilling to see backlinks from content marketing or to experience the joy of tons of traffic than it is to hack away at toxic backlinks. Nonetheless, you have this resource at your disposal for the times when nothing else will fix the unwanted backlink problem.

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Comments

  1. I’ve only done this once, but it was VERY VERY necessary. We got a link from an adult site that was also littered with hate messages – very disturbing.

    So – lesson here, is be diligent!

  2. Hello Sir,
    Thanks for the great stuff. The Whole process is step by step described well.
    Searching for this process from last one week to recover my one of the blog from Penguin update. Hope this tutorial helps me.

  3. Thanks. I would like to know if you have a resource for filing a dmca with google. I have a site that has stolen content from me (2 posts) and their host won’t do anything without a court order. I can’t believe it!

    – Thanks.

  4. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for the information.

    I have a question for you – if you upload a file that is formatted incorrectly, do you get an error message or will Google accept it and, maybe later, reject it without notification? As this is seems like a very long process, it’s important to make sure the file is acceptable at the start.

    Thanks
    Stephen

  5. You have written a great pitch of information. Thanks Neil :)
    It will helps me when I’ll face this kind of problem.

  6. Hey Neil thanks for another great post! This Google Disavow Tool looks like it will be an excellent aspect for keeping adult sites and other spammy links away and improving one’s SEO. My partner and I will definitely use this for our online business site.

  7. Jatin Chhabra :

    I tried the disavow tool on 2 of my sites just to view the process. But still not reply from google that they have done the job. I believe that even after disavowing some url’s Google isn’t completely disavowing them.

  8. Great tips. One question- Say you have disavowed links in the past, do you add to the original disavow list or submit a new list when you find more links you want to get rid of? Thanks!

  9. Thanks for sharing your disavow tool experience.

  10. That’s nice. This can help us to deal with negative seo from competitor.

  11. Matt Cutts had mentioned you don’t need to reach out to the sites – you can just compile the list and submit it. Not sure if people are seeing any difference or not?

    The key is, it won’t matter (and they will still show as links) until Google goes back to those websites and crawls them again. That could take some time, as they view those sites as low quality so one would think Google won’t be going back very often…

    • A very illegitimate way of speeding up the ‘Google visiting those linking pages again’ process is to take the individual URLs that have links pointing to your site, and using a link spamming tool. So, the spammed links will lead Google to those sites, and when Googlebot visits those pages, it’ll ignore links from them to your site from that point.

      Again, that spamming probably might harm the sites you’re filing a disavow request against, but will ultimately help your own site recover faster. :)

  12. Hi Neil,

    Great post as usual. :)

    I just wanted to point out that unless you’re submitting a disavow file along with a reconsideration request, no human actually reads the stuff you write in #’ed lines. In a normal scenario, or say in case of an algorithmic penalty, the only person who would be reading those is you, and a proper formatting can often help your own self as well, especially reminding you at a later date of why exactly you disavowed a link or domain.

    Keep up the great work, Neil. :)

  13. I have a question for everyone here – I am a therapist, and I am listed in few directories that are highly respected and professionals. However, I do pay for those link. Some of these directories have “follow” links to my website, which was useful in the past. Not sure about now. Should I disavow those links, since they are not natural and I paid for them?

    • You should keep them as is. It isn’t a big deal as you aren’t doing this a lot and hopefully they blend in with the natural links. Plus you aren’t buying them to manipulate search rankings.

  14. Thanks Neil. Very detailed information about disavow link tool. It is helpful for me to understand the right way to use this tool.

  15. Thanks Neil, and I’ve been doing this link profile auditing as recommended by you, but what about the websites that have no contact information??

    And what about the websites that redirect to another spammy website that has no contact information obviously?

    I have no way of asking removal from these websites, can I ask to disavow them or is it not recommended?

    Thank you!

  16. Hi Neil, i want ask something very important for all people that are using disavow tool in google.

    Should i disavow only the bad links that appears in the google webmaster tool. ( showing only the half of the total backlinks to my site) or should i disavow all the bad links that google is not showing in GWMT but appears in the serps “mysite.com” query ?

    i would like to response!!

  17. Thanks for a great post Neil.

    I have a question on another potential solution…

    Assuming the ONLY backlinks to the page were spammy, would it suffice to move your page to a new URL, thus creating a 404 error at the old URL.

    Would the spammy links still negatively affect your site?

    Thanks and please pitch it in (anyone) you know the answer to this :-)

  18. I’ve used the disavow tool a few times when I couldn’t reach webmasters at the sites that were linking to my site. I’m always cautious though when using the Disavow tool.

  19. It’s real good knowing this, I made a mistake once when someone advise me to use adult site to increase my site visibility but little did i know that google was going to degrade my site raking. Thanks Neil for this valuable information.

  20. Neil, great post. Disavow links is certainly a boon for bloggers. Sometimes, as a part of internet trolls or whatever, popular blogs may recieve tonnes of spammy backlinks. Disavow links is a secret weapon against this.
    Cheers,
    Akshay Hallur.

  21. Neil what can we do with the spreadsheet containing details of the link removal request? I believe it is used while submitting a re consideration request. But we can not submit a reconsideration request if there is no manual action. Right?

    Is there any way or link to request a reconsideration for a site with out manual action message?

  22. Yep Neil, use the disavow tool with care.

  23. Thanks for the article, it’s very timely. My website traffic halved some weeks ago and I got a feeling it due to some weak backlinks by the previous owner. Now I understand better how to use disavow tool. Cheers

  24. “He’s telling you to use the Disavow Tool as a matter of routine link auditing. ”

    He never said that. He said:

    But if you’re at all stressed.
    If you’re worried.
    If you’re not able to sleep at night because you think
    Google might see it, or we might get a spam report about you,
    or there might be some misunderstanding,
    or an algorithm might rank your site lower,
    I would feel free to just go ahead and disavow
    those [questionable] links as well.

    The only clear directive he gave was:

    So again the main purpose [of the disavow tool] is if you’ve
    made some bad links yourself and you need to clean it up.

  25. I have heard about Disavow long ago, but nobody was able to give me a clear idea how and where to use it. This tool is like a gun, if you don’t know how to use it you could kill yourself.

  26. Hey Neil,

    As I was cleaning up my blog, I saw this thing called the Disavow Tool. I don’t remember where exactly, but I skimmed through it and thought that it may be a useful tool.. Fast forward to today and you pointed out the benefits of the disavow tool aiding in making improvements to my blog’s SEO. This is definitely a tool I need to look into! Thanks for the share!

  27. Hi Neil,

    This blog is very informative and help full but as you saying according two month ago i was submitted txt.file into webmaster disavow tool but still dose not showing any update in my SREP, so please let me know how to check status of disavow tool.

    • Give it some time. If you notice your traffic going up, things are working out, but it can easily take 3 plus months to see results… if not longer. :(

  28. That’s correct Neil. Many people take disavow tool in wrong way and they think that we can remove links directly from there without making effort to removing them manually. Many of them get wrong effect on their sites and they can’t understand that what is happening. Thanks for sharing this informative post Neil.

  29. There is a pretty cool tool to help you create a disavow file. Basically you still do all the work of finding the bad domains but the tool formats it and spits out a file for you :)

    http://www.disavowfilegenerator.com/

    Just figured it might be a good addition to help peoplw along with the disavow file creation process.

  30. 1 month ago i found few spammy links to my site with irrelevant and spammy keywords. I disavowed those links and my rankings dropped. So should i remove the disavowed links file? But those links are spammy for sure.

  31. Could disavowing all the links from web lead to downfall in ranking or it won’t affect the ranking of the web?

  32. Rajesh Saharan :

    What’s the point of creating spreadsheet, when we can submit a text file only to Google disavow tool ?

  33. Very handy tool if used correctly. I had some dodgy links hit one of my sites a while ago and the owner/operator ignored my removal request. Nice tips on formatting of request.

  34. Hi Neil, I have a question.

    How many times should the disavow tool be updated?

    I mean, is there is time-frame?

    If I find spammy links coming to my site after every two to three days, is it OK to update the disavow file; at least if i can’t remove them in any way at all.

    What if I update the file every day? Is it bad? Will Google penalize my site for doing that?

    I hope you understand that most of the times we get links we don’t control and we just can’t remove them even if we try in every possible way.

    What will be your suggestion Neil?

    Waiting for a reply …………….

  35. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for yet again another informative blog post. Two questions: If we have a TON of negative and spam links yet
    “no-follows” pointing to us, should we attempt to remove them? And every time I upload a disavow txt file, should it be a brand new one or just adding onto the existing one?

    Thanks,
    Ed

  36. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook
    or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would really like
    to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would enjoy your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

  37. Hi Yall,

    2 weeks ago, i sent in our first/HUGE disavow list to Google. Out of the 2700 domains we submitted, 1300 of them we successfully removed, but we have nothing to show Google. Reason is because on our reconsideration request page, we can’t submit anything because we didn’t receive a message from Google. I know for a FACT we got hit by an ALGORITHM penalty back in March2013. So, I have this wonderful Gdoc to prove that we worked LONG AND HARD to add and remove links in the past year, but we can’t seem to message Google and tell them our story on why we should be reconsidered.

    How do we tell Google our success of removals? It’s been 2 weeks, how much longer until we see a change in traffic? Or do we have to wait for the next update of algorithms by google aka REFRESH to see a change?

    Let me know and thank you so much in advance!

  38. Alvin@Shark Web :

    Thanks for this post. one thing I don’t understand though is, why must we first contact the webmasters who are supposedly doing ‘negative SEO’? Makes no sense to me.

  39. I made a generator that helps users to create a properly formatted .txt disavow file to submit to Google. Thought it may be useful given that Penguin 3.0 just rolled out:

    http://www.geekiti.com/seo-tools/disavow/

    It handles both root domains and specific page URLs.

    Hope it helps! :)

  40. Thanks for the info . I almost submitted my text file without trying to remove the links manually first .

  41. Only question which I arises after reading this entire conversation & of-course the article on “when & how to use the Google disavow tool” is why is it necessary to ask the webmasters from where the backlinks is pointing to.

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