When and How to Use the Google Disavow Tool


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.

Wondering how to use Google disavow tool ? Download this cheat sheet to learn how to make the best use of it.

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.


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.

What tips do you have for using the Disavow Tool? 

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  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.


  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.

    • Hello Jatin

      Firstly : It is important to remember that you only need to use the disavow tool if you have a considerable number of ‘spammy’/unnatural links.
      Secondly: If this is the case, you then want to first clean up your link profile as much as you can by reaching out to those webmasters who own the low value/”spammy” websites.
      Thirdly : Once you have attempted to remove as many links as possible, and you still have a considerable number left, then you should submit those links to google via the disavow tool.
      Fourthly : Remember that Google will only look at your disavow file (unless you have received a manual penalty) when they roll out the next Penguin refresh. So it is important to leave it alone, unless of course you need to add more toxic links or even remove them if you have had success from those webmasters you have reached out to.

      good luck!

      • So if I wake up one morning and check Ahrefs to find I have 11’000 new spammy links out of no where (which happened to me this week) I am expected to contact the webmasters for these complete junk links?

        I wish I could do that with the occasional suspicious link, but that cannot be a serious course of action when you have 10’000 + dodgy links to deal with?

  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. :)

      • Hi Rohit, i have been looking around for this question and answer regarding after asking webmaster removed the link..how google will notice that the link has been removed from the content or page, and yes means we need google to recrawl the pages, but when? Anyway what kind of link spamming tools you are talking about. Thanks

  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.
    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 :)


    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?


  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:


    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.

  42. Thanks for the detailed information about using disavow tool still I have one question, Can we submit individual url to remove if yes then how ?

    Thanks in Advance :)

  43. Very informative, it help me alot now I understand that how to use google disavow tool, Thanks

  44. Great Article, Google group truly work for both, the Users and Webmasters.

    Quite a long time ago, i was running an online Blog which was on great position, my rivals used to make Bad links for my website to lowerize my Ranking in Search Engine. Around then, I didn’t thought about this tool and quit chipping away at my blog. But after discovering the disavow tool, i am going to uproot all terrible backlinks directing to my site and proceed with my blog :)

    Much thanks to you such for a great article! Truly Appreciated

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    It alsogenerally brings forth far better results, although it
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    In addition, it lasts longer than things like pay per click advertising.
    Thus, you can in fact spend less with time by opting for the appropriate SEO services instead of spending all your advertising dollars
    on other promotion approaches.

  46. Hey Neil thanks for one more nice post! This Google deny Tool appears like it’ll be a wonderful side for keeping adult sites and alternative spammy links away and up one’s SEO.

  47. Hello Neil,
    This helps a lot to learn about uses and also from comments got many answers to my questions. One more question :

    1. I’m getting a lot of Spam link backs from blog comments by some bots perhaps from few days. Should I use those links on disavow tool or wait till they appear in WebMsterTools ?

    95% of them are nofollow

  48. Hi Neil, Thanks a lot for your article. Very helpful. I ve got a question for you…

    With the latest penguin 3.0 algorithm update (on October 17th,) I noticed a drop in my rankings. Even though I didn’t receive any manual penalty because no messages have been found in WebMaster Tool, I suspect it is an algorithm penalty. For this reason, I definitively decided to clean-up my external link profile. **I am excluding it is a Panda 4.1 penalty because an extensive site structure review has been conducted quite recently.

    I collected external links from Webmaster Tool and Open Site Explorer.

    What I found is that 83% of my external links need to be disavowed because the links come either from poor directories or marketing articles that are evidently and specifically written for link building purposes.

    My questions are:

    1) Shall an external link clean-up be set in place anyway although I didn’t receive any penalty message in order to prevent future problems with penguin algorithm?

    2) Is it too dangerous to disavow 83% of external links? May such a manoeuvre destroy my actual rankings?

    Thanks in advance for you advices :)

  49. Hi Neil, I am regular reader of your flawless blog postings. I am now trying to remove the full spam penalty from Google for one of my client. During this process I have uploaded a disavow file to remove some spam links. Okay, now it’s already one month passed when I submitted the file but the links are still there. Could you please suggest! Would I stay till Google removes the links or upload again the file?

  50. This is great article that covers almost all of issues with Disavow tool. However this tool is too powerful and if it’s used incorrect can cause much more damage than original penalty. That’s why should be used with extreme care. Also link audit should be do scheduled basis to disavow bad links even before hit site.

  51. Very informative article post, it help me a lot and inspire me to do the same task for my blog.

  52. Great article. As a newbie to disavow there is still one thing I don’t understand. That is how does Google know if I did “a reasonable effort to remove them myself”. I have not done the process yet as I want to understand everything before I do and I don’t understand that part of the equation.
    Thanks for all you do!

  53. Hey neil dear please suggest any free tool to find bad backlinks and also help to fillter bad links

  54. Hi Neil,
    This is my first comment on QuickSprout. However, I have read many blog posts here.
    I want to know one thing for example; I just found some spammy links are pointing to my site for specific articles and that articles are ranking well in SERP’s, Should I consider to disavow these spammy links? though articles are ranking great include spammy backlinks.
    Waiting for your answer.

    M Imran

  55. Thank you for great article. One question.. you wrote “When you upload a new file, it will replace any previously uploaded file.” Does it mean that in new list I’ll need to include all spammy links from previous one?

  56. Hi, Neil

    I recently buy a domain to develop a classified website. The most thing I like is the domain name but after purchase when I check the domain background it contain backlinks from the sites that Google does not like. Some of the keywords are like “viagra”. Now I want to remove all backlinks through disavow tools. Does these backlinks affect further to my site performance on search engine?


  57. Thanks for this information neil, but i am bit a confused. I can see many forums creating links to my website and most of these are low quality viagra selling ads. Although i cannot see those links in webmaster, so should i disavow them or not. I saw ahrefs counting them and i got the information that they are linking from ahrfs tool only. Though google webmaster don’t show them yet.

    • Manish, they are just spam sites — No need to do anything. If you find them in your comments section of WordPress either delete them or place them in the spam bucket. Once your site gets enough traffic they will be there — always, unfortunately.

  58. Thanks man for the good article you made . I had two bad back-links point’s to my blog . I don’t know how to remove those bad-links . This post helped me a lot to avoid that bad back-links point to my website . I did’t know about Google Disallow tool before reading this article .

  59. Thanks for the information, Neil! Many websites out there misinform people by scaring them from using the disavow tool. I have read over and over again that even if you have thousands of spammy links, if you have not received a manual penalty, you only risk hurting your website by disavowing them. I find that advice foolish, as there is no way possible to get a decent domain authority with loads of spammy, irrelevant backlinks pointing to your site.

  60. How can I disavow SPAM sites linking to my blog?

  61. Neil, do you know how long it generally takes for Google to disavow the links and “discount” them when ranking? I know that the answer to this can be a little all over the place, but I am trying to get a general idea. I know that Google does not remove the links from the link profile in the Webmaster Tools, which makes it difficult to ascertain when exactly it occurs.

  62. Thanks for the great article about google disavow tool.

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