Google Disavow Tool: Is it Truly the Solution for Penalties Removal?

Google Disavow Tool: Is it Truly the Solution for Penalties Removal?

Start of Google Panda Update

In 2011, Google search engine results page (SERP) was shaken by the first Panda update. It was called “the farmer” because it scraped out websites affiliated with content farming and low quality contents. Series of Panda updates required webmasters to overhaul website contents and focus on creating user-based information that can be useful to every reader.

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Source: Search Engine Land
See all 16 photos
Source: Search Engine Land

Next, The Penguin Update

In the following year, 2012, another algorithm, the Penguin, strike hard and spread rumors that SEO might be dead because of “the Scraper’s” impact on organic searches. Proven them wrong, SEO stands still while Google generated organic results that are more user-friendly and valuable. While Panda get to low quality contents, Penguin handcuffed websites with low quality and unnatural links.

Here comes the Manual Penalty

Google realized the massive generation of unnatural links. These links are designed to manipulate the ranking system, because the algorithm is deceived giving more votes to websites that have links. These unnatural links do not hold value for a user, and Google works hard to eliminate it in the World Wide Web. To do so, Penguin algorithm is rolled out. Penguin algorithmically penalized websites with unnatural links by kicking them out of SERP. However, Google supported this campaign by employing human penalty he quoted as “manual action”.

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Source: Sample Unnatural Link Warning Message From Google

Negative SEO, is an unethical technique maybe employed by your competitors, to create harm to your website. Logically, you won’t be having access to log in information of these links, thus you can’t manually remove it.

Manual action will give same results if you were given algorithmic penalties. The difference is that you will receive a notice from Google. It will allow you to perform corrective measures such as no-following or removing the links that are considered unnatural. Then, you will be given a chance to apply for a reconsideration request to lift the penalty.If you have track all your links, it’s a little bit easier to remove it however, as Negative SEO, came to exist, it becomes pretty hard to distinguish which links can be removed or not.

Google On Negative SEO

In line with this, if you got thousands of links on your backlink profile, it is not efficient to open all of it and then remove. Therefore, Google made wave to providing the Google Disavow Tool.

Disavowing links is a process wherein the Webmasters notify search engines the external links that they don’t want to be counted by Google. It works best in disavowing low quality article directories, spam links, site wide links, link networks, paid posts, and other unnatural links.

Is Google Disavow Tool the Answer to Unnatural Links Removal?

Before Google Disavow Tool, Here Comes the Bing Disavow Tool

Link removal has not been easy whether manually or asking website owners to charge a fee to delete such link. What we needed was to directly notify search engines regarding harmful links pointing to their website. Bing was the first to acknowledge it and released Disavow Links Feature in June 2012. The tool is included in Bing Webmaster Tools. You can use it to submit websites, directory, domain and page that contain links pointing to your site that appear unnatural, spammy or from low quality sites. Though Bing released the Link Disavow tool first, it got smaller portion of the market, 15% compared to the 67%

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And Google Released its Disavow Tool…

In October 16, 2012, Google officially announced its Disavow Tool. It is more complete and useful compared to that of Bing. Every webmaster can use the tool to guard its website from the harmful impact of unnatural links. Whether you’ve got an algorithmic or human penalty, putting no credits to your links can give higher possibility of recovery.

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Google Disavow Tool

The Google Disavow Tool is just in time when Penguin 3 was rolled out in October 5, 2012. Without the tool, it will take more time before a website can recover. According to a post in Moz, it will take more than 2 months after the disavowing links and sending reconsideration request to see recovery in keyword rankings. Why is this so? Matt Cutts has something to say about it.

Matt Cutts on Disavow Tool

Matt Cutts is the head of Google Spam Detection team, perhaps, he also honed the idea of algorithmic and human penalties along with the disavow tool. After disavowing links, you need to send reconsideration request elaborating what you have done to recover. However, the result will not be seen instantly. This is because Google rolls out cyclical and random refreshes. The request will be granted but results will be felt after another refresh will be released.

Matt Cutts is confident that the Disavow Tool can help for Penguin

As Penguin penalized websites with unnatural links, disavowing them will compel this algorithm to skip it, and not count it for your website, thus, saving it for being kicked out of SERP or getting the manual penalty.

Matt Cutts as an ally of Google will certainly be an advocate of this tool, but what about the rest of SEO experts in the field?

What are the Experts Saying about the Disavow Tool?

There are SEO Experts whose views on Disavow tool are widely recognized by many SEO practitioners.

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Source: @dannysullivan

Danny Sullivan on Google Disavow Tool

The Editor-in-Chief of Search Engine Land believed that…

Disavow Tool works faster with Manual Action but not with Algorithmic Penalties.

Source:Search Engine Land

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Source: @rustybrick

Barry Schwartz

One of the authors of Search Engine Land, the blogger of his own Search Engine Round Table and CEO of RustyBrick, said that…

“This tool will help the nerves and anxiety of webmasters concerned over bad links hurting the ranking of their web sites.”

Source: Search Engine Land

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Source: @randfish

Rand Fishkin

The founder of SEOmoz that is now known as MOz has something to say too. He’s a bit pessimist about it though,

“Wondering if disavow tool is just a crowdsourced way for Google webspam to ID manipulative links disguised as a webmaster tool…”

Source:@randfish twitter status

Source: @ericenge

Eric Enge

One also of the contributors in Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch and the owner of Stone Temple Consulting, bluntly said

“For those who want to debate the merits of this tool, we have used it, and it works like a champ.”

Source:Search Engine Watch

Most of the experts agree that the Google Disavow Tool is indeed helpful in recovering from manual action and Penguin Penalties. It can drive away Google from counting unnatural links pointing to your website. However, you must know how to properly use it.

How to Use the Google Disavow Tool?

The truth is you can’t use the tool without caution. This is because you might remove links that are helpful to your website. Disavowing them will significantly impact your rankings and traffic. Vigilantly look into the links you want to disavow. How? Learn from here.

The First Thing…

Locate, explore and sort all your backlinks. You can use tools for this process, wherein you can use the following:

Google Webmaster Tools
Link Detox
Open Site Explorer
Majestic SEO

Downloading links using Google Webmaster Tools

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Download latest links (in csv)

How to find Unnatural Links

Checklist for Unnatural Links:

Having Standalone Exact Match Anchor Text Keyword
Linking to Sites having Page Rank 0 and Domain Authority Below 30
Site-wide Links on Footer or Sidebar (too many links in a single domain)
Link Farm
De-index Website (especially on directory sites, you can use site:domain for checking)
Linking to irrelevant and non-English sites
Linking to Reported Attacked Websites (Containing Malwares)
Sites having too much Ads (esp. found on article and URL directories)
Links on Blog Network having the same IP Address (usually they have also the same site themes)

Then Prepare for Disavow file…

From the sorted links create a text file (save it as .txt and encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII) for your unnatural links only that needed to be disavow which means this is the one going to be ignore by Google and should be in one link per line format.

And here is the short rule:

1. If you want Google to ignore all links from an entire domain like, you must add the line:

2. If you want Google to remove only a particular page just add only the exact URL:

3.You can add comments above the URL or domain you wanted to removed provided that before the comments you must add #.

# removed most links, but missed these

Example of Valid File from Google

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Source: Webmaster Help

Finally, Go to Disavow tool

You can go directly using this link: Disavow Tool Links Main .

1.Choose the Site to Disavow

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Especially when you are handling lots of websites, you need to choose the site to disavow, then click DISAVOW LINKS.

2.Click Disavow Links

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Remember also to read the caution before clicking the disavow links.

3.Upload Disavow .txt file

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4.Click the Submit Button

When your disavow file has been uploaded it is now time to submit it .

The tool works best for every website that has been penalized because of bad links whether intentionally made before Penguin or made by negative SEO. However, as a webmaster, you must understand that disavowing these links does not guarantee success in your SEO campaign. Here are some misconceptions about the use of the tool.

Do’s and Don’ts

When using the tool, here’s what to do:

Ensure that the link file that you will upload to be disavowed is in correct format as .txt file.
Use the domain of the site where the bad link is present.
Make sure that it is in the right format such as “disavow:”
Maximize the use of reconsideration request. Include your comments, suggestions, justifications and other things you want Googe to hear about.

However, these are the things you must avoid:

Don’t upload a link file using .doc or spreadsheet because it will not be processed by Google.
Don’t just choose the specific url that you want to disavow. Some websites are automatically regenerating your links. Disavowing the whole domain is safer and effective.
Don’t think that disavowing the unnatural links will answer all your SEO troubles. There are other SEO problems you may be facing such as low quality content, malwares, hackers, etc.

Negative Feedback about Google Disavow Tool

Actually, it can, yet the problem lies with the links that you will disavow. How can you make sure that you will be choosing disavowing bad links only? Google does not hold full discretion whether the uploaded file contains all bad links or some of it should be ignored.

There are three key areas that negates to the function of the tool. From Search Engine Journal:

Reason #1 – Small Mistakes Can Have Major Consequences
Removing plenty of unnatural links is easy because a lot of links are unnaturally generated however, when you have mistakenly included a good link, it can give major impact such as lowering down a few notches on your rank.

Reason #2 – Identifying Diseased Links is a Time-consuming Process
You can have thousands of links for a website. Taking a closer look on each of these is time consuming. But you don’t have a choice or else, you will be trapped on the “reason1”.

Reason #3 – Disavowing links may have no impact on your site’s performance
Manual actions are reviewed by Googlers, notifying them that you have disavowed your unnatural links will lift the manual penalty however; it does not cover the algorithmic penalty (Penguin). It may take another cycle of algorithm refresh before you can be totally freed from the penalty.

Success Stories in Using Disavow Tool

Despite many doubts about the tool, it has been proven by many webmasters. Penalty was lifted and recoveries in terms of Google rankings were felt.

One example is the, the author Cyrus Shepard ( posted it in It shows how Google Disavow Tool can be a life saver. It performs right way of disavowing and waited for 2 months. After such period, rankings are back, traffic is back; therefore, penalty is lifted.

Sander Tamela also shared his experience with one of his clients about its recovery from penalties (

Tim Grice also shared how Google disavow tool works (
showing real site, real recoveries.

As you can see the tool is effective and efficient both proven by SEO experts and webmaster’s experiences. We can see that Google simply wanted to clean the internet with spammy and non user-friendly links. After the first release of the link, Google didn’t lay back. It released few more updates to further strengthen the use of the Google Disavow Tool.

Updates on the use of GDT

Additional info about the use of Google Disavow Tool.

April 08, 2013: How Disavow tool can remove Penalties?

Google disavow tool can help in removing algorithmic (automatic) penalties like Penguin Update. Only telling us that if links are going to be votes, disavow tool can help in informing Google not to count them.

For Algorithmic Penalties:

You will only use disavow tool, no need to file reconsideration request. And this involves 3 steps:
Cleaning up of links
Wait for the Disavow to get processed (takes several weeks)
You have to wait for the next algorithm update to see the impact of disavowed links. ( For example if you have been hit by Penguin 2.0, and requested for disavowing of unnatural links you have to wait for the next Penguin update to see the effect.

For Manual Penalties:

On this case if the penalty is caused by bad links, you need to use disavow tool plus filing a reconsideration request.

Source: Search Engine Land

Google Webmaster Hangout Video on disavowing links

April 19, 2013: John Mueller on Disavow Removed Links

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Source: Google Groups Discussion

June 10, 2013: Matt Cutts cleared misconceptions about using the disavow tool

He explained 5 mistakes to avoid so that the tool can be processed properly.

June 28, 2013: Matt Cutts confirmed that Disavow Tool can help for Penguin.

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Source: @mattcutts Twitter Reply

July 3, 2013, Barry Shwartz on discussion about Testing Google Disavow Tool

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Barry Shwartz informed us that the tool is already tested by Matt Cutts and his team. That’s why it was delayed and Bing has to launch it first.
Source: SEO Round Table

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