Google Link Disavow – What It Is and How to Use It March 11, 2014

Back in September of 2013, we did an article on negative SEO, specifically as it relates to Penguin. It seems Google has finally provided webmasters with a way to fight back against negative SEO, at least in cases of “black hat” link bombing. On October 16, 2013 Google’s central webmaster blog announced the creation of a long-awaited link disavow tool, which allows webmasters to discount or distance themselves from a link coming to their site. This tool is particularly useful in cases of negative SEO, but Google maintains that its main purpose is to help those who are having trouble cleaning up their link profile in the wake of Penguin.


“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”

Before you go crazy with this tool, it’s important to understand how it should be used. The disavow tool is not a panacea or a shortcut for instant rankings, and misuse of it can actually do more harm than good. Before turning to the disavow tool, ask yourself these questions:

1. Have you received a warning from Google about unnatural links?

2. Have you, a site admin, or SEO ever been involved in any link schemes?

3. Have you tried contacting the sites with the “bad” links to have them removed?

4. Have you been penalized by Google? If so, are you sure it was because of link spam? The team over at Distilled has an article on diagnosing Penguin that may help you figure out if your drop in traffic is due to Penguin or another culprit.

5. Are you positive that the links you’ll be disavowing are hurting you? Low-value links aren’t anyone’s favorite, but they may still be helping your site, and by disavowing them, you could end up hurting your site even more. This article by Dr. Pete over at SEOMoz provides some guidance on using the tool as well as discerning diseased links from low-value ones.

If you answered yes to any of the five questions above and have already taken every possible step to remedy the problem without success, then it may be time to use the disavow tool. Thankfully, Google has made it pretty easy to do so.

Using the Link Disavow Tool

A disavow link file is structured similarly to a robots.txt or .htaccess file, except that it is uploaded directly to Google rather than hosted on your server. The process of making one includes three steps:

1. First, determine which links you want to disavow. If you have just a few, then it should be pretty easy. If you have many links, however, you may want to sift through them using a tool like SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer. This allows you to sort links by page and domain authority and to download them as a CSV, although you will need to register for an account if you don’t already have one. Alternately, you can export incoming links to an Excel document using Google Webmaster Tools by going to Traffic>Links to Your Site>Who Links the Most and clicking “download this table.” Delete all “good” links in the resulting spreadsheets until you’re left with only the ones you want to disavow.

2. Create a plain text file and insert each URL you’d like to disavow on a separate line. You can include entire domains by putting “domain:” before the URL, as well as list individual page URLs. You can also include comments by typing # at the beginning of a line.

3. Once you’ve made your text file, go here and choose the site for which you want to submit the links. Upload the file and hit submit.

The Aftermath

Once you’ve submitted your list of disavowed links, there are some things you should know:

• The effects are not instant. In fact, Google has said it can take “multiple weeks” for them to recrawl and reindex the disavowed URLs before you see any changes to your rankings.

• If you got one of the notifications that you “have a manual action on your site,” then you’ll still need to submit a reconsideration request to Google so their webspam team can inspect it.

• Disavowing a link does not mean Google is obligated to ignore it. It is more of a strong suggestion, albeit one that they usually follow.

• If you want to change the file in the future, you can simply upload the updated version by going to the Webmaster Tools URL above.

Going Forward

The full abilities and effects of the link disavow tool are yet to become clear, and they will surely evolve as webmasters learn to use the tool (and as black-hat SEOs learn to abuse it). For now, though, the link disavow tool remains perhaps the strongest defense against negative SEO and at the very least, an effective and long-awaited tool for Penguin recovery.

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Nick Cuttonaro

Nicholas Cuttonaro is an Internet Marketing professional specializing in search engine optimization, lead generation, and online reputation management.


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