Google Disavow Link Tool
Why would you need to use the Google Disavow Link Tool?
..and should you actually use it..?
Let’s start with the why…
If your sites rankings got hit by Penguin [traffic drop off after April 2012] then it’s most likely because of what Google consider to be “bad links”.
Likewise if you’ve received a bad links warning from Google, been manually penalized or denied a reconsideration request in Google.
So what does the “disavow” tool actually do?
well, this is what Google say: -
“This tool allows you to indicate to Google which links you would like to disavow, and Google will typically ignore those links.”
However, the following sentance goes on to say: -
“Much like with rel=”canonical”, this is a strong suggestion rather than a directive—Google reserves the right to trust our own judgment for corner cases, for example—but we will typically use that indication from you when we assess links.”
hmm, “a strong suggestion”, so they may just ignore your “disavow” links list!
so is it really worth going through all the effort?
I’ll come back to that question in a moment, let’s first look at what’s involved.
Here’s the general process to find any “bad links” and get them “disavowed”: -
1. Find a list of all the backlinks to your site.
This can be done with the “Links to Your Site” feature in Webmaster Tools [from the homepage, select the site you want, navigate to Traffic -> Links to Your Site -> Who links the most > More, then click one of the download buttons].
The problem here is that the free list found within Google’s Webmaster Tools won’t give you access to all of the links found in your profile…
Which means you need to use a commerically available tool to get a complete list.
There are a few good one’s available, by far my favorite is here: -
2. Check through the list for “bad backlinks”
now this is not a quick or simple task by any means, you’re going to need to visit most of the sites that you have links from to check both the quality of the site and of the link, in order to be able to make a judgement on whether Google may see it as a “bad link”
Obviously there are some standard rules to follow on this nowadays, like make sure you don’t have too many backlinks from a single domain, especially not to just one page (e.g. index page), and make sure the anchor text for links is a wide variety.
Here’s a longer list of things to look for that are likely to make Google consider the link to be bad: -
~ if the link is sitewide (e.g. in the blogroll)
~ if the sites “PR” = N/A
~ if the site linked from exists simply to provide links
~ if the site obviously appears “crappy” (too many ads, too little text, too many links, etc.)
~ if the content is badly written or inacurate, or simply very little of it
~ if the site or page is not in some way releated/relevant to your topic/niche/site
~ if the link is not inside the content
~ if the link is from a link page/directory
~ if the link is mixed in with other links that are obviously just there for the backlink
Note: this is not meant to be a definitive list, but should give you a good idea of where to start.
3. Try to get bad backlinks removed
Getting in touch with, and a reply from, the site owner can be problematic, at best.
First you need to track down their contact details [look for the about/contact us/TOS pages], and you may get no reponse at all.
Note: if you can’t find contact info on the site itself, you can usually get some contact info from the WHOIS regsistry info.
When you do get in touch be polite, it is their site and you’re asking them (for the help) to spend their time removing your links. Give them sufficient time for a response, 1-2 weeks should be enough.
Many webmasters, especially if they only have one or two sites, will often be happy to do it for free.
However, you will also come across site owners who have LOTS of sites (possibly hundreds, like me) who may be receiving a LOT of link removal requests and simply not have the ‘free’ time to remove all those links.
If you get no response within a couple of weeks, this could well be why. You then need to make the decision as to whether you want to offer to pay for their time or not. Usually offering just $5-10 will get the response you are looking for.
Make sure you keep track of your requests, replies and verify whether the links has been removed, as you’ll need this info for the comments in the disavow tool list.
Don’t use the disavow until you have done this.
4. Create & upload your disavow list
The disavow tool is here: -
Your list is a simple text list of the links you want “disavowed” with comments as to why/what you’ve done to try and get them removed, with just one link or domain per line.
the comments should have a hash “#” in front of them.
here’s an example:
# asked for link removal but got no response
# webmaster removed some links, but missed these
Note: To disavow all the links on a domain use “domain: website.com”
The full details are here: -
5. Submit for reconsideration
According to the FAQ at the bottom of Google disavow tool instructions page [link above] you do still need to submit a site reconsideration request, then you have to wait and see what happens.
Bear in mind if it’s a Penguin update penalty you received you will need to wait for the next Penguin update before you are likely to see any results, if at all.
So, back to the question, ‘is it worth using the disavow links tool’?
There is now some evidence that it can help, but there’s no guarantee.
First I’d say don’t bother unless: -
~ Your sites rank dropped from a Penguin update [think April 2012], and nothing you’ve done since has restored your sites rank, even after taking the time to get low value backlinks removed from other peoples sites.
~ You’ve submitted a reconsideration request, having done a “Penguin” cleanup” and it was denied.
~ You got an unnatural links warning email from Google and haven’t been able to get all the links identified removed.
~ You can identify links that have been used as part of a ‘negative SEO’ attack against your site, which is not as common as some people believe.
In my experience, for most webmasters, your time and efforts will be more effectively spent on building new, high quality, targeted links to conterbalance any ‘bad links’, especially if you’ve got too many links with all the same anchor text in them, which is one of the most common problems.
However, it is well worth your time to use a service like AHrefs to take a look at your backlinks and at least understand where they are coming from and whether any are obviously low value. If you have lots, you will often find they are actually from a small number of sites, so may be dealt with fairly easily.
and don’t forget, there’s no guarantee that using the disavow tool will actually have a positive effect…
If you’d like to learn how to get a truly wide variety of quality, targeted links for your site then check out these 50 website traffic videos