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Insider Tips on the Google Disavow Link Tool

Updated on October 11, 2014

Matt Cutts, head of Google Webspam Team

What is it?

The Google Disavow link tool was designed by Googles Webspam team to help webmasters "disavow" bad quality links. To disavow just means that while the links may still be online, they won't count against the site.

Low quality links are those that have thin content, or are from disreputable sites, or that appear to have been built exclusively to trick the Google search engine into giving the site higher rankings.

The need for the tool is especially apparent when you understand what Negative SEO is. Negative SEO is a process an unscrupulous competitor will use against somebody else, for example they could easily create thousands of very low quality links to a site, with the sole intention of getting it dropped in the Google rankings.

Also, some webmasters have hired cheap and low quality SEO providers in order to get rankings up, only to find that any temporary gains are lost eventually, and the site drops when Google determines that most of the links are low quality. In this case, the webmaster needs a way to get those links removed.

Case Study 1

Example of loss of site rankings and recovery after use of the Google Disavow Tool
Example of loss of site rankings and recovery after use of the Google Disavow Tool

What Google says about it

Google has put out plenty of great information about the tool, including videos included in this hub. A couple of points they make are of critical importance for webmasters:

1. Try to get bad links removed first. Getting the links permanently removed is in your best interest.

2. You will not be punished for using the tool. When it first came out, Webmasters feared that the tool was a sneaky way for Google to identify spammers. In other words, if you used the tool, aren't you just admitting you did black hat SEO practices in the past? The answer is a clear no, and the combined experience of thousands of satisfied webmasters who have reclaimed rankings backs that up.

3. Learn Google's best practices for earning rankings. From it's earliest inception Google has had one simple goal: to rank the best site for a given keyword at the top of the rankings. It's a simple premise really, and one that isn't worth fighting. Learn how to make your site the "best" for the keywords you are fighting for.

What if I don't have a manual penalty from Google?

How to use the tool

So, here's where the rubber hits the road. If your site has lost rankings, and you want to use the Disavow tool, you have to do the following:

1. Create a list of all the links to your website

2. Analyze the links and identify those that are harmful

3. Create a text file of the links you want disavowed

4. Upload the file to Google's Webmaster Tools

5. Wait! It may take a few weeks for Google to act on the file.

Common Mistakes

Case Study 2

Case study 2, recovered rankings after disavowing
Case study 2, recovered rankings after disavowing

Take aways

If you have a website that used to rank, and now it doesn't, chances are you should use the Disavow Tool. In my experience, it works well, and we even use it on sites that have not received a manual penalty, but have lost rankings.

Of course, best practice is to make sure your site if of high quality, with great content, and provides link bait for attracting links, and gives users a great user experience.

But... if there are 30 great sites in your niche, the ones that will win are those that have the best SEO in place, so don't overlook the Google Disavow tool as a potential ranking-raising option, especially if the site used to rank well but has dropped over time.


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