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Feel The Fear And Disavow: Why You Have To Use The Google Disavow Tool

Oliver Ewbank

by Oliver Ewbank on 24th May 2013

face fearWith the next Penguin update now live it is important that site owners are comfortable with the quality of their backlinks.  If you fear you may have unnatural links one option is to disavow the source in Google Webmaster Tools. This post will look at the benefits of using the Disavow tool and why you shouldn’t be afraid of using it.

So lets get started.

The Fear

So for years and years people were crying out for a way to discount unwanted backlinks to their domain. What did Google do? They listened! Back in October 2012 Google being the sympathetic bunch that they are released the Disavow Tool. Problem solved right? Unfortunately not!

It seems people are still scared to use the Disavow Tool and there is a great deal of fear around using its features. After using the tool a fair amount recently I think people have nothing to be afraid of.

Why Be Scared?

OK granted, the thought of disavowing links can be a daunting prospect. What if you disavow the wrong ones? What if you get the formatting wrong? What if it does more harm than good? Disavowing links can be scary but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of using this tool.

Google doesn’t help the situation by putting up a massive warning sign saying the advanced feature ‘should be used with caution’. However, they do ‘recommend that you disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial or low quality links’ (see official message below).


So if you do have low quality links way why wouldn’t you Disavow? SEO is often about opinion and there are lots of different views on the Disavow Tool. A few of the common myths and misconceptions about using the tool are debunked below:

  • Adding links to the disavow file will remove the link completely.

This in nonsense. Adding links to a disavow file will simply discount the links. This tells Google which links you do not want counted when they crawl your site and evaluate your backlinks. The links will not be removed from the source.

  • We will be giving Google too much data. What are Google going to do with it?

Is it such a bad thing to give Google this data? If you disavow a directory like seo-directory-123-get-to-number-1-on-google.com it’s not going to harm your performance in the SERP’s.  It will just let Google know that this is not a good quality directory  (which it isn’t). If lots of people do the same Google will know that it is not a good link source which can only be a good thing for the rest of the internet.

  • Disavowing links will let Google know we have bad links and bring more attention to them.

If you have poor quality backlinks the chances are that Google knows you have them already (particularly if they are referenced in Google Webmaster Tools). If they don’t know now they soon will.

  • There is no need to Disavow. Google should just ignore bad links.

It’s a nice thought but Google are not yet good enough to algorithmically tackle all spam. This is the reason they launched the tool in the first place. It’s also the reason you get unnatural link warnings in Google Webmaster Tools.

  • People will just disavow good sites or their competitors.

Some people are scared good domains will be wrongly reported on purpose to stop passing value to other domains. If you have been hit by a penalty the last thing you are going to do is disavow competitors. I would have faith that Google can spot tampering with this tool or tell if a link is good.

  • If I disavow my unnatural links I will receive a huge drop in rankings.

It’s rare that you will see a huge drop in rankings when you submit a disavow file. The chances are Google already knows about the unnatural links and this is your way of saying you cannot remove them. If anything you are future proofing your link profile for further Penguin updates.

Lose the Fear

So there you have it. I hope the list above has dispelled some of the myths around the disavow tool. There is no need to be afraid. Anyone who completely disregards the tool is a fool in my book.  Google are only going to get tighter on unnatural links and this tool is the perfect way to weed out unwanted backlinks.

Anyone who does link analysis will know that it is extremely hard to remove links. Some charge you obscene amounts, some have no contact details and some will take offence if you ask them to remove the link. This leaves you with no choice but to disavow.

I would always try and remove the link first or add a nofollow tag if you want the traffic but if this can’t be done then the disavow tool is a great option to have.


What to Disavow?

Another massive fear is disavowing the wrong type of link. It’s important you disavow the correct links but if you have carried out a thorough backlink analysis this shouldn’t be a problem.  People often argue about what makes an unnatural link but Google make it pretty clear what is deemed unnatural. Take a look at what they think is a link scheme in their Webmaster Guidelines.

If you can’t remove or nofollow questionable backlinks and you want to Penguin proof your site then I would disavow the following.

Generic Directories

Poor quality directories should be disavowed straight away. Niche directories are fine. If you run a beauty website and are included in a beauty directory that is fine (why wouldn’t you want to be in there). If you are in a generic directory built to manipulate PageRank I would disavow this source at domain level.

Article Spinning

The old days of article spinning are long gone. If you have a large amount of articles with anchor text links then I would disavow the source at domain level. For example:


Press Release Link with Exact Match Anchor Text

Again a difficult one to call but if you have non branded anchor text links in a press release you could be at risk. Branded links in a press release are perfectly natural. This should be reviewed on a case by case basis.


After the ‘Interflora incident’ it’s clear advertorial backlinks can be deemed unnatural. You won’t want to lose the referral traffic from a credible publisher so nofollowing or adding the link to a disavow file is the best option.

Sitewide Footer Links

Many companies get their partners to have sitewide footer links to their domain. This can look unnatural and again for peace of mind I would nofollow the link.

Blog Roll Sponsored Links

Blog roll links have to be the easiest ‘sponsored links’ to spot.  While they can work for a limited period of time I would disavow these links as they are clearly paid for.

Forum Signatures

A difficult one to call but if you have bulk backlinks from forum signatures I would disavow the source. If this is done for SEO benefits your days are numbered.

forum signature

Text Advertisements That Pass PageRank

Again I would remove this source. If it provides some referral traffic I would disavow or nofollow.

Partner Pages

Building partner pages for the sake of cross linking is heavily frowned upon and I would try and remove or nofollow this link.

General Guidelines

Spotting an unnatural link is no easy task and it takes a trained eye to weed out the ones that could be harming your site. When reviewing backlinks always ask yourself ‘Can this link deliver appropriate referral traffic?’  If it can’t the chances are that it is designed to manipulate PageRank and should be nofollowed, removed or disavowed.

Take Responsibility 

As search evolves site owners need to take more responsibility for their backlinks. Link weeding is now as important as link building. Removing a poor link can be just as vital as building a new one. The disavow tool gives you more control over inbound links and it’s a tool that should be utilised in your overall SEO strategy. Sooner rather than later.

Get Involved

What do you think of the Disavow tool? Have you had a positive experience? Would you use the tool for link weeding?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Image Credits

Ninja Penguin from Bigstock
Face Fears from Bigstock

Oliver Ewbank

Oliver Ewbank

Working in new media for over 8 years, Oliver Ewbank has worked for a range of brands including eBay and SportBusiness.com on SEO, PPC and Social Media Management. He has won awards for his SEO work and been featured in a number of publications, including Virgin online.

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  • Alan Smith 27th May 2013

    Same negative thoughts come to my mind… When I was trying it for my site. But after Applying it I got very positive changes. Very well written article… keep us updating with such a useful stuffs. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply to this comment

  • Oliver Ewbank

    Oliver Ewbank 28th May 2013

    Thanks for your comment Alan.

    I think most people will have niggling doubts when they first use the tool but after a while it will become second nature when weeding out irrelevant backlinks.

    Reply to this comment

  • Mark 28th May 2013

    This is a really interesting article and I can definitely say that I have been sat in the ‘afraid to use’ camp.

    It would be great to see some results from people that have used the tool and have seen a positive impact. Also on the flip side, it would be interesting to hear from anyone that might have had issues after using it.

    Reply to this comment

  • Oliver Ewbank

    Oliver Ewbank 28th May 2013

    Thanks for your comment Mark.

    I have only had positive experiences using the tool. I have also seen cases where disavowing a large amount of links has led to a successful reconsideration request.

    Reply to this comment

  • Amy Edwards 30th May 2013

    Really interesting article. I’m currently in the process of trying to clean up my links before turning to the disavow tool but coming across a large number of sites (mostly spam directories) that are asking me to pay to have my links removed.

    Has anyone else found themselves in this situation? I’m really reluctant to pay… but if I don’t, will it affect my disavow request? Really interested to hear some other opinions on this.


    Reply to this comment

  • Oliver Ewbank

    Oliver Ewbank 30th May 2013

    Thanks for your comment Amy.

    I have experienced directories charging to remove links. It comes down to budget and how damaging the link is to your campaign.

    If they are charging $2 to remove a link I would do it. If they are charging stupid amounts I will use the disavow tool.

    You can screen grab the link removal fee and put it in a Google doc to show evidence that they are not willing to remove the link without a cost.

    The disavow tool was created for circumstances like this so it shouldn’t affect your request.

    Reply to this comment

    • Amy Edwards 30th May 2013


      Thanks for the reply. Great – that’s exactly what I thought! Yeah you’re right – $2 isn’t much but when you’re dealing with hundreds of sites that want to charge you between $2 and $10 a time, it quickly adds up! :S Thanks for your help!

      Reply to this comment

  • Simon Heart 27th August 2013

    Has anyone used Pressat?

    I don’t understand why people were churning out press releases that had ZERO newsworthy value. Whats the point? a little push in the serps is nothing comparison to writing a cutting edge release thats going to naturally get xx media outlets to cover the story because its interesting.

    Reply to this comment

  • Andrew 27th September 2013

    how to find out which links are bad?

    Reply to this comment

  • Too many directories 13th November 2013

    Going through an extensive and arduous cleanup right now and something I’d like to bring to attention, is to be really careful with many of these directories. The owners are truly scum, and even contacting them could have significant repercussions. The owners may have hundreds or even thousands of url’s with spammy link directories on them.

    What we found after identifying a ton that are owned by the same company is that if you contact them and your link is only on a single or a few of their directories, it magically starts appearing on more of their directories after a few days to weeks. Not all are like this but there are a few groups we’ve spotted doing this.

    Also, if you pay them to remove a link you just incentivised them to add your link to their other directories. It’s difficult to identify these as many times you don’t know it was the same owners until you contact them, but there some very large groups of directories that are all owned by the same people.

    I’ve also seen as high as $100 per link being demanded for removing it.

    Reply to this comment

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