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Google Disavow Tool – How Do You Use It? … Should You Use It? - Posted By Nick Pateman, Operations Director - 04.03.13

Nick Pateman

By Nick Pateman

SEOs in the UK have woken up to big news today – Google has launched a hugely anticipated link ‘disavow’ tool. Ever since Google released it’s Penguin update SEOs have been chomping at the bit to get rid of those poorly judged spam links that they acquired many years back – and now they can!

So now that this disavow tool is available to all webmasters, how can you use it and more importantly, should you use it?

How to Use Google’s Disavow Link Tool

The disavow tool is available at this page on Google Webmaster Central; but don’t be fooled by the seemingly ‘one click’ disavow button, there’s a bit more to it than that.

First of all, Google will warn you that what you’re doing may harm your site’s rankings (more on that in a bit). After you’ve read their warning and continued to disavow, you will receive the same warning again but this time with the option to upload a file. Here’s how the file system works:

1. Open your notepad and format your link list as below:

guide to disavow formatting

You can use the ‘#’ symbol at the start of a line in order to make comments i.e. words on this line are ignored by Google.

2. You can disavow either links from a specific page, or links from an entire domain. To do the former, simply enter the entire URLs (for the example above):

http://www.spamdomain2.com/contentA.html
http://www.spamdomain2.com/contentB.html
http://www.spamdomain2.com/contentC.html

But with the latter, you can effectively tell Google to ‘ignore’ links from an entire domain by entering:

domain:spamdomain1.com

If you’re doing this for your own site then I wouldn’t worry too much about throwing in ‘#’ comments. This is just for taking notes on why you’re removing links; Google won’t ever read these.

upload to disavow tool

Once you’ve got your txt file ready, simply head back to the disavow tool and upload it. Unfortunately the process isn’t going to be quick – “several weeks” (possibly because we’d spot changes too easily) and it’s not even guaranteed that the links will be disavowed. But don’t let that put you off, Google will only ignore your disavow request if there is a reason not to trust it.

The process is straight forward, but wouldn’t it have been nice to just click buttons in WMT rather than messing around with a txt file? Well a certain cynical member of the team is under the impression that Google may be taking these hoarding this data to better understand what websites humans consider to be spam. I’ll leave that for the comments…

Should We Use Google’s Disavow Tool?

Google’s warning is pretty clear:

google disavow link warning

So should we still use it?

In some instances the answer is a resounding yes. Your website’s traffic has vanished in line with the Penguin updates and you have nothing to lose. But in most other cases, the answer is a resounding ‘uhmmmmmmmmmm, wellllll’.

Our Interpretation of a Link ≠ Google’s Interpretation of a Link

To put it simply, there’s no way to be certain that the links that you are removing are actually having a detrimental impact on your site. A link that you consider to be terrible may actually be having a small positive impact on your website’s ranking; even if the impact of a link is a full blown zero then there’s no gain in disavowing it. In fact the number of case studies for negative SEO are few and far between (although the ones that do exist are fascinating).

My advice to anyone who’s not got a clear Penguin penalty would be to hold off and see what others make of the tool. If you start removing loads of links then you’re going to need to end up with an overall net gain. For instance, you could remove 2 really damaging links, but if while doing so you remove 20 helpful links, then you’ve probably gone and made the problem worse…

Future Proofing

I’m big on future proofed SEO, a few years ago I would have said do what works now and worry about the future later. But with Google constantly punishing bad practices, it’s really important to plan ahead – so if you’re not at all concerned about rankings now then go ahead and remove any hint of a bad link (what’s a bad link?).

If you remove ALL of your bad links now, you’ll be able to move forward with Google knowing that they can’t penalise you any further based on link quality. Not only will this keep you from going insane over the next algorithm update, but it will also help you diagnose any issues if you do get a Google slap in the future (it can’t be a link quality issue).

Depending on how you treat SEO will depend on how you use this tool. Super conservative, forward thinking SEOs should go ahead and remove them all. Business owners who are currently profiting from organic Google traffic – stay the hell away!

For more information, Google’s Matt Cutts has recorded a 10 minute video all about the the new tool:

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