Google Disavow Tool, For Everyone Who Did Something Wrong

“Finally” and “About time” were amongst the remarks of many reactions yesterday when Google officially announced their “disavow links” tool at Pubcon. The tool is a way to let as a site owner Google know which links pointing at your site you think should be ignored by Google.

The tool was already expected by many SEOs because Google had been testing it out amongst several SEOs in the past few weeks and Bing already launched its own tool back in June. The tool can be seen as a direct response to Penguin updates: sites with a lot of bad links need to clean up their act. With this tool Google makes that a bit easier. But not just for the site owners, for themselves as well.

What is it?

As said the tool is really meant to clean up bad links pointing at your website. The best way to do that until now was to figure out which links are potentially bad and trying to get them removed at the source. To be clear: that still is the best way to ‘clean up’ even though it takes up the most time and you are not sure whether or not you can get links removed.

The tool Google launched yesterday can help site owners do more in ‘bulk’. When you received messages in Google Webmaster Tools notifying you of a manual spam action based on “unnatural links” pointing to your site you can use this tool to tell Google which links you think are the ones which should be taken out of consideration.

Important to know here is that it is NOT a tool which allows you to ‘delete’ these links. You are telling Google which ones should, in your eyes, not be counted, Google will then take a look at them and might agree with you or not.

How does it work?

The tool works pretty simple (makes you wonder why it took them so long to launch, it is not a technical issue, that is sure). Once you got the messages in GWT as a ‘nice’ website owner you will try and get rid of the bad links. The once you cannot get rid off you can inform Google about.

You go to the Disavow page and upload a (text)file with the links in it you believe should be disavowed.

Google is clear about the format:

The format is straightforward. All you need is a plain text file with one URL per line. An excerpt of a valid file might look like the following:


# Contacted owner of on 7/1/2012 to

# ask for link removal but got no response
# Owner of removed most links, but missed these

After that it is time to wait for Google. And that wait can take a while. It is like sending a postcard to the other end of the world and not knowing when you will get an answer, let alone what the answer actually is. Cutts said it could take weeks before Google responds. And if you decide somewhere in the middle of that waiting time to adjust your file, the waiting will start from scratch again.

Fully explained

To fully explain the tool Matt Cutts created a 10 minute video which you can find below.

For whom is this tool intended?

Now before you go and run to Google to tell them about all the links you bought or about all the links you think are pointing at you but shouldn’t, hold your horses.

Google specifically lets know that this tool is meant for those with issues, site owners which have received notifications in GWT about bad links. If you didn’t have those messages I’d suggest you leave the tool alone for now.

Cutts even points out in the video that it is mainly for the bigger sites. Smaller sites will be able to ignore this tool in general.

So it is for big sites and for those who did something wrong… In his video Cutts specifically mentions that it is intended for those who might have done something ‘wrong’ in the past. He points at those who ‘might have bought links’ in the past and want to clean up their act now.

Smart Google

The launch of this tool will help SEOs but it will even more help Google in their fight against spam. Off course, Google will know from most of the links whether or not these are bad links and even if they are indeed bought or not. But the data (yes, again it is about data as well) which Google will receive from this tool will be priceless. SEOs will be telling Google what bad links are, which one they (potentially) bought.

Google will happily embrace that data.

Bas van den Beld

About Bas van den Beld

Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.

14 thoughts on “Google Disavow Tool, For Everyone Who Did Something Wrong

  1. Spot on article! I am curious to see the effect on penalised sites! If any… #anothermachinelearningtest

  2. Because it’s Google, it’s not going to be simple. Site owners are going to have to do a full manual audit first before they submit their file to Google. But I agree, it is going to be interesting to see the effect it has on these sites. Google sneaky spam fighters.

  3. In the Google Webmaster Central blog here:

    “we recommend that you remove from the web as many spammy or low-quality links to your site as possible. This is the best approach because it addresses the problem at the root. By removing the bad links directly, you’re helping to prevent Google (and other search engines) from taking action again in the future. You’re also helping to protect your site’s image, since people will no longer find spammy links pointing to your site on the web and jump to conclusions about your website or business.

    If you’ve done as much as you can to remove the problematic links, and there are still some links you just can’t seem to get down, that’s a good time to visit our new Disavow links page”

    Google suggest that this tool is ONLY to be used on sites which refuse to remove links or fail to respond. This post seems to suggest that the tool is for ‘all’ bad links. It’s not. You’re still supposed to concentrate your main efforts into link-removals first. This tool is a backup.

    1. Hi James, thanks for your comment.

      I agree with what you are saying, but the article is far from meant to imply it is about ALL links. In fact I’ve deliberately placed this line: ” The once you cannot get rid off you can inform Google about.” in it.

      1. It was mainly this part:

        “The tool Google launched yesterday can help site owners do more in ‘bulk’. When you received messages in Google Webmaster Tools notifying you of a manual spam action based on “unnatural links” pointing to your site you can use this tool to tell Google which links you think are the ones which should be taken out of consideration.”

        Which seems to suggest the process is:

        1) Find bad links in GWT
        2) BULK UPLOAD all bad links to Google

        I felt you failed to reference the missing element of the process:
        1.5) Try to contact all the web-masters and manually remove the links. Only links which ‘cannot’ be removed should be uploaded.

        I don’t mean to nit-pick or seem disparaging, I just think some SEOs might get the wrong idea because of the language used 🙂

          1. You don’t have to thank me. Actually reading over my initial post it sounded a bit ‘snarky’. Sorry about that. Sometimes I neglect to infuse my comments with the necessary personality…

  4. What I don’t understand is why everyones jumping on the disavow bandwagon blindly without stopping to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what is actually happening here.

    I have written a detailed post exploring the darker side of this update here

    But to sum it up – Google has just enslaved an army of webmasters to do all of the hard work for them.

    Why bother writing an algorithm when you can power the whole thing with a human army of super snitches?

    This is bad news for the SEO world in a big way.

  5. Good round-up. I do find it quite amusing if not slightly alarming that over the course of the past year, webmasters have gone from being Google enthusiasts, switching to incredibly cautious if not completely averse towards anything Google releases.

    The bottom line is, SEO is a completely different beast to what it was prior to Panda / Penguin / EMD and there are a lot of webmasters that simply can’t afford to invest in good quality content marketing and genuinely developing sites that benefit users rather than buying an EMD, pointing some splog links towards it, ???, profit.

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