6 Things To Think About Before Disavowing Links

disavow links penguinEarlier this month, Christmas came early for many in the SEO industry. Google launched its wildly anticipated disavow links tool bringing with it a way for you to remove some of those shady things you your former SEO company have done.

The biggest problem with disavowing your links is that at first glance, it looks like the easy way out. Instead of taking the effort to remove your unnatural inbound links by hand, there will be people who assume this tool will do it for them. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Matt Cutts warned about using the disavow links tool with caution, and if it were me, I take any warning from him to the heart.

So before you go and throw up the Hail Mary, think carefully if you really should deny your link building past to get to your ranking future.

You May Be Shooting Yourself

People who were penalized by Penguin will be the biggest users of the disavow links tool, but because it’s so user-friendly, people may be too quick to jump on the disavowing bandwagon.

If you haven’t actually been penalized and you start disavowing your links, you’re essentially outing yourself to Google that you manipulated the system. Make sure that you equivocally know you were penalized and it’s not just some random fluctuation in rankings, a sitemap or indexing problem, or an accidentally no-indexed page.

It Could Do You Way More Harm

With the disavow links tool, you’re telling Google what you think are the spammy links that you have in profile, but there is no way to actually know if a link is hurting you or not.

Even if you’ve done every link assessment known to man, all you have is an educated guess, and it’s very possible — read, pretty much guaranteed — that you could be discounting some links that are actually helping you. If you do, it’s unlikely that you will ever get that good link back to count for something.

disavow link tool

It Might Not Actually Work

Putting together your XLS of the links you’d like removed will be the quickest thing about disavowing your links. Like with anything with Google, it could take weeks, if not months, for them to credit what you disavow. That is, if they even disavow them in the first place because it’s ultimately left to Google’s discretion.

Furthermore, even if it does go into effect, your rankings aren’t going to suddenly skyrocket just because those bad links don’t exist anymore, which means…

Have A Good Link Building Plan In Place

The biggest complaint on link building the right way is that it takes too long, but think about how many good links you could get in the months that it could take for Google to disavow your bad links. The more good links you have in your profile, the less the bad ones matter, especially if they’re several years old.

Before you use the link disavow tool, make sure you have a sold link building strategy in place that will both account for removed links and give a natural boost to your website.

Start building up content on your own website for your customers. Lists and crowd-sourcing are a great way to do this. Ask your customers or industry influences a question and put their answers directly in your post. People are more inclined to link, share or tweet something they’re mentioned in.

That’s just one example. There are literally hundreds of great link building strategies you could use.

You’re Giving Google (Even More) Power

Google uses the data from the disavow links tool to discredit any of the links to your website in said spreadsheet. For now. There is no telling what else they could do with that data. Would they use it as a ranking factor to discredit a site that comes up frequently in disavow submissions? Sure, those sites probably deserve to get docked if that happens, but go further.

What happens if someone disavows a link from your website for whatever reason? Will your website get flagged as spam?

Google has enough leverage over us anyway. Do you want them to have even more?

You’re Not Just Disavowing Your Links

Call me a Disney princess, but I like to assume the good in everyone. I know there are oodles of shady SEOS out there — I’m probably even friends with some of them — but what I’ve grown to love about the SEO industry is that we’re not malicious people, and we don’t just tattle-tale to Google about some less-than-ethical tactics some people may be using. That’s just what the disavow links tool does, though:  You’re calling out everyone else who has links on those pages, too.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Disavow Links Tool | Link Building | Link Building: General | Link Week Column


About The Author: is an experienced digital strategist, content developer and search marketer. She's currently the SEO Manager for The Home Depot and has previously worked agency-side for mid-sized business and Fortune 500 companies. She speaks regularly on digital strategy, content development and inbound marketing at conferences nationwide. Follow her on Twitter @erinever.

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  • http://twitter.com/jbutcherseo Justin Butcher

    I completely agree with all of this, the disavow tool is unlikely to be the “get out of jail free” card some people are hoping it will be. I made similar points here:


  • http://twitter.com/ShahMenz Sha Menz

    Absolutely. The Disavow Tool should be looked at as if it were the dustpan and broom of your link removal campaign … the specially designed bit of equipment that allows you to sweep up those last few bits of rubbish you couldn’t quite manage to sweep away with the big broom.

    Incidentally, I really hope Google will think long and hard before it goes anywhere near the idea of using disavow data to assess the worth of linking root domains. Having seen a lot of frankly mean people brag about lodging DMCA requests and Spam Reports because a webmaster failed to respond to email, I can imagine those same people would happily abuse the Disavow tool. Let’s face it, that tool is so much easier and brings much more immediate gratification :(

  • 4u2discuss

    Each Disavow you request is an admission of using link farm tactics. I am convinced this was a fishing expedition by the big G and the sites listed as DISAVOW will get some kind of special treatment. Many website designers used links to expand their user information experience and never complained about sending visitors along to a site where they could get the info they are looking for. how ever many new entrants are onto the shopping wagon and try every kind of trick to keep the viewer stuck within their pages. Now our links from way back when are in line to be disavowed at the whim of some inexperienced newbie, because he / she does not understand the value of user experience.

    The Big G is also talking of this (user experience) quite a bit, as well as how to determine a sites aboutness. well news for you your sites aboutness, and user experience depends a great deal on those links you may be disavowing, so be careful and think clearly.

  • Mushegh

    Do not agree. May be algoritmically Google will think so but I disavowed links with explanations 1. Links the domain got before I registered/purchased it 2. Links from bad-bad directories that copy dmoz 3. Links from bad-bad wiki-copy sites that automatically copy wikipedia and its external links … I just hope google understands what i wrote there..

  • 4u2discuss

    Lets be serious, there are some good reasons that the disavow links should be used, but these have been around for a long time, and are not new reasons to worry. You should have requested these a long time ago, but never had the tools. sites that auto-copy links should be removed at all costs as they just spread link-farm tactics. remember that your site only got indexed in any search engine once the search engine became awear of your site via a link from somewhere….So each link has a place, but building excessive links from random sites that are not related to your information is just being silly and needs to be punished for wasting your viewers time and efforts. Think for yourself, why would you follow a link that is going to a site that has noting to do with what you are looking for? YOU WOULD NOT DO THIS? RIGHT? So why ask search engines to give you credit for wasting their time? people did this big time just to build up their inbound links, now the SE’s (search Engines) have caught up and are punishing them for previous time wasted. good thing… they were cheating, and cheaters need to pay the price of cheating when they get caught.

    Now Google is using the disavow links to look up the cheating partners and see who else they cheated with, then punish those cheaters tooo.

    @Mushegh Your issue seems to be a genuine case, and Google has the tools to distinguish between cases like yours and cases where sites employed link farms in the past. Google will use this against the sites that used link-farms, and also use this to establish the true depth of link farms within the SEO industry and its many shady characters who cheat at every opportunity.

  • Mushegh

    “people did this big time just to build up their inbound links” – another big reason to launch and use the disavow link. Agree or not, before (now also but significantly less) it was like – “hey you are not allowed to build links to trick my algo, but consider me not seeing that (wink, wink) “. Same as with many many laws we have written but never implemented, so people assume (and they are right in some regards), that bypassing it “is just fine”. Let me be clear – it’s partially google’s fault people used that tactics and a lot of other tactics, just because it was viewed “fine”, though illegal.. Way too many people “honestly thought” that’s the right thing to do, so may be Google just gives these people chance to start over or may be it just looked at its results and found that they are worse, so it needs the good sites back, but won’t admit it was wrong but gives hope?

    Again, as the saying goes “Every medal has 2 sides”, so both yes and no, google will and/or will not be using this data to improve it’s algo or as you say find more cheaters.

  • http://twitter.com/sostanza Sostanza SRL

    A link on an image (i.e. the company logo) placed in the sidebar of a partner’s website, bringing more than 64.000 links, could harm? should I ask to add a rel=nofollow? I would like to know your opinion, thanks.


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