Google: Disavowing Links Isn’t Replacement For Also Trying To Get Them Removed

disavow link tool

Many SEOs cheered that Google’s new disavow links tool would make it easier to recover from a bad backlink profile. No more worrying about directories charging to remove links or trying to get out of bad link networks. But Google says it does want to see a good faith effort to go along with any disavow links request, or those disavow requests might not get honored.

Google: Try To Remove Links

Google had previously suggested that the disavow link tool wasn’t a replacement for making link removal requests. From the company’s blog post, the day the tool launched:

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….

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….

Disavow Not Enough? No, Says Google

But given the seemingly automated nature of the disavow link tool, did site owners really need to go through this effort? Why not just submit a list of bad links and save the time? Isn’t that really all you need to do? According to the head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, no:

I wouldn’t count on this. In particular, Google can look at the snapshot of links we saw when we took manual action. If we don’t see any links actually taken down off the web, then we can see that sites have been disavowing without trying to get the links taken down.

His answer came as part of a long Q&A I posted yesterday about the link disavow tool. It suggests that the link disavow tool is also looking to see some actual removal of bad links, or it won’t kick in.

That’s odd, however. The entire point of having a link disavow tool is that it’s hard to get some of links removed. Having a tool that works to remove links you can’t remove but only if you can get those links removed either defeats the purpose of having the tool or is a Catch-22.

Hit By Manual Action? Don’t Mess Around: Both Remove & Disavow

I think the reality is two-fold, however. First, many of the sites impacted by things like the Penguin Update and seeking to remove bad links may have many of them, so that by removing a few, the link disavow tool can help as part of an overall clean-up effort

Second, I actually think the link disavow tool isn’t trying to do some type of cross-checking. If you were hit by an automated action like Penguin based on your backlinks, rather than a manual action, I suspect that just disavowing those bad links (if you can tell what they are) will be sufficient. If you read the comments from Cutts closely, his statement is more about what Google could do, not what it necessarily does.

But having said that, his is the official advice, and so if you think you were hit by a penalty, I’d follow it fully. Try to remove some of those links manually.

Moreover, if you were hit by a manual action, where you know some human at Google has penalized yourself, you’re going to be under even more scrutiny when filing a reinclusion request. That means you’ll want to know that if a Google web spam team member checks on their site, they’ll see you’ve done more than just disavow links.

Related Entries

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Disavow Links Tool | Google: SEO | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Hans Jeschke

    It looks like Google is trying to hire web masters to do their job. For a human it is very easy to spot a bad link: You look at the link and you immediately know whether it is any good or not.

    Computers on the other hand spin their wheels and just don’t get it right. Now Google comes out with a new version of the Mechanical Turk (that desk that seemed to be playing chess but actually had a man hidden in it).

    So, we are back to the 18th century… that leaves some room for improvement.

    I follow all the developments in SEO but I have to admit that I am too lazy to actually implement most of these things. It is more efficient to hire a team that handles such things or even better just buy advertising on web sites that have their SEO ducks in line so to speak.

  • Stephen Miracle

    This comment isn’t necessarily for larger websites, but I wonder how many sites out there would be better just to pull down their flagged site and restart completely fresh. You could rewrite the original content, trash it, or possibly even readd it after a period of time to a new domain. It sucks but does it suck as bad as trying to completely restore a Panda’d site? Its like I told my son after getting in trouble, sometimes you just have to accept the losses. Don’t risk losing more by trying to fight.

  • Peter Watson

    I thought this article really was a great explaination of how this tool is to be used. For me personally, after being hit with a manual penalty and spending the last 6 months removing links, this tool could not have come at a better time! Google needs to see a link pruning effort for sites that have been manually penalized before they will ‘disavow’ links.
    I submitted my list the day the tool was released as I already had it ready to go! That was approx 2 weeks ago.
    Any ideas on when I might see this disavow list take effect?

  • Peter Watson

    Danny, I have a manual penalty and have been link pruning for 5-6 months full time. I am wondering if you could offer any advice in relation to why my last 5-6 reconsideration request have not been replied to, at all! The last one was 8th Oct, and I submitted one approx every month before that. But still nothing!

  • William Bakhos

    I think this would only be an option for virtually new sites. Age authority is something you just can’t build or create ‘quickly’ and at the same time is so very important. So unfortunately, its a really tough situation for someone who has been working on their site for 2-3 years etc.. even though its prob not a ‘huge’ site but severing the site and starting scratch just isn’t a desirable option.. but then again will it ever recover and are you in fact crying over spilt milk? Its a tough thing to deal with..

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I have had this exact discussion with several site owners and it’s really a major business decision. How long can you really survive with the penalty? Can you get by for a while as you try to fix it? Or do you decide you are just too deep in and call it quits. William makes a great point about age authority, which is why it’s not a decision you should make lightly.

  • Joshua

    cool. we created for you link disavow tool. But we are sorry, it really not disavowing links. Looks like usual google step at 2012+ to cheat webmasters.

  • Daniel Ionut Lemnaru

    It looks to me like Google gathers human feedback in an attempt to learn which of the links that webmasters have not been able to get removed are still in the “planted” category. Based on that feedback, they will be able to determine on their own with some precision how many “planted” links a site still has, and which they might be, when a webmaster requests a penalty removal. A site effect from this gathered data is that they will be more easily able to tell which sites are selling or exchanging links, or have done so in the past. The disavow thing looks very much like a “confess fully and some day you might be given absolution”, but I doubt it was meant to be of much real use to webmasters. Desperate webmasters will try anything, and Google is simply using that to its advantage. Knowledge is power.

  • oursmartweb

    This is great to know. I thought about utilizing the Google disavow tool even if I wasn’t hit with the manual action. I was hit by the third wave of Penguin in April-May. I know I have just a handful of problematic links. I don’t want to snitch on myself, but I would like to remove them easily.

    So with this being said, I probably shouldn’t use the tool I suspect.

  • dantobias

    I’ve had people try to get me to remove links to their site that I include in the course of discussing their site or company somewhere on my personal site; I usually tell them I don’t give a darn about their marketing goals, and will link to their site if I damn well want to.

  • George Marshall

    I definitely believe this Google Disavow tool will come in handy for many companies looking to clean up their backlink profiles. In particular, those companies who have become targets of their competitor’s strategies of getting low quality links for them, just to stay ahead of the search engine rankings. While manually removing the low quality links is a good option, it does take a considerable amount of time. I say thumbs up to this new tool !!

  • Kylyssa Shay

    This seems like a really lame policy. What are we supposed to do, write
    snappy headlines and keyword stuff our websites to get views but make
    sure our content is garbage so people don’t want to share it? This policy seems designed to prevent websites from going viral while discouraging good content.

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