Google Launches Disavow Links Tool

Google has launched a new and widely anticipated “disavow links” tool. The tool was announced by the head of Google’s web spam team Matt Cutts, when speaking during a keynote at the Pubcon conference today.

The tool is live and can be found here. It has been beta tested by some selected SEOs already for the past few weeks. About 45 minutes after Cutts spoke, Google formally announced the tool on the Google Webmaster Central blog.

Earlier this year, Bing launched its own disavow links tool.

Disavowing Links

Cutts warned that the tool should be used with caution. He also warned that publishers should first try to remove links they are concerned about pointing at them by first working with site owners hosting links or with companies they may have purchased links through.

The format will be to list URLs in a text file, either individually or to exclude all links from a particular site using domain: format like this:

Both formats can be mixed into a single file, as shown below in an example from Google’s blog post about the new tool:

From the blog post:

In this example, lines that begin with a pound sign (#) are considered comments and Google ignores them

The “domain:” keyword indicates that you’d like to disavow links from all pages on a particular site (in this case, “”).

You can also request to disavow links on specific pages (in this case, three individual pages on

Once you’ve created your file, you then access the disavow link tool through Google Webmaster Central. You’ll select your site (as the screenshot at the top of this story shows), go through warnings, then select your file and submit:

These Links Will Be Disavowed In … Several Weeks

The process of Google discounting the links to your site won’t be immediate. “It can take weeks for that to go into effect,” Cutts said. He also said that Google reserves the right not to use the submissions if it feels there’s a reason not to trust them. The blog post reflects the same:

Google reserves the right to trust our own judgment for corner cases, for example—but we will typically use that indication from you when we assess links.

One submitted, there will be an option to download the file you submitted and resubmit it with changes. There’s a file size limit of 2MB (and if you have more than 2MB of links you need to disavow, you should probably just start a new web site).

The delay in processing the file means that if you make a mistake, it may also take weeks to “reavow” links that you like. So be careful. The post addresses this:

To modify which links you would like to ignore, download the current file of disavowed links, change it to include only links you would like to ignore, and then re-upload the file. Please allow time for the new file to propagate through our crawling/indexing system, which can take several weeks.

In questions, Cutts said that using the tool is the same as using the “nofollow” attribute, which allows sites to link to other sites without passing ranking credit to those sites.

Who Needs To Disavow?

Who should use the new tool? It’s been primarily designed for those who were impacted by Google’s Penguin Update, which in particular hit web sites that may have purchased links or gained them through spamming.

In the wake of Penguin, panic ensued among some SEOs and publishers. Some wanted a way to ensure that they could discount bad links and start fresh. Others worried that people might point bad links at their sites in an attempt to harm them with “negative SEO.” A new business of people charging to remove links was even born.

Things got worse in the summer when Google released a new set of link warnings that didn’t clarify if publishers really had a problem they needed to fix — if they could — or not.

How Google Created Its Own Disavow Links Monster

Of course, Google wouldn’t need a disavow link tool if it hadn’t been shifting over the past months to consider bad links a type of negative vote against the site. In the past, Google typically had just ignored bad links.

But by counting bad links as negative votes, Google largely enabled some of the concerns about negative SEO that it hopes, in part, to calm with the new tool. Again from its post:

In general, Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking. However, if you’re worried that some backlinks might be affecting your site’s reputation, you can use the Disavow Links tool to indicate to Google that those links should be ignored. Again, we build our algorithms with an eye to preventing negative SEO, so the vast majority of webmasters don’t need to worry about negative SEO at all.

I asked Cutts why Google doesn’t simply discount bad links, rather than considering some of them as potentially negative votes. After all, while it’s nice to have this new tool, it would be even better not to need it at all.

As I wrote earlier this year when covering the increasingly creaky link counting system that both Google and Bing rely on:

Links suck. It’s hard to get good links, and even when you do, you might find they don’t count. Meanwhile, who wants to be wasting time “disavowing” links? There’s got to be a better way.

Rather than answer my question, Cutts instead focused on the benefits the new tool brings, especially the ability for people to “clean slate” web sites that may have bad links pointing at them.

More Information

Cutts has also prepared a nearly 10 minute long video about the tool, which you can find below:

YouTube Preview Image

Google also has a help page about the new tool here, and be sure to read the official blog post, which has a helpful FAQ section and other details.

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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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  • Oleg Korneitchouk

    The long awaited Disavow tool – exciting!

    I want to stress that this should only be used for people who got the “unnatural link profile” message from GWT as using it improperly has grave consequences (or at least that’s what Cutt’s said).

    Looking forward to some of the big changes this is going to bring!

    Video Explanation:

  • Ariel Lambrecht

    I just hope FUD about Penguin won’t cause too many people shooting at their own feet with this tool.

  • Seonetworker

    The SEO comunity was waiting for this tool. It is not easy to clean up a website which was grown by years with back links.

  • Christoph C. Cemper

    We will launch a new version of LinkDetox tomorrow with the exact format needed for this tool.

  • Larry Kim

    another great signal for google to use to identify spammy domains.

  • Larry Kim

    or SEO’s with guilty consciences – heh.

  • Macky Anderson

    It’s good to hear that this is tool is now available, but I guess hearing some feedback to those who have done this would help me to convince to make use this tool. Thank you for sharing this information.

  • Roger Dooley

    I wish Matt had answered your question more directly, Danny. Small biz owners aren’t going to understand that outside links can hurt them, much less how to use the new tool.

  • Kevin

    Danny, can you find out if this is really only effective against manual actions as it states in the official blog post ? What about algorithmic actions like Penguin. Will it help against that ?

  • Trevor James McCann

    If this tool adds “nofollow” to the thinks and that is it, how does that really help penalized websites? All it will do is remove ranking credit, which doesn’t have anything to do with the penalization in the first place. The tool would make more sense if it removed any kind of recognition of the link existing in the first place. Spam links are still spam links whether they are no follow or not…

  • Lior Haner

    So annoying that he just didn’t answer directly why they need this tool in the first place.

  • Larry Kim

    i think this Disavow Links Tool proves Negative SEO exists, and creates moral hazard:

  • CandleForex

    Great tool. Its been a long time coming!

  • Adam Grunwerg

    Best news of 2012.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Kevin, it should help with that. After all, the blog post talks about using it to help deal with being hit by Penguin, which is an algorithmic penalty.

  • John Britsios

    So will we be able to export toxic and suspicious links? That would be very nice Christoph.

  • John Britsios

    Danny I fully agree that links suck, And I assume they will still do the next years. I was just thinking if we should just try to get links attributed with a nofollow, and leave it up to Google’s holy and universal judgment to vote for them or to disavow them. What do you think about that?

  • Danny Sullivan

    Well, if you add nofollow, the links don’t get attributed — they simply fail to count at all.

  • Edgar M.

    So Google admit that Negative SEO is possible?

  • MonopolizedSearch

    Yet another task to take us away from creating “great content.” What a needless waste of time this is. We need a disavow Google tool instead.

  • John Britsios

    But I thought that Google preserves the right to ignore the “nofollow” attribute, like they already do with the “canonical” tags.

    For example if someone like yourself with such a strong “AuthorRank” would include a link in a post/article, and the link is pointing to a related and trusted source, you still believe they will drop the link from the graph?

  • Madeline Foster-Prosser

    Well its kinda two fold for some of us who never used black hat tactics, its like oh well you should have not tried to cheat but the negative SEO will no doubt make it a necessity, you can never win

  • Chankey Pathak

    That’s really a good news. Now I don’t need to be afraid of the persons who were putting my site’s link on casino/adult sites. Thanks Google!

  • Graeme Olsen

    Thanks for the update Danny, and I completely agree with you that the Google link system sucks. As webmasters we now have to spend all this time assessing our backlinks, trying to figure out if they’re causing us a problem, and working to remove or disavow them. Like you suggested, if Google just ignored back links, then none of this would be necessary! And we would be free to focus on making good quality sites, which is what Google keeps saying they want us to do.

  • Xneaker Marketing

    I only imagine why this was not made long time ago… In business sometimes we fight with negative SEO that can ruin our businesses. Hope this tool can reduce the bad links problem.
    Thks for the update Danny

  • Kapalbility

    His parents should have named him Skirty.

  • Johan

    That’s cool ! I had 510 links from different domains, i deleted 104 of those with this tool.

  • John Britsios

    Who said that the tools remove links?

  • Johan

    Second site, 196 domains of 278 removed ! Yeah ! I want to keep only the good links.

  • Mairaj Pirzada

    I don’t think, Google ever didn’t admit!
    It’s possible, of course! And this tool is one could avoid Negative SEO who’ve done it earlier believing it’ll be better for them.

  • Mairaj Pirzada

    Thanks Dan!

    It seems an awesome tool, and helpful a lot! Those who’ve done Negative SEO previously thinking of it as something beneficial could now easily avoid it by disavowing links that they’ve built wasting lots of DAYS!

  • Danny Sullivan

    Officially, if you nofollow a link, Google will not count it. They’ve said this many, many times. They’ve never said, that I can recall, that they might ignore the tag.

    Not everyone believe that, of course.

    In contrast, while Google officially always ignores nofollow links, it is saying that in the case of disavowed links (which you flag using the disavow tool), in some cases they might decide to still count them — though they suggest these would be very rare cases.

  • Rekha Bisht

    That’s approach by Google after a long time. Now website those were hit by Penguin may be can get relief, but as it is not easy as it looks. I think its tough to segregate the good links and spammy links.

  • Yousee

    How would a non-SEO determine which link is good for her/his site and which is not. Google should instead discount all bad links those were generated per Penguin.

  • Yogendra Chavda

    This is great update/announcement by google after several months.. thanks for the tool. now i can easily disavow links which are made by my competitors to harm my website’s rankings..

  • retailblue

    The fact that Google and Bing now have to create tools to disavow links shows how flawed the links as votes process has really become.I really think that Google and Bing need to go back to the table and really think through their whole strategy and algorithm on what makes a good website. Maybe links, given the significant abuse, is not necessarily the best way. Further I have personally found that the Google search results have gotten worse over the last 6 months as I generally try and find what ever I am looking for on a given day rather than better. Maybe this is the writing on the wall that they really need to rethink through how they rank a website in organic results. Maybe the KISS principle needs to be implemented as maybe they have just gotten too smart for themselves.

  • Johan

    If Google find another way to rank sites than links we will abuse that system also. It makes no difference. They should keep the new system absolutely secret. Maybe they are already working on it while we talk.

  • Chris Guynn

    The real question is will this tool aid those who were hit by Penguin for either spammy links or backlink over optimization? I have sites that were severely hit with the first Penguin back in April, some of which got the unnatural links message, while others did not. If I disavow all the crappy directories, blog comments, etc, will this dig my sites out of the hole that Penguin put them in? Anything other than that, I don’t care about at this moment.

  • MFR

    Here is the question nobody seems to be asking!

    If we use this tool, can we recover from Penguin that hit us on April 24th?

    Any Ideas?

  • John Britsios

    Danny I would like to bring back to life a discussion at Sphinn where you also expressed your thoughts on that topic too:

    Maybe it was not a Google official mentioning that, and I probably just recalled that discussion.

  • Johan

    If you choose the good links then yes, if not, then not. Crappy directories may not be the problem, you can’t know for sure.

  • John Britsios


    Google clearly explained in their “Disavow Links” help article:

    “If you’ve done as much work as you can to remove spammy or low-quality
    links from the web, and are unable to make further progress on getting
    the links taken down, you can disavow the remaining links. In other
    words, you can ask Google not to take certain links into account when
    assessing your site.”

    That said, just creating a list of links and uploading them with the tool is not the way it works.

    Did you follow the above steps, are you just used the tool believing that the links would be discounted. If you did, it is your business if you want to shoot yourself in your own foot, but don’t drag others into that trouble.

    If I misunderstood you, my apologies. I just felt that this needs to be clarified.

  • Chris Guynn

    Wouldn’t I want to keep the good links and disavow the one’s that are blatantly spammy?

  • Ravikant Patel

    Thanks for seo update and I completely agree with you.

  • Harry Lawrance

    Is this not just a licence for certain Webmasters to push the boundaries of link spam even more – it it all goes wrong they’ll just disavow all the spammy links they built and start again, probably enjoying high rankings in the meantime between placing the links and getting burned.

  • Guest

    late than never, at last it came. Nobody can ignore or refuse its value. Every
    website has some back links which are not quality links. Many times they are
    not intentional, few times webmasters or site owners misguided (done wrong SEO)
    and do something wrong.

    is the golden chance for them to recover their loss. Those who are
    Penguin affected may regain their position. But i
    suggest webmaster, be careful in choosing links for disavow. It is very
    important otherwise you may hurt yourself by choosing a
    good back link.

  • SEO company Kolkata

    Better late than never, at last it came. Nobody
    can ignore or refuse its value. Every website has some back links which are not
    quality links. Many times they are not intentional, few times webmasters or
    site owners misguided (done wrong SEO) and do something wrong. This is the
    golden chance for them to recover their loss. Those who are Penguin affected
    may regain their position. But i suggest webmaster, be careful in choosing
    links for disavow. It is very important otherwise you may hurt yourself by
    choosing a good back link.

  • Babarao Deshmukh

    Don’t you think that people can experiment and spam as much as they can and if they see a negative impact of those links on their rankings then go ahead and disavow the links?

  • John

    Would you seriously take the risk looking how things are these days and how
    evil and paranoiac has Google and M.C. become with the SPAM word? I
    wouldn’t. ;-J

  • Tom Durkin

    Agreed. I’ve been conducting SEO for a client’s website that has thousands of spammy backlinks. Presumably they hired a company to build backlinks for them before they enlisted our help. I’m convinced they are having a negative effect so looking forward to seeing if this tool actually helps.

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