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:

domain:google.com

domain:yahoo.com

domain:facebook.com

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, “spamdomain1.com”).

You can also request to disavow links on specific pages (in this case, three individual pages on spamdomain2.com).

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.

Related Articles

 

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

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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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  • http://twitter.com/bsdeshmukh Babarao Deshmukh

    Yes, Even I won’t take the risk of doing such things but there are many small e-commerce shops those are not getting enough visits due to big boys like Amazon or Ostock, so they would try to get links and if they got some improvement in results then after some time they can remove some of those links.

  • http://twitter.com/bsdeshmukh Babarao Deshmukh

    Yes, Even I won’t take the risk of doing such things but there are many small e-commerce shops those are not getting enough visits due to big boys like Amazon or Ostock, so they would try to get links and if they got some improvement in results then after some time they can remove some of those links.

  • Gagool

    “Rather than answer the question” has been Cutts’ fundamental stance on everything he does not have a nicely pre-packaged, “put-us-in-the-best-light” answer for, ever since he came on the scene. So not much surprise there.

  • http://twitter.com/BuxeySEO Andre

    im busy testing this out, seems that negative seo is on the rise?

  • http://twitter.com/wirenine WireNine Hosting

    Google never admitted negative SEO was possible but we all knew that it was. Authority websites were immune to negative SEO however and they still are. The disavow link gives regular webmasters a chance to control their backlink profile.

  • http://twitter.com/rogerweavers Roger Weavers

    I have one site that was hit in April and I got the unnatural link message. After removing loads of links and 3 reconsideration requests later I still have a problem. I did list some links I could not remove in my last reconsideration request.
    Should I use this new tool on the links I could not remove and then submit another reconsideration request? I have also used the LinkDetox tool to find all these bad links. I am considering switching this site to another domain and starting again.
    If Google knows which links are “bad” why don’t they simply devalue them and save as all a load of hassle?

  • http://www.weblinxseo.com/ Marcus Slinger

    I think that this will be a very useful tool for those sites out there who have somehow managed to collect bad links. However, I don’t like how Matt isn’t answering questions straight, but at least they are now resolving the problems that have been caused by the constant updates.

  • http://twitter.com/enzenhofer franz enzenhofer

    did you had an unnatural link warning? if not, i would recommend re-reading that post, and googles post and watch the video.

  • http://www.ingeniousinternetincome.com/ Steve Eason

    Wow, this tool could be crazy great or insanely awful. I’m on board with avoiding use of this tool unless absolutely necessary. I do have a site or two that are basically going down in flames that I might try this on, but I will not be using this on my primary sites.

    The good thing is that my primary site, Ingenious Internet Income, where I help people learn how to build a business around their passions, isn’t affected. I have not created any links from questionable resources on that site. I’ve tried to stick very true to the Google plan and have created great content for my readers. The readers are the focus and I will continue that direction.

  • http://www.michaelmerritt.org/ Michael Merritt

    If it’s that bad, they’ll be manually penalized. Those tend to last at least a few months (see JC Penney et. al)

  • http://www.esocialmedia.com Jerry Nordstrom

    Is this not all based on the assumption that we know the exact value Google assigns to a link? Sure I may be able to identify intentionally malicious links, but do I really know the exact value of all the links pointing at my site(s)? If I did then I should know the exact value of a good link, and thus a new industry of high value link identification and “trading” will be born. Perhaps there is a Google defined link valuation tool out there I’m not aware of, along with exact PPC QR score formulas and an open source Google Algo.

  • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

    Sounds fun.

  • http://twitter.com/HyperTexted Kevin Gerding

    JCPenney recovered their penalty in a few months. Why do other webmasters get slapped around for 6+ months even after removing links? I’d like this question answered too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peter.mutiso1 Peter Mutiso

    Am one of the small business owners you are referring to. I cannot understand what these links. Anyway, we carry out research to have knowledge

  • http://www.facebook.com/par4media Chris Guynn

    Roger I had the same thing happen to my largest site back in April. Unnatural links notice prior to the April penguin update which took the site off the map. I’ve cleaned up links, submitted reconsideration requests and I’m still not back where I was. I even built a brand new site to replace it, which was doing very well in the serps, until Sept 28th update, and now it’s gone too. I’ve got nothing to lose with this, so I’m going to disavow any bad looking links and see what happens.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    JC Penney was assigned a manual penalty. That means that a human at Google literally tossed it into the penalty box for a set period of time. Penguin is an algorithmic penalty. You can’t get free of it until you do the fix that the algorithm likes — and then you have to wait until the next time that’s run (see http://searchengineland.com/the-emd-update-like-panda-penguin-expect-further-refreshes-to-come-135446).

    So MFR, if you were hit by Penguin, then use this tool to target links you think were the cause, then after those are disavowed (a process that will take weeks), then after the Penguin update after the disavow goes into effect (a process that might take more weeks), yes, you can recover.

    And yes, that type of delay suck, as well as the fact that you can’t even know exactly what links Penguin might not like to ensure you are disavowing the right ones.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Yes, that’s what it’s designed for.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Use this on the links, yes. The reconsideration request isn’t essential, but it probably won’t hurt. And yes, devaluation would be a lot easier. I addressed this at the end of my post.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    First, if you’ve had no problem with your traffic from Google, don’t worry about anything.

    Second, if you had a massive plunge recently, and you know you’ve been doing link building or hired someone to do it, then you might have a link problem. You can use Google’s own tools in Google Webmaster Central to review some of the links you created that might be worth removing. .

    Third, if you got a warning about unnatural links from Google, that’s a sure sign you have a link problem.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I’ll try on that.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    No one said that. It says that it helps Google understand that you don’t want credit from these links to count to your site, that you disassociate your site from the links.

  • http://twitter.com/ItsHogg Jon

    “I’m Matt Cutts from Google. We’ve given you a penalty because you’ve built spammy links to your site. If you can successfully guess which ones we thought were spammy you win your rankings back.”

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    They never denied that. But yes, providing this tool admits that it is easier. Even then, they continue to say it’s rare — and that the tool is more for giving peace of mind to those who overly fear some negative SEO issue. It certainly helps defuse the issue more for Google.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I think Google might decide that from some sources, it still wants to count even nofollow links in some way. For example, if Wikipedia is linking to sites, I think Google might somehow take that into consideration as part of its ranking algorithms, even if it’s not as part of the traditional link measurements.

    That’s my own speculation, and it’s only speculation. Officially, a nofollow link counts for nothing with Google.

  • https://plus.google.com/115194199565322841506/about John Britsios

    @dannysullivan:disqus it is only my own speculation too, based on different observation. That said, we seem to be on the same page.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. The guesswork is unfortunate. If Google knows what links it considers bad, it would be easier if it would just list these. Of course, it would be much easier if it just discounted them.

  • Johan

    Then we could spam everywhere without risks. Nice idea…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=641050408 Brian McCullough

    Here’s a question I’d very much like answered… Maybe a blog post from Danny?

    What if you are a site that never GOT a unnatural link warning message? But there are some links that you feel are spammy. Should you use this tool to clean up a bit? Or should this tool ONLY be used by sites that received unnatural link warnings?

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    If you’ve never gotten a warning, and you haven’t had a sudden drop in traffic especially around the time of Penguin Updates (see here http://searchengineland.com/google-penguin-update-3-135527), I wouldn’t do anything. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Yes, Google admitted it was possible going back for years.

    Here’s 2006:
    http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/004299.html

    Here’s 2007:
    http://searchengineland.com/negative-seo-harming-your-competitors-with-seo-11591
    Here’s further context from this year:
    http://searchengineland.com/google%E2%80%99s-new-stance-on-negative-seo-%E2%80%9Cworks-hard-to-prevent%E2%80%9D-it-122691

    http://searchengineland.com/google-talks-penguin-update-recover-negative-seo-120463

    Google continues to say that it is possible (no change from past statements) but extremely unlikely to be an issue for the vast majority of people (again, no change from past statements).

    Of course, releasing a tool that can be used by those worried about negative SEO suggests that in the wake of Penguin, it’s a bigger issue now than in the past. Or at least Google, even if it doesn’t feel it’s a real issue, feels like it needs a relief valve for those concerns.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    If they are all nofollow, no, technically, you shouldn’t have to worry.

    The reality, however, is that if someone is blasting your site that way, there’s probably going to be some dofollow links and perhaps massive numbers of them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=641050408 Brian McCullough

    Exactly my question. Lets say you have a domain purchased. Looks like it has spammy link profile. Maybe bad SEO in the past? But no link warning. Or let’s say you had a domain that got killed with Panda, but no link warning. Who knows. Should we use the tool?

    In other words, can we do pruning, or is this ONLY a last resort, save your ship sort of thing? And should ONLY people with unnatural link warning messages use it? That to me is the crux of the issue. Is this for pruning or for last resort situations.

    It seems vague right now. If you have gotten link warning in the past, then use it and file a reconsideration request.

    But what about:

    1) As Matt says: people can do a clean slate on a domain they acquire Can they do that with no link warning? Should they?
    2) Sites that got hurt by Penguin/Panda. But no link warning. Is this worth doing?
    3) Sites that monitor their link profiles and see things they don’t like. Google hasn’t link warned them yet, but maybe they want to prune anyway. Should they?

  • Yousee

    Danny thanks for the reply. However, would like to mention that it is an uphill task to remove task the links those were generated via directories, bookmark websites and so on…For instance, if I have more than 2K links for my site than would it be possible to remove those links?

  • http://www.guideplease.com/ Mairaj Pirzada

    Exactly! Thanks for your response Danny!

  • Yousee

    How do you know that the bad links were generated by your competitors? What all activities that do you do to generate back links for your site? Perhaps, the links were generate by you, knowingly or unknowingly..

  • Yousee

    How to distinguish between Good and bad links? Suppose a website with 5PR and 200 OLB is it good or bad link

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    My understanding is that subdomains are treated like separate sites that each have to be listed, but I’ll check on it.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    If you bought the domain, and you can see it’s not doing well in Google and suspect bad links, sure, that’s an option. Clean slate away.

    Killed by Panda? That wasn’t about links. Don’t worry.

    Killed by Penguin. Yeah, tool’s a big option. Makes clean slating easy.

    Just want to prune? Well, you know. I suspect a lot of people are going to try that. This tool will be perhaps used the way nofollow was used by some within a site to do “link sculpting.”

    But I wouldn’t advise someone who’s doing well already to be messing with this. A site that’s sort of middling, where you’ve got little to lose? An advanced SEO might decide it’s experimenting time.

  • http://profiles.google.com/psmulian Philip Smulian

    Google are an evolving creature. Evolution doesn’t always favour your adaptations. An evolving spam element means that Google can’t always get it right. They are broadening their horizons with social and search enhancements. I don’t think the crappy SERPS will last forever. “Simpleness” is an art best achieved by those who have tried the complex routes and discovered the best values in their endeavours. You’re absolutely right, but I think Google feel a little on rocky ground with so many using such various means of gaming them, that they just want to get onto a sure footing.

  • http://profiles.google.com/psmulian Philip Smulian

    Sorry if this has been asked and answered already (I didn’t see it on the offical WMC post), but would Google use the disavowed link data against the domains listed in peoples disavow requests? Anyone know?

  • Rick van Leeuwen

    Doest anybody have information on what the disavow tool does on sites that get disavowed? I linked from the footer of 5 of my own sites, what happens to these site if I disavowed these sites? I removed this links months ago but are still indexed in WMHC.

  • Ryan Holt

    A waste of time? I have just spent the past four weeks emailing webmasters to remove links to one of the biggest fashion retailers in the UK (over 7500 links i have manually been through). If anything this would have saved an incredible amount of time, shame it didn’t come sooner.

    Obviously though, it needed to be done. Prevention is the key!

  • https://plus.google.com/115194199565322841506/about John Britsios

    R_v_l sites do not get disavowed alone upon your request. Google decides if they should disavow them or not. If they do disavow them, all those sites will be discounted for Google entirely. Is that what you want to achieve? I think not.

    The tool is only for telling Google which links from other site owners you tried to get removed and you did not get any response to those requests.

    That said, since you own those sites, you have no excuse that you could not remove them.

    If you still see the links in the Google Webmaster Tools, it is because it is not up-to-date. They do not update them frequently, so no need to worry about that.

  • https://plus.google.com/115194199565322841506/about John Britsios

    If you request links to be disavowed, does not mean that Google necessarily will take take action against those links. It is up to their own judgement if the links will be disavowed or not, and if any further action should be taken.

    As already mentioned here and elsewhere, the disavow tool does not substitute the physical removal of links.

    It is a requirement that you already made efforts to get links removed physically, contacting webmasters several times and you did not get any response.

  • https://plus.google.com/115194199565322841506/about John Britsios

    @Kevin, Matt Cutts some time ago advised the following:

    “In a few situations, we have heard about directories or blog networks that won’t take links down. If a website tries to charge you to put links up and to take linksdown, feel free to let us know about that, either in your reconsideration request or by mentioning it on our webmaster forum or in a separate spam report. We have taken action on several such sites, because they often turn out to be doing link spamming themselves.”
    Source: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.de/2012/07/new-notifications-about-inbound-links.html

    This tool can replace effectively those actions Matt advised.

    Makes sense?

  • https://plus.google.com/115194199565322841506/about John Britsios

    I checked the feature for exporting to the “Google Disavow Tool” which is a disaster, which people here must be warned about.

    Users can export toxic links and to import to the “Google Disavow Tool”, and not including suspicious in one shot (if I did not miss something), but even it would be possible, it is a new disaster!

    If users cannot select which links they want to import to the “Google Disavow Tool”, they will shoot themselves in their own foot. That is not a fair play from a professional at all!

    If you are not 100% sure about what you are doing, it would be advisable to educate yourself first, before implementing such dangerous features, and damage people with less experience and who rely on your tool as the “Holy Grail”.

    I am not saying that you did that intentionally, and that is why I hope you do not want to cause webmasters more damage than they already have.

    By the way I already opened a ticket about this issue, but no one can see that except of us two, so as I said above, people should be warned.

    And I hope you will not increase your fees again just to have the feature working properly.

    Please don’t take this as an offense Christoph.

  • Fred Waters

    Danny, thanks for responding to so many people who are trying to make sense of the chaos that Google has created over the last six months.
    I’m confuse, like so many, from the narratives from Google. This is my question. I have a site that got nailed 4/24 and late Sept.., although I never received a warning. I believe part of my problem are links in a blog roll from two sites that I never solicited. They are owned by the same individual. This results in hundreds of links from the various pages on these blogs, which ends up being a signifcant number of my overall links. I have made every effort to contact this person, but they do not respond, and their Domain info is privacy protected. Would you disavow these links and comment on the fact they you never paid or requested the links and have made attempts to remove?
    Also, would you disavow low quality links from sites that grab articles written years ago in article directory sites? So many of these sites are no longer maintained and it is futile to contact them. Thanks

  • https://plus.google.com/115194199565322841506/about John Britsios

    @Fred Waters, first I think we must clarify here that Google alone did not cause all this chaos. If we want to honest here.

    And yes. If you already made all efforts possible to get those links removed and you did not get any response, you may upload those links using the “Disavow Tool.”

    Here is an excellent article which shows how the document should look like including a message: http://www.portent.com/blog/seo/google-disavow-links-tool-best-practices.htm

    I would not submit a separate re-consideration request if you did not get a message from Google and your site was filtered algorithmically though the Penguin algorithm.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christoph.cemper Christoph C. Cemper

    John

    I do not agree with your approach trying to “warn” someone
    and trying to damage our reputation before having facts
    checked and verified.

    The export function works based on the user selected filters.
    Those can select Suspicious or Toxic but not both (i.e. TOX1 and one type of SUSPicious) at the moment.

    However, Healthy links will never be exported.

    That means if you want to export ALL toxic and suspicous you just export ALL (as healthy are excluded at all times)

    That being said, as you read in the responses to your support ticket, you seem to have misunderstood the export function and I hope my team could clear that up for you now.

    As a sidenote, the filter functions will be improved heavily in the next days, so every odd combination of filters you could make up should then be exportable.

    We do also recommend for everyone to perform a review of all links they disavov, in a HUGE box to confirm.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christoph.cemper Christoph C. Cemper

    PS: that means if you want to export ALL toxic and suspicous you just export ALL (as healthy are excluded at all times)

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