Can using Google’s link disavow tool help remove penalties? Yes, the company says. But when it comes to manual penalties, disavowing links alone isn’t enough. With algorithmic penalties, there may be a time delay involved. Below, more about how both methods work.
Over the past few days, I’ve encountered a couple of cases where people are confused about how the link disavow tool works to remove penalties. So, I figured a clarification post was in order. Here’s the situation, all of which I reverified with Google yesterday.
Disavowing Links: “Don’t Count These Votes!”
If you submit a disavow request, Google will automatically process that request and tag those links pointing at your site in the same manner as if they had the nofollow tag on them, in other words, as if they aren’t actually pointing at your site for link counting and analysis purposes.
This is something that came up again in a Google Webmaster Central hangout video yesterday:
In short, if links are votes, using the link disavow tool effectively tells Google that you don’t want any of those votes counted, for better or worse, toward your rankings.
This all happens automatically, and Google says it still takes several weeks until the disavow request is processed.
Removing Algorithmic Penalties
Now let’s take a situation where you’re hit by an algorithmic penalty related to links, such as the Penguin Update. “Algorithmic” means an automatic penalty, one that involves no human review at all. Rather, Google’s computers have ruled that your site has done something wrong.
To remove that penalty, you need to clean up your links. That’s where link disavow can help. Let’s assume you use it to correctly disavow bad links that were hurting you.
That’s step one, cleaning up the links. Step two is waiting for the disavow request to get processed. That, as I’ve said, may take several weeks.
Step three is that you have to wait until the next time Google runs your site against whatever part of its algorithm hit you. For many, that means Penguin. Even if you’ve cleaned up your links with disavow, you have to wait until the Penguin Update is run again before you’ll see an impact.
For example, let’s assume you were hit by Penguin 3 last October. You used the link disavow tool to clean up your links soon after that. You still have to wait until Penguin 4 happens before you should see a change (and Google has said that more Penguin updates haven’t yet happened).
Now take the same situation, where you file the disavow request just a few days before a Penguin Update. Even though the request went ahead of the update, you still might not get cleared because by the time it’s processed (several weeks), the latest update will have happened. You’ll have to wait for the one after that.
Eventually, if you’ve used the tool, you should see a change. It’ll just take time. But if it was an algorithmic penalty, then it should automatically clear if you file disavow alone (or clean up your link profile in other ways).
Removing Manual Penalties
The situation is different — and potentially much faster — if you were hit by a manual penalty. That’s when some human being at Google has reviewed your site and decided that it deserves a penalty. In virtually all of these cases, it also means you would have received a notice from Google that this has happened.
If the penalty involves bad links, the link disavow tool can help you disown those. However, the penalty won’t automatically be removed because it was placed manually. You have to also file a reconsideration request. This will prompt a human being at Google to check on your site. They can see that the link disavow request has been filed, and if that’s enough, then the manual penalty may get lifted.
You have to do both: disavow links and file a reconsideration request, which Google has said before. And really, you have to do a third thing, which is make a good faith effort to remove links beyond just using link disavow, which Google has also said before (see our Q&A With Google’s Matt Cutts On How To Use The Link Disavow Tool for more about this).
There is one caveat to the above. Manual penalties have expirations dates, Google reminds. This means after a period of time, perhaps a few weeks or a few months, the penalty against your site should expire naturally. That’s why you might see an improvement even if you do nothing. (But note from the comments below, some penalties can go on for two or three years before they expire).
Doing nothing, however, may leave you subject to an algorithmic penalty in the future. In short, if you get a manual penalty, take that as a solid warning you need to fix something, lest you face a longer-term algorithmic penalty in the future.
For more about the link disavow tool and how to use it, see our related articles below.