Google Provides Disavow Updates

Today and uploaded another disavow file to Google Webmaster Tools. And a little afterwards, I received an email informing me that it had been processed.

Not sure what processed means – does it mean that they will no longer count as links to my site, or that they will no longer appear as backlinks in WMT? Or does it just mean “thanks, we got it, now you will wait about six months to find out if it was worth the effort”?

What it looks like:

Disavowed LinksExciting isn’t it?

Hang on, what is Disavow?

That is a very good question!

This is what we know disavow should do, according to Google:

  • Any web pages or domains that are “disavowed” will have their PageRank nullified.

Why would you do that?

  • Traditionally all links were good for a website, the more links you had, the higher the PageRank, the better you ranked in Google search. But in 2012 Google introduced a new facet to its search engine algorithm which combated web-spam by making cheap, spammy, paid links decrease the PageRank of the website (or at least, that is what we think….)

We think?

  • Well, this is what Google says, however, there are potentially two parts to this algorithm (oh, the algorithm was code-named Penguin):
    1. Links from some websites / domains would be de-valued. So no PageRank would be gained by having links on them. Sites which are probably in this group are web directories. Why? Because there was a time when even Google said that web directories were generally OK. But abuse of them, manipulation etc. lead to spam. Directories were built to sell links etc.
    2. Links from some other sites are not just devalued, but they will harm your site. Google used to say that there is nothing a competitor can do to harm your site. Now it says something like (I am paraphrasing because I cannot find what they say….), there is not much a competitor can do to harm your site.
    3. We do not know the types of site, but a guess would be:
      • Sites that are known to sell links
      • Sites that are spammy and breach many Google policy guidelines
      • Sites that have spun text / gibberish that are automatically created for the purpose of creating manipulative links.
      • Sites that do not moderate comments and let links in them pass pagerank.
      • Sites that begin with the letter P.
      • Probably loads of others.

So, what happened? Why disavow tool?

  • As soon as Penguin 1 rolled out in 2012 people started talking about “negative SEO” – people deliberately creating the spammiest, nastiest links possible to try to incur a penalty on another site.
  • People complained to Google. Bing launched a disavow tool. Google followed!
  • Google’s advice to anybody suffering either a manual unnatural link penalty or a Penguin algorithmic penalty is to try to get the links removed, and if this fails, disavow them with the tool.

Why not remove links?

  • This is the ideal option, but sometimes it is impossible to get a link removed because:
    1. The webmaster does not want to remove it, it is there to harm you on purpose.
    2. The webmaster is no longer interested in running the website and is ignoring all emails. You have to wait for the domain to expire or webhosting to cancel the account.
    3. Some webmasters are charging a fee to remove the links. Google’s advice is to not pay, just disavow.

Did that cover all the questions about disavow? Ah …

How do we use the disavow tool?

  • Go here:
  • Pick your domain. Read the warnings.
  • Upload a .txt file that is a list of domains. Ideally use this format:

  • After uploading the file Google will confirm on the screen how many URLs and domains were added. Shortly after you will get an email like the one above.

And then what happens?

  • This is the million dollar question! Google have said in the past that Googlebot (the search engine spider that crawls the web –  geddit?) will need to visit all the bad websites to check if the link is there, then look to see if you have added it to disavow, and if you have, they can discount it.

What if you disavow good links accidentally?

  • No problem. Google uses the last disavow file you upload and ignores the previous, so if you accidentally disavow a link from the BBC or NASA, fear not, just remove them from the list and upload a new file.

Sounds crazy! Why can’t they just ignore them immediately and update your rankings?

  • Another very good question! Dunno. Maybe they will soon though……

Does it work?

  • Dunno. People have had manual penalties revoked by Google after removing links and disavowing links. Nobody to date has made a proven recovery from Penguin after disavowing links.


  • No. Some claim to have recovered, but the recovery is no more than 25% of the fall, and this could be attributed to new links, better content, improved site structure and navigation, fewer spammy adverts – all sorts of things.


It is all very depressing really. Note, this is my take on disavow and not entirely based on facts, only opinions derived from personal, limited, experience.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *