The Dangers of Disavowing

In some respects, the Disavow Tool from Google can be quite helpful.  If you are suffering from shady, or just plain bad link building, you can utilize the Disavow tool by uploading a file of backlinks and suddenly you’re golden.  You’re back in the business of building up your traffic!  Of course, nothing can happen at all.

This tool is one of the few tools by Google that can create such fear amongst SEOs.  This tool has been used, as a test, to get a better understanding of how it works.

The Levels of Danger with Disavow

If you’re logging in to Disavow for the first time, you will receive a message from Google itself saying this:

This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution.  If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results.  We recommend that you only disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.

What could go wrong?

An experiment was performed was done with a website, where each and every link pointing to it was disavowed.  That would be over 35,000 of them.


Disavow 35,000 Links to a Single Website

URL: http://cyrusshepard.com


  1. Download all links from Google Webmaster Tools
  2. Upload 35,000 properly formatted links to Google’s Disavow Tool
  3. Wait 2 Months


Disavow all

Why didn’t anything happen?  Well, there are three potential reasons why:

  1. There is a chance you have to file a reconsideration request when you disavow your links
  2. It’s possible that, and this is a good thing, that using the disavow tool will protect you from disavowing good links.  In other words, there could be a built in safeguard.
  3. It will take longer than two months for Google to process the links.

It seems that there are conflicting ideas on how the tool works, as some Googlers say the tool works automatically, while others had to file a reconsideration request for the disavow to actually go through.  Some SEOs claim that they have seen results from the Disavow, and they never filed a reconsideration request.  Google has said that they reserve the right to ignore the disavowed links if they feel that you made a mistake.

One question that many SEOs will ask, can you use Disavow for Penguin?  It’s possible.  When Google got updated with Panda and Penguin, keep in mind that those updates are just algorithms.  Your rankings are affected without the need for you to intervene.  All this is done automatically.  The only time you need to worry about a manual penalty is when you are in violation of Google guidelines, and that can be both lifted and applied by somebody on the Google Webspam team.

Here is Matt Cutts, a Google representative, going on the record about the Disavow Tool and how it could help you.


If you feel you’ve been unfairly targeted by a manual penalty, you need to file a reconsideration request if using the Disavow Tool.

7 Tips for Google Reconsideration Requests

  1. Remove links before you even think about Disavowing.  Use the tool ONLY as a last resort.  You don’t have to be totally accurate, but anything works.  Google’s Webspam team has a log of your backlink profile.  They will be able to see the links you’ve made the effort to remove when you file a reconsideration request.
  2. When looking at all of your link sources, it’s a good idea to gather them up into one place so you can see what link needs to be worked on.  It’s recommended that you download your Latest Links report from the Webmaster Tools.
  3. Locating the bad links is always a good thing.  There are a couple ways to do this.  You can use either automatic tools or manual analysis.  Utilizing both is the best idea.
    1. For Manual Analysis, you can follow the Easy Step by Step Guide to Finding Low Quality Links
    2. For link removal research tools, take a look at these:

i.       Link Detox
ii.     Remove’em
iii.     SEOgadgets Link API Extension for Excel.

  1. You’ll need to send quite a few emails to try getting the bad links removed.
    1. Resources for Link Removal Outreach:

i.      BuzzStream
ii.      Remove’em
iii.      rmoov

  1. If you feel that there is large enough doubt, you may need to just Disavow the entire domain.  When you use the Disavow Tool, you’re given a couple options.  Either disavow specific links, you disavow the entire domain.  When disavowing individual links doesn’t work, perhaps due to the fact you’ve missed too many links, you will be rejected over and over.  Disavowing the entire domain can lead to success.
  2. Formatting is our friend.  Google will reject many files due to bad formatting.  Many times, webmaster won’t ever know this.    According to Google, the correct file type should be a .txt file, and “must be encoded UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII.
  3. Google’s link index of a site, normally, is out of date.  This means that there could be links pointing to it that don’t even exist anymore.  If you want to locate the dead links fast, download a complete list of your latest links from the Webmaster Tools in Google and put them into Screaming Frog, or another crawler of your choice.  When this is complete, download any links that return a 404 and put those in a spreadsheet.  At this point, you can include these dead links as “removed” when submitting to Google your reconsideration request.  This will help along the process of helping your traffic along.