Advanced guide to the Google Link Disavow Tool

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Stephen Kenwright

Google has finally announced that they are launching a tool to allow websites to disavow any bad links to their site that might be causing a penalty. The tool is fantastic news for sites that have been struggling to recover from a penalty using the link removal strategy. As anybody who has carried out link removals will be aware it’s a really tough process because you can end up removing 80% of the links and the final 20% are sites that are impossible to contact.

This isn’t a basic guide to the tool – go here for one of those.

The tool allows you to upload a text file of links such as http://www.site.com/linkpage.html or domains such as domain:edit.co.uk and it sounds quite simple to use but there are some very major things you need to consider.

Firstly you need still try and remove bad links before you use this tool. I can’t imagine Google will take kindly to sites creating loads of spam links and then trying to recover from a penalty just by uploading them all to the disavow tool.

Secondly you need to be very very careful about which links you disavow. If you do too many then you could hurt your rankings and if you do too few you won’t pass a reconsideration request (you still need to do one of those after you submit the links). We suggest doing a full manual link audit from Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO data to create your disavow file. I can’t be clearer about this – you have to do a full manual audit of all your links before you add them to this tool – if you have an agency doing it for you then check their work first especially if you are still ranking for things on Google. This tool could kill your site if used incorrectly.

The tool apparently takes a while to work as Google needs to crawl everything. We suggest that you wait a few days or a week before submitting a reconsideration request otherwise it might still fail.

The tool looks to work on domains and sub-domains so if you disavow domain:wordpress.com or domain:blogspot.com be prepared to lose a *lot* of links.

When you are reviewing links you need to pay a lot of attention to duplicate content – for example if you disavow a link from a site that is available at a .com and a .co.uk domain you will need to disavow them both. Remember that blogspot.com is also at .co.uk and a host of other geographical domains.

Another issue to watch out for is pagination – if you disavow a link from a WordPress blog category page such as edit.co.uk/category/seo/page/2 then as soon as that post moves to /page/3 then the disavow won’t work anymore. For blogs that are spam you would probably be best blocking the entire domain.

Google has said “It will typically not hurt you” when asked whether they are using the aggregate link data in their algorithm which means that they will probably use the data but only if loads of people disavow you. I can see how the data is useful as they have thousands of people looking at links for them!

It’s unclear whether the disavow tool follows 301 redirects – what happens if a site changes URL structure or domain? We think it probably handles this but are not sure yet. It’s also not clear if the tool obeys canonical tags.

At Branded3 we already have a database of 60,000 blacklisted domains from our link removal work so we can cross reference with this quite easily. I wonder if agencies will start to just submit giant disavow files for all their clients?

If you are looking for help using this tool or want to understand which links to disavow please get in touch with us via [email protected] We do have a service to carry out link audits and create disavow files for you with costs depending on how many links you have that we need to analyse.

This guide will be updated with more info as we get it in the next few days.

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