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Google Disavow Tool: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re not familiar with the “Google Disavow Tool,” you may not be the only one — especially for someone new to SEO. For the experienced, you may have encountered this tool (I am guessing in unfortunate circumstances).

With all the recent penguin updates, along with other core updates, I feel that this tool is used with less frequency. If it makes you feel better, using this tool is not something you should be looking forward to. It’s mainly reserved for situations when you’re trying to recover from either a manual, or an algorithmic link penalty.

So, What Is This Google Disavow Tool Anyway?

The context of the word “disavow” actually comes from its real meaning of refusing acknowledgment or responsibility of something, or a particular course of action. Specifically, for SEO, it has to do with links and referring domains.

Essentially, the disavow tools lets a website owner tell Google to:

  1. Disregard any and all links (for ranking purposes) from an entire domain.
  2. Or individually, disregard specific links. In this case, you have the option to disavow a fixed number of links, versus an entire domain.
  3. ^Both options exist for subdomains too.

That’s the literal use case. But, the real question to answer is, why would someone do that in the first place? Aren’t links good for SEO?

If Links Are Good for SEO, Why Is the Disavow Tool Used?

If you remember, I mentioned that using the disavow tool is not something anyone should be looking forward to. It’s a step that’s taken in very dire circumstances. Here are some of those situations that I believe when Google Disavow Tool should be used regularly:

  1. If you have an existing manual link penalty.
  2. If you’ve been hit by penguin algorithm.
  3. If you have recovered from a link penalty.

How to Disavow Links and Domains?

How to Disavow Links and Domains?

Google consistently maintains that this is an advanced feature. The first and foremost thing you might have noticed is that this tool cannot be easily accessed from Google Analytics, or Google Search Console. The most straightforward option is to Google to get to this tool.

The reason for this is deliberate! Google wants you to not use this tool, so it’s hard for webmasters to get to it. In any event, follow the steps below if you need to disavow.

Step 1: Gather a List of Links and Domains You Need to Disavow

Either from Google Search Console, or your SEO tools, gather a list of links and domain that you need to disavow. In fact, if you have a penalty or a history of, I’d recommend using multiple sources to gather backlinks, de-dupe them, and make one final list.

Step 2: Create a New Text File, and Start Plugging In Your URLs and Domains You Need to Disavow

Here’s how (along with some items to keep in mind):

  1. It’s quite easy actually. Open a text file, and start copy-pasting the URLs, and domains.
  2. I’d suggest a “section” for just links, and a “section” for domains.
  3. You can leverage the use of “#” for comments.
  4. Matter of fact, Google does a great job of demonstrating this.
  1. For URLs, ensure it’s the full URL path.
    • You’d also need to make sure that there is only one URL per line.
  2. For domains, you don’t have to use the HTTP protocol or www. Well you can use www if that’s the subdomain you want to disavow.
    • Example of a domain level disavow command: domain:thisisspammyseo.com
    • Example of a sub-domain level disavow command: domain:www.thisisspammyseo.com
    • Same as: domain:blog.thisisspammyseo.com
  3. Just like URLs, ensure there is only 1 domain command per line.

Step 3: Upload Your .txt Disavow File to Google

Once satisfied with your list, go to the disavow tool, and upload your list. If there are any errors, Google will tell you.

It should also be noted that disavowing links will not make them disappear from Google Search Console links reports. Another one is that every time you upload a new file, it will overwrite the previous. So you have to ensure that your files are always cumulative in nature.

Lastly, Google will give you a timestamp on when it received the file, so you may want to note that for reporting purposes. Here’s an example (and here’s the actual article, if you’re interested).

Disavow Mistakes to Avoid

One of the core reasons, in my opinion, why this is touted as an advanced feature are probably due to the common mistakes below:

  1. Accidentally disavowing legit domain versus a spammy subdomain: For example, you may have ridiculous links from spamlinks.wordpress.com. The biggest mistake that can happen here is that you end up disavowing, wordpress.com. That could cause a massive blow to your link profile, and rankings.
  2. The same thing can happen with individual URLs too. Having the ability to recognize a bad link is very critical, as clearly, you don’t want to end up disavowing legit links.
  3. Overuse of comments: Keep comments to the minimum. Don’t keep using it, as you could make it harder for Google to read your file.
  4. Realizing you disavowed legit domains, and links, but forgetting to remove them from the list: This almost feels like a part two of #1 & #2 above. If you did end up disavowing legit links and domains, don’t forget to remove them from the file, and re-upload it.

You May Also Want to Check Out:

Should You Disavow in 2020 & Beyond?

The answer to this question primarily depends on two scenarios.

Scenario 1: You’ve Been Clean (for the Most Part)

If you know that you haven’t been involved in any crazy link building schemes, blatantly bought links, or any other shady behavior (outside of typical link building tactics, so to speak), I don’t think you have to worry about this.

And say that you have been attacked by negative SEO, or do see an increase of super unnatural links, then you might want to disavow certain domains, and sort of keep an eye out for more. In this scenario, I wouldn’t recommend disavowing regularly.

Plus, Google has become increasingly sophisticated in recognizing this bad behavior outside of your control. So chances are, they’re already discounting those links. In summary, there is likely no cause for concern.

Scenario 2: You Have an Existing Link Penalty, Have a Had a History of It, or You Know That You Have Been Involved in Shady Link Building

This is exactly the type of situation where you need to disavow on a consistent basis. Also, here’s the truth: You’d know if you have been involved in shady link building.

Not having a penalty, or its history, but being involved in questionable link building tactics, is equally scary. You’re literally playing with fire here, and awaiting doom of your site’s SEO. Don’t be that person! My recommendation here would be to start undoing those efforts immediately. Here’s the other sad truth: Recovering from a link penalty can take a very long time. And that’s only part 1. Part 2 is getting back in the game.

Conclusion

Using “Google Disavow Tool” is not that hard, but it’s something where you can easily end up making mistakes — causing more harm than good. Also, if you honestly don’t know what it is, or you know you haven’t been a part of any kind of link scheme, you probably don’t have to worry about it.