What Is Google Disavow Tool and How to Use It Effectively in 2021

Technical SEO
Webmasters know that a website’s position in search results also depends on the quality of link mass. However, building links naturally is a very slow process, even for projects with a lot of content and a steady audience. 

What Is Google Disavow Tool and How to Use It Effectively in 2021

Therefore, optimizers are trying to reduce the time of promotion through link building, and many of them do not think about consequences. Instead of a flow of targeted traffic, the resource being promoted may be penalized. 

Google has long been struggling with artificial links and penalizing websites that used link schemes or purchased links from exchanges. Search algorithms are constantly learning to detect unnatural links faster and impose restrictions on projects that violate recommendations for promotion. 

1. What Is Disavow Tool?

Google Disavow Tool is a tool for disavowing links in Search Console. The Google team announced it in 2012 and gave site owners the possibility to disavow backlinks from certain projects.

Disavow Tool has a controversial reputation among optimizers. Some believe that adding links to it is useless because they continue to be counted as part of ranking signals. Others argue that it is worth periodically updating the file to protect the site from possible penalties.

In April 2012, Google released Penguin, an algorithm designed to fight artificial links. At first stages, it did a poor job of recognizing unnatural posts. 

The last update to Google Penguin 4.0 was released in the fall of 2016. Since then, representatives of the search engine and experienced optimizers have agreed that Google algorithms recognize the majority of low-quality links on their own and do not take them into account as part of a site’s profile. Therefore, the question arose about the feasibility of disavowing links. 

Even experienced optimizers do not always know how to use Disavow Tool. If a site takes great positions in organic search results, and competitors do not conduct negative SEO attacks, there is no need for it. Though, the majority of webmasters use the tool to disavow links when the promoted resource has already been penalized for violating the recommendations on SEO. 

2. When Should You Use Disavow Tool?

When SEO specialists ask about the appropriateness of utilizing the link disavow tool, Google representatives almost always have the same answer. They say that most sites do not need it, and you should create a file with a list of domains or addresses in case of manual penalties or when you are confident that they will be imposed soon. 

In a video conference with webmasters, John Mueller said that Disavow Tool is useful for sites that were actively using link exchange schemes and buying backlinks. And if traffic suddenly dropped after the Core Update, there’s no guarantee that the drop was caused by links. 

Some webmasters ignore recommendations, add dozens of links to the Disavow Tool file, and don’t take time to thoroughly check the quality of backlinks. As a result, traffic may not be recovered at all because the cause was not the links. 

Another global problem with the backlink disavow tool is that there is no way to know which links are ignored by Google algorithms. Accordingly, the file for Disavow Tool may contain backlinks that no longer have juice. 

2.1. Many low-quality links lead to your site

Low-quality backlinks are generated chaotically. On the Internet, new doorways and other resources appear every day, which are of no value to users. References from such projects can harm organic SEO. 

Before adding a subdomain or URL of a particular page to the disavow file, make sure the link may actually have a negative impact on the future of the resource being promoted. If the quality of the site is dubious, it is reasonable to send a signal to Google algorithms to stop accounting for all backlinks from the dangerous domain.

2.2. Links caused manual penalties

One of the common scenarios, when it is necessary to use Disavow Tool, is related to the imposition of manual penalties on the site. Manual penalties point to a specific cause and give the resource owner a hint as to which actions to take to remove the restrictions. 

Manual penalties are usually imposed on websites that blatantly manipulate ranking algorithms. For example, if irrelevant resources refer to the project, and the anchor list consists of 90% of commercial anchors with keywords. 

Google has enormous resources to process a lot of information. Neural networks are constantly developing, and representatives of the search engine have repeatedly pointed out that algorithms have long learned to distinguish natural postings from sponsored ones based on a number of characteristics.  

3. What Links Are Considered Low-quality?

According to Google officials, any link that appeared unnaturally is of low quality. If a webmaster posted a backlink in exchange for money or another backlink, it is a violation of recommendations and manipulation of ranking algorithms. 

The link disavow tool was created to fight competitor attacks or the chaotic appearance of backlinks from low-quality sites. If a webmaster cannot remove them from donor resources, it is necessary to use Disavow Tool to solve the problem. 

All optimizers try to disavow low-quality backlinks before manual penalties are imposed on the site. Manual penalties will work for some time after the signal is sent to Search Console that the problem is solved. 

Google representatives have repeatedly stated that since the release of Penguin 4.0, the algorithm for recognizing spam links has become more accurate, but Disavow Tool is still relevant. If a webmaster notices an abnormal increase in the number of backlinks, one can reject them and gain time while search algorithms scan new content.

3.1. Paid links

Google opposes all link exchange schemes. Penalties for paid links can be imposed, and the path to regaining trust will be very difficult. One scenario for using Google Disavow Tool involves fighting paid links. 

If search algorithms determine that many irrelevant donors refer to the site, and all signals suggest that backlinks are posted on a paid basis, the site may be subject to penalties.

Disavowal of paid links is one of the standard tasks for webmasters who have not followed the recommendations on security, which caused the projects in the sight of Google algorithms. Representatives of the search engine recommend paying attention to sponsored backlinks first if there is the probability of filters. 

3.2. Links from PBN

Google opposes artificial methods of acquiring backlinks. Among them is the Private Blog Network, a network of affiliate projects created to increase the ranking of the main site. 

If algorithms detect the network and see that the projects are related by implication, all of them will be penalized along with the main resource. Google has been fighting PBN for a long time: it excludes pages from the index, lowers positions, and tries to convince webmasters to stop using unfair methods of struggling for high positions.  

3.3. Low-quality listings and directories

Links from site directories are part of the profile of almost every resource represented in search engines. Sometimes, backlinks appear randomly, without the webmaster’s intervention, and, in most cases, they do not require a prompt response. 

It is necessary to use the tool to disavow links for references from listings and directories if you are sure that links can affect the site’s ranking in organic search results.

3.4. Comments

Google added the nofollow attribute to fight against spam links from comments. This was not enough because such postings were still taken into account by search algorithms.

The link disavow tool was created as an effective solution to deal with problematic backlinks, and it’s perfect for Google to stop taking into account links from comments, which are usually not beneficial to the site being promoted. 

If links from comments on several resources constantly appear in your link profile, and you are sure they are of low quality, you can reject the domains in the Google Disavow Tool and forget about the problem. 

3.5. Spam attacks

Spam attacks are a real problem for large news sites and commercial projects that constantly struggle for high positions in search engines. Competitors may create doorways to decrease the ranking of the website that prevents them from gaining visibility in organic search results. 

Optimizers most often detect spam attacks when they see a sudden increase in the number of backlinks on charts. And it’s not too late to address the problem even at that point. Backlinks do not immediately become part of a link profile. Google does not always update data in real-time, and ranking algorithms simultaneously take into account thousands of micro factors. 

4. How to Use the Link Disavow Tool

Although even novice webmasters know what Disavow Tool is, experienced optimizers may have problems using it. It is easy to create a file for disavowal, but you need to be careful to avoid adding unnecessary URLs to it. 

The main mistake is adding a single domain version to the console. If there is only the www version in Search Console, not all links may appear in reports. Third-party resources may refer to versions with different protocols as well as to URLs with www and without prefix.  

The feature of Disavow Tool is that you can use it only in the URL-prefix mode, although sites may refer to other versions of the domain as well. Over time, they will become part of the profile, hence affecting the ranking of the project.

4.1. Analyze the link profile

Link mass analysis is a standard task for webmasters who are actively promoting the site. It is necessary to constantly monitor changes in the link profile to promptly respond to threats and reject low-quality backlinks.

It is important to use data not only from Google Search Console but also from other sources. Information on links can be delayed, and platforms, such as Ahrefs and Semrush, often show backlinks that are not in the Google Search Console. 

At the first stage of link profile analysis, it is necessary to collect as much data from different sources as possible and combine them in one place. If the file is too big, you can split it into several documents for easy work. 

4.2. Create a list of links you want to disavow

The second step is to identify poor-quality backlinks that can affect the site’s ranking in organic search results. Before you use Disavow Tool in Google Search Console, you need to prepare a file to download. 

If thousands of resources refer to the site, it is not worth analyzing tens of thousands of references manually. It is necessary to use SEO services offering link analysis tools and highlight backlinks that are considered suspicious by several platforms. 

Optimizers who monitor the appearance of new links through specialized services can partially reduce the amount of routine work thanks to built-in tools. For example, Monitor Backlinks allows generating and sending a file to Disavow Tool directly from the service control panel. 

4.3. Upload links to the Disavow Tool file

Before uploading a file to Search Console, it is important to make sure that there are no extra links in it. Webmasters often inattentively add useful backlinks to the list, which can affect the site’s ranking in organic search. 

Google Search Console Help has detailed requirements for the Disavow Tool file:

  • .txt format
  • the maximum length of 100 thousand lines
  • one URL = one line
  • the domain operator must be used for domain disavowal

If there are errors in the syntax of the file, a warning will appear in the console. The requirements for link list formatting are quite simple and easy to remember. Therefore, it is worth taking the time to learn the information. 

4.4. Constantly monitor the process

Website promotion in Google is a cyclical process, which lies in the constant improvement of the project. An optimizer should monitor the situation and determine the factors that positively or negatively affected website visibility.

For example, if after a few weeks of uploading a file to Disavow Tool, the position has improved, and organic traffic has increased, the reason may be that Google has stopped taking into account poor-quality links, which resulted in a higher site ranking. 

According to webmasters, Google updates data on links in Search Console roughly once a week. Therefore, there is no need to export the detected backlinks from the console every day. 

5. Is It Always Beneficial to Use Google Link Disavow Tool?

If an optimizer is constantly interacting with the Search Console Link Disavow Tool, there is a risk that backlinks that do not have a negative impact on a site’s ranking in Google will appear in the file. 

It would not be difficult to remove extra links, but the problem is that search algorithms may not restore the backlink juice that was recorded before it was disavowed. Matt Cutts, a former Administrator of the United States Digital Service, talked about this in a video conference with webmasters. 

Attempts to recover the rankings of one or more links result in increased attention from Google algorithms. Therefore, a thorough analysis should be conducted before creating a file for Disavow Tool. 

5.1. Risk associated with using the tool

Google constantly reminds users that they should use the link disavow tool for webmasters carefully, only if they are certain that poor-quality backlinks have negatively affected the site’s visibility in the search results or would do so in the future. 

Even the Disavow Tool page has a notice that this is an advanced tool that can negatively affect a site’s ranking if used incorrectly. It should be used when there are many artificial or spam backlinks. 

However, there are cases when webmasters have no choice. For example, if a great number of backlinks appeared, and all factors point to their artificial origin. A prompt reaction and drastic measures will help preserve the gained credibility. 

If there is no clear link-building strategy, you can borrow the experience of major projects that post links on a regular basis and do not lose their rankings in Google. The PRPosting exchange can perfectly solve this problem by filtering donors according to a number of criteria.

In the interface of the control panel, you need to select the language and region that match the promoted resource and then set limits on link metrics to create a list of quality projects. 

6. What to Remember When Using Google Disavow Tool

Beginner optimizers should remember that the link disavow tool is not the solution to all problems with website promotion. If traffic suddenly dropped or competitors got ahead of a site for a number of queries, this might not be related to backlinks. 

Ignoring the rules for using Disavow Tool can have negative consequences for the resource being promoted. If quality links appear on the list, the project’s ranking may be affected. 

If a webmaster does not know how to create a file for Google Disavow Tool, one should first study the recommendations and only then deal with the creation of a list of links for disavowal. 

6.1. Be careful with comments in the file

You can use comments in the file for convenience, but it is important that they do not compromise the integrity of the list. Comments in a document are marked with the # symbol and serve to create hints. Optimizers often use them to add an update date to a file.

# Disavow two pages
https://spam.com/page-one
https://spam.com/page-two

# Disavow domain
domain:spam.com

Comments help structure the document and are useful if used correctly. It is important to remember to separate different blocks in the file with spaces to avoid confusing the syntax. 

6.2. Upload only one file

In Search Console, you can only import one file, and it must not contain more than 100 thousand URLs. For large projects, the limitation can make it difficult to use Disavow Tool, but the problem is solved by ignoring a domain rather than a specific page. 

You can split links into multiple files for convenience, but they will need to be merged into a single .txt document before uploading to the Search Console. The file should be in .txt format, not .csv or .doc. 

6.3. Disavowal does not mean the removal of links

Google recommends contacting site owners to remove links. It is reasonable to use Disavow Tool only when there is no alternative way to deal with low-quality backlinks.

Keep in mind that link disavowal via Search Console does not allow removing them. Search algorithms just get a signal that certain backlinks should not be taken into account as part of a link mass. They will still appear in the console and third-party SEO services.

6.4. File for Disavow Tool is a recommendation

Google adheres to the policy of not making any warranties. For example, the search engine may follow the rules from the robots.txt file but not make specific commitments. With Disavow Tool, the situation is similar — the list of links to disavow is a recommendation. 

The tool was created to allow webmasters to deal with poor-quality backlinks, but it does not always work according to the standard scenario. However, in most cases, there are no problems with link disavowal.

6.5. Pay attention to nofollow links

If there are a lot of low-quality nofollow links in a link profile, it is worth paying attention to them. Previously, search algorithms could adhere to the «no follow» rule and did not pass juice to such backlinks. A few years ago, the situation changed, and now, nofollow is considered a recommendation.

Many optimizers consider nofollow links harmless, but this is not always the case. A large number of references from low-quality resources can negatively affect the site’s ranking, even if they are all marked with the nofollow attribute

7. Final Thoughts

Before you use link disavowal, you need to understand what Google Disavow Tool does and how exactly it works. Don’t consider file uploading as a quick way to avoid search engine penalties. 

Optimizers should constantly monitor link mass dynamics and make changes to the link disavow file if they are absolutely sure that references from a particular domain could be detrimental to organic SEO.

Kyryk Oleksandr
SEO Consultant

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