The Google Disavow tool is like almonds. In its bitter version (that is, if used incorrectly), it will poison your site and hurt its position in search results. In the sweet version (if you did everything right) – will save it from Penguin. Google itself warns about the danger of misusing this function and recommends accessing it only if there are a lot of artificial or low-quality links to the site, capable of causing it real harm.
When do you actually need to use Google Disavow?
There might be several reasons why high-risk links appear:
- Abuse of purchased links. It’s not always possible to delete them – it depends on the service and access to accounts (if you lost or fired an employee who was in charge of this, you will incur a karmic punishment of finding an alternative option).
- Competitors’ actions. Yes, rivaling rascals can behave dishonestly and harm you with substandard backlinks.
In the above-mentioned cases Google Disavow is indispensable. Of course, it does not guarantee 100% protection from Penguin (Google may not reject the links you offer), but as a last resort is useful.
On October 16, 2012, just a few months after the release of the first Google Penguin, former head of the web spam team at Google Matt Cutts announced the release of a new tool – the Google Disavow Tool.
Its introduction has led to heated debates among optimizers around the world. At first, they refused to use the tool: many were confused by Google’s warning that there is a chance that the Disavow Tool may lead to negative consequences. Therefore, the SEO world’s reaction to its release was controversial.
However, it is difficult to do without this tool. The need for the Google Disavow Tool increased in the era of Penguin 4.0, despite the rumors of decreased importance of disavowing bad links for search engine ranking. Rumors remain rumors and the tool remains useful. Google still cannot find all spam links, so the responsibility for getting rid of them rests with the webmaster.
But, as we mentioned earlier, if you use the tool incorrectly, it might result in negative consequences for the website. For instance, we often come across webmasters who would simply disavow some links here, some there. This sporadic approach to this process is wrong.
There is a pool of common mistakes. Many commit them, if not everyone. We have prepared a safe step-by-step guide for you on working with the Google Disavow Tool in order to protect you from potential problems.
Google ranking factors
While your Google ranking depends on many things, one of the major ranking factors is backlinks. As it conducts the ranking, Google is focused on the quality and relevance of websites. In turn, relevance is determined based on the evaluation of the content popularity. The more visitors you have on your site and the more people access the content through social network shares and links to third-party resources, the higher the likelihood of a positive assessment of the Google resource’s relevance, which means that you would be ranked higher. Google defines this as: the more good “votes” (strong backlinks) the site has, the higher its rating. But it can work the other way around: bad links to your site can negatively affect its rating. If you have links from bad sources, Google can link your site to them, classifying it as spam. That’s why you need to analyze links with backlink checker and get rid of unwanted ones by deleting or disavowing them.
When and how should you use the Google Disavow Tool?
Some argue that the Google Disavow Tool should only be used if you receive a warning about unnatural links. Otherwise, it is quite dangerous and can easily harm the site.
This is hardly true: we know thousands of examples when disavowal of such links led to the exit from the Penguin Penalty algorithm, under the sanction of which you do not even have the opportunity to file a request for a second review.
Another popular question is whether you need to use the Google Disavow Tool immediately or you should first contact a webmaster.
The official position of Google: this tool should be used after trying to contact a webmaster and agree with him on removing the link.
1. How to find bad links
Analyze your link profile. You need to collect the maximum number of backlinks. You can find some of them using the Google Search Console. However, this tool may not be enough. There are commercial applications that help to find links and make it easier to work with them.
2. How to create a file with bad links
After the audit and completion of the formation of bad links’ base, proceed to the direct disavowal. It consists of the stage of downloading links to your resource and creating a file with the links that you want to disavow.
Google requires a particular file format:
- Text format .csv files are acceptable. Mac users are the ones who face the most challenges with this format. Converting a document of an appropriate type is challenging. Do not use DOCX, XLSX, .rtf, etc. Google does not accept such files. Some text editors are readable, but they may distort the display of links that you need to disavow. Given that Notepad periodically experiences difficulties with opening a file, you can use other text editors instead, such as Wordpad or Sublime.
- Encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII.
- The size should not exceed 2 MB.
- Should have one URL / domain in each line.
- You can disavow a specific URL or an entire domain. If you have a lot of backlinks from spam sites, it’s better to use the second option. Matt Cutts has a vivid metaphor on this account: “One common issue we see with disavow requests is people going through with a fine-toothed comb when they really need to do something more like a machete on the bad backlinks.” When disavowing a domain, add a “domain:” in front of the domain name. For example, to disavow example.com, you would write domain: example.com.
- Remember that it is better to disavow subdomains separately.
- Be sure to add all of the unwanted backlinks.
Although Google does not impose any requirements on naming such files, we recommend giving them specific names, so that you can easily find them if you want.
3. How to download a file with bad links
Once you have prepared a list of bad links, upload it to the Google Disavow Tool.
To do this, sign in to your Google Search Console account and open the Google Disavow Tool.
1. Select the domain that you want to upload to the file with disavowed links.
2. Click the “Disavow Links” button.
3. When the next warning appears, confirm your actions.
4. After that you should be notified about the success of the domain download.
5. Click on the “Download” button to download the latest Disavow file.
6. Choose CSV as the download format.
7. The file will be downloaded. Its name will differ from what you saw before – the name will be the domain name along with several numbers. We recommend that you rename this file, giving it back its previous name. This will help you maintain consistency in working with link disavowal.
Be careful when you disavow links. You need to exclude only spam sites, not all the sites that link to you. To send a file to Google, upload it to the disavowed links page.
4. How long does it take to disavow links?
Rejecting links immediately after downloading them is a common mistake. Your actions are just a recommendation for Google, not an order. Google crawlers work according to their own system and follow their own schedule. They will not change the order of work because of your actions.
In addition, it takes about 48 hours for Google bots to notice on your site a new file with a list of links that you need to disavow. After 48 hours, it may take several weeks or even months for the links to be scanned and disavowed.
5. Additional Secrets of Google Disavow Tool
You can leave comments in files with disavowed links
It has been confirmed by John Mueller that comments are not taken into account when processing links – files are processed automatically. However, you can still leave comments. They are useful in some cases, for example, if several people have access to the file with the disavowed links. To avoid problems, co-workers should be aware of the changes made by others. Leave a comment by putting a # at the beginning of the line.
You have only one file
Google only accepts one file with the links to disavow/exclude. Downloading a new one will overwrite the previously downloaded one. If you want to add links, be sure that you have entered all the previous ones. If this is not done, the search engine will start to take into account previously excluded sites, which will lead to penalties.
Disavowal is not deletion
If you disavowed a link, do not think that it has disappeared. In fact, disavowal is an appeal to Google not to take some links into account.
Using the Google Disavow Tool is optional
Again, the file containing disavowed sites is only considered a recommendation by Google. This is not an instruction. Google does not have to ignore these links. Therefore, removal is certainly the safest way to get rid of bad backlinks.
Disavowed links remain visible
Even if you reject backlinks, they will still be displayed in Google Search Console. So, do not get scared when you see them.
Reject nofollow links
Google treats disavowed links as “nofollow”. But this does not mean that nofollows need not be disavowed. On the contrary, some experts believe that under certain circumstances they can affect your rating.
For most, the Google Disavow tool is an extreme measure. Regardless of what your risks are related to – the past bad backlinks or malicious SEO attacks – if you cannot remove risky backlinks, disavow them. But do not make mistakes. Do not panic and delete links without a thorough prior checkup. Disavowing incorrect links can and will harm your site’s ranking. High rating requires good backlinks. If you are in a hurry and form a list carelessly, including good links in it, this will lead to penalties. Therefore, review each link that you want to exclude. You can do this manually or with the help of special tools offered by third-party companies.