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Google Disavow tool | Have you been a naughty webmaster? A basic guide

Google Disavow Tool

On the 16th of October, Matt Cutts announced the long awaited Google disavow tool. Yes, the Google link-discounting tool is here but make sure you take a good look at whether or not you should be using it on your site.

Google disavow allows the webmaster to remove unwanted links, the idea being that if someone tries to spam your website to cause harm, you can ask Google to discount links from an individual page, or a whole domain. Lets say you sell fuffy kitten collars, a link from a porn site is not going to be desirable. This is extreme, but if you or your competitors have pointed bad links at your site, they can harm your rankings.

Do I need to use Google disavow?

Some webmasters are at their keyboards already scrambling to use the new tool. Google disavow is a very powerful tool and should be used with caution by people who fully understand their actions. Every link pointing at your site counts for something and you don’t want to go round shooting your support. If you have received messages in webmaster tools, or you hav experienced any of the below you can be pretty sure you have been hit. Google Disavow is probably the way forward.

Manual penalty

Manual penalty’s can be difficult to spot as webmasters do not always receive email notifications of manual penalties. If you have been hit, the penalty applied is more than likely links, unless you are using cloaking in a way to redirect users or some other (potentially) black hat technique.

Google Penguin

A sudden drop in traffic and rankings since 24th April 2012 is one of the best signs of a penguin penalty. Your site will lose rankings for pages and therefore traffic. Google Penguin targeted primarily aggressive and paid linking. Dr. Pete has written a great article on seomoz about Google Penguin.

Site reconsideration not accepted

If you have received a warning in Google Webmaster tools and subsequently submitted a reconsideration request that has been refused, you probably need to work harder to remove bad links. Google Disavow tool will allow you to remove links that cannot be manually removed so you can submit your site for reconsideration again.

Negative SEO

If you think that your website has been targeted by bad links, you can Google Disavow to remove them. Bad links are quite easy to spot and will stick out like a sore thumb in Open Site Explorer or Ahref’s. Bad links are usually placed on sites that host adult or illegal material or use spammy anchor text to dilute your natural links.

Matt Cutts WT video on the Google Disavow tool

How do I find bad links?

It is quite easy to tell if you have bad links, finding them is another question. The chances of having a large percentage of your backlinks requiring disavowal are slim, unless you have been the victim of negative SEO. Even low quality links can count toward your ranking, if you start culling links by PA and DA alone, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble.

Quick scan for bad links

  1. Export a list of links from Google Webmaster tools (you can use OSE or Ahref’s)
  2. Open the CSV file
  3. Sort the links by domain alphabetically
  4. Scan through the list and look for domains with large blocks of links or suspect or spammy tld’s
  5. Mark any suspect domains as suspect or similar in the adjascent column. You can use conditional formatting to highlight the links that you mark
  6. Sort the links by anchor text
  7. Mark any links with suspect anchor text which doesn’t belong as suspect as above
  8. Sort the links by the new column you have created
  9. Copy rows marked suspect into a new sheet, sort by domain
  10. Copy rows not marked suspect into a new sheet, sort by domain
You can then start the somewhat painstaking process of sifting through the list you have. Check the suspect list first, when you find links that you decide are bad, mark them again. Only when you have been through each sheet should you look to remove or disavow the links that you have marked. Mark all good links.  You can create a sheet of good links that you can use in future so you can automatically mark these links as safe in the future.

How to make a disavow text file for Google

To disavow links, you have to create a simple text file. You can comment the file for your benefit and for any explanation of your efforts to remove the links. Using a text editor, create a document called “disavow.txt” in the following format;

# This is how you disavow links on a single page


# This is how you disavow links from a whole domain


Once you have done this, you can proceed to the tool, but not before you have clicked through various warnings telling you that Google Disavow is for advanced users only. You upload the text document you have created and confirm to submit.

I’ve submitted the disavow request, what now?

Once you submit the request, you wait. Google quote approximately 3-5 weeks and they reserve the right not to honour all requests.

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