Google’s Disavow Tool: The What, Why and How

Inplace #2

ADOTAS — So you’re a small-to-mid size business owner, or maybe you work in the Internet marketing department for such a company and you’ve noticed your website is not appearing in the search results like many of your competitors. You’ve created fresh content for your website, built a few quality links, and you even have a Google + account where you share all of your blog content, but still, there’s no traffic. First, please know There are thousands of companies in a very similar position, and second, know that there may be at least a partial answer to this issue; negative links.

Negative links are links to your businesses website from sites that for some reason or another are looked down on by Google and other search engines. These websites may be penalized because they have X-rated or otherwise inappropriate content or advertising, are a directory that is built specifically to provide backlinks, simply have too many links on a single page, or a plethora of other reasons. Google also wants to see that the links you have are relevant to the content on your website.

There are many ways to receive these type of negative links, including: an SEO consulting company that your formerly used, a directory scraping tool, a former in-house marketing strategy that no longer fits Google’s guidelines or you may even be the victim of a negative SEO strategy by a competitor trying to keep you off the front page of the search engines.

Luckily, Google has a solution to help you remove all of these unwanted links called the Google Link Disavow tool. According to the Google website, by using the Disavow tool, you are asking “Google to not take certain links into account when assessing your site.” Basically, the Google Disavow Tool will help you remove the links that you believe are negatively affecting your website.

The question is, how do you know if a link is negatively affecting your website? Well, you can wait until your Google WebMaster account gets a message saying you’ve been penalized. But then you have to do a lot of work to prove to the search engine that you’ve cleaned up your website and link profile before you can appear in the search results again. A more pro-active method, and one that Matt Cutts recommended in a recent Google video, is to regularly review your backlink profile, and if you notice spammy URL’s or links from websites you’ve never heard of and believe are scraped from a directory, remove the links before you get penalized.

How to Use the Google Link Disavow Tool

Google cautions that this is an “advanced feature” and to use caution before permanently disavowing any links from your website. The warning goes on to say that “We recommend that you disavow backlinks only if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.” Basically, make sure these links are truly spammy before you disavow them.

The process to disavowing links can be a little tedious. This is the process we took at Altitude Marketing before finalizing the Disavow process:

  • Download a CSV of all of the links directed to your website through the Google Webmaster Tool.
  • Sift through all of the links, highlighting those that you know are not negative and then remove them from the excel.
  • Begin researching the rest of your links by clicking the URL to see what type of website it is. Often with a quick glance you can tell if the website is spammy or not. If you need more information, you can run the URL through Open Site Explorer, which will give you the Domain Authority, Page Authority and linking domains to the website. If there are no quality links, or no links at all, directed to the website you can assume it is a negative website.
  • Sort the list by links that NEED to be removed and those that you’re unsure of.

After you’ve created your list of links that you’d like to disavow from your website you can begin making an attempt to contact the webmasters or website owners to have these links removed. If you are unable to find any contact information, or if the website is in a foreign language, make a note of this. Google says they want to see records of an honest attempt to have these webmasters remove the links before using the Disavow tool, but often times these contacts will not work so don’t spend an extraordinary amount of time on this step.

After you’ve made an attempt to contact these webmasters and website owners, it’s time to create the official Google Disavow list, which Google wants you to create in Notebook. According to the official Disavow guidelines the Disavow list should be created as a txt file and encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII. Each link or website that you’d like disavowed should be listed in this file, one per line. The list should also include notes on why you’d like Google to ignore the link and what steps you took to have the link removed yourself. For a specific example on how your Disavow list file should look, you can click here.

Once you’ve created your Disavow file, visit the main Disavow page. If you have more than one website select which one you’d like to disavow links from, click the disavow links and choose your file.

Why Use the Google Disavow Tool

In many cases Google can tell whether you are trying to “game the system” or if you’re being unfairly penalized for negative links. Often times your negative links are due to an old SEO company who tried to get as many links as possible from any source they could, and this is what the Google Disavow tool is for. At Altitude Marketing, we spent the month of October creating fresh content for many of our pages, disavowing negative links and building new quality links to begin replacing the old ones, and we’ve seen a significant jump in traffic in the weeks since.

This is not to say that the Disavow tool is the be-all cure for websites lacking in traffic. The most important aspects of SEO are still, and hopefully forever will be, creating great content relevant to your target market and making sure that content is seen by your target market. However, negative links may hamper your ability to have your content, and the Disavow tool is a great and powerful Webmaster feature that can help provide a solution to this problem.


  1. Great post Alex. For the first reconsideration request I use only GWT data. Next RRs go with majestic data too (if you own the domain it’s free). I wrote a tutorial recently about disavow files so if it your first attempt do disavow it can be useful.

  2. Well described post.Disavow tool is really very helpful to remove those links which have no way to get removed. Its another effort of Google to make webmasters life little bit easier.


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