Google Disavow Tool: What You Need To Know

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If you’re trying to keep your site high in search engine result rankings, (and who isn’t?), you need to know about Google’s disavow link tool. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. Many people think that penalizing links is a thing of the past.

Because that isn’t the case, I wanted to tell you everything you need to know about Google’s Disavow Tool and how it can affect your website both positively and negatively. 

If you have ever asked yourself whether or not you should disavow a link, I hope this article will answer that question for you. If you’ve never asked yourself that question, I hope to teach you everything there is to know about the disavow link tool, plus there is a step-by-step guide on how to use it correctly. 

What The Disavow Tool Is

What on earth is this disavow tool, anyway? Back in the fall of 2012, Google made a tool that would benefit entrepreneurs and CEOs who have an online presence.

When this tool first rolled out, it came with a long warning label. It stated that you should use the disavow tool with caution and that if you use it incorrectly, your site may pay the price when it comes to where you rank on search results.

This tool essentially allows you to let Google know when to ignore certain backlinks to keep your ranking in place. To disavow a backlink, all you need to do is submit a text file that has the linking pages or domains by using Google Search Console. It’s not quite that easy, but we’ll talk more about that later on. 

How do you know whether or not to put a certain domain in the file that you’re sending to Google, and how do you use it correctly? Let’s find out. 

The Creation Of The Disavow Links Tool 

SEO Link buildingLink building can be quite a messy job. When link building first came to be, spam was at an all-time high. Google needed to come up with a way to reduce spam on all types of websites. If you’ve ever heard of a no-follow link, this was Google’s first attempt at reducing the amount of spam. 

They created this in 2005, but because the internet is changing ever so quickly, they needed a better method. The no-follow links method worked pretty well up until the spring of 2012 and is still used today. This was when they used what was called the Penguin algorithm. This was, essentially, a filter that was used every time someone searched for something on Google. 

This didn’t work too well at first and entire sites were demoted due to the Penguin algorithm. The disavow links tool came out just months later in October 2012. Google was hesitant to use this at first because they thought it only applied to a small number of websites.

Originally, it wasn’t used in the way that it is used today. Upon improving the Penguin algorithm, people noticed that disavowing links was crucial to protect their websites.

In September 2016, Google made an update to allow the Penguin algorithm to work in real-time. This changed the way the algorithm worked completely for website owners. This is why many people can’t decide whether or not disavowing is a necessary step that website owners should implement.

When To Use It And When Not To

The age-old question when it comes to the disavow link tool from Google is when you should or shouldn’t use it. Since many people are hesitant to use it in the first place, knowing when to use it is absolutely crucial. Like you read earlier, when it was initially released, Google included a long warning that stated if used incorrectly, your site could be harmed. 

To know whether or not you should disavow, you need to know what is considered a low-quality link or a bad directory. You wouldn’t want to disavow high-quality links that are helping the ranking of your website and bringing in traffic. Let’s turn to the source for what they consider a low-quality link. Google defines a low-quality link as follows: 

“…intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google [or] may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

Some examples of bad links are:

  • Paid links, including non-editorial links
  • Any private blogging network
  • Directories that are considered low-quality by Google’s standards
  • Spam found in blog comments or in forums
  • Sites that have been previously hacked
  • Websites that have a negative SEO standing

On the other hand, this is what Google has to say about what is considered a high-quality link: 

“Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”

You can likely tell whether or not a link is high or low-quality by looking at your traffic analytics. You will be able to see which links are clicked on most often and which are rarely, if ever, clicked on. 

This brings us to the point where you’re waiting for an answer on when you should be using this tool. There is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to the quality of links, but there are a couple of situations where disavowing links can be beneficial.

If you think that there is a paid-for backlink profile connected to your client, whether this was five years ago or yesterday, a disavow of any associated links would be a great choice. When a website has a sudden use of bad links, it will likely be ranked lower in search engine result rankings. 

Any links associated with the website that is considered bad should be disavowed. While the majority of SEOs use Google’s Disavow Tool, nearly 40% don’t. This is simply because they may not know whether or not it’s worth the risk. I can teach you all about this tool along with how and when to use it; however, it is ultimately up to you if you’re willing to take the risk.

Do I Have To Remove A Link Or Disavow A Link?

While I could likely talk your ear off about removing links, we need to discuss if you still need to do this if you’re using the disavow tool. If you have access to the link and control whether or not it exists, by all means, remove it. That is much easier than going through the entire process of disavowing a link; we’ll discuss how to do that next.

How To Use It Correctly

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to use the Google disavow links tool correctly. If you follow these steps, you are much more likely to have a positive experience using this tool.

Make An Audit Spreadsheet

There are several options out there that will audit your links for you, but if you’re looking to use the disavow links tool correctly, it is in your best interest to manually review each link. While this may sound like a lot of work, it’s easier than you think and will benefit you in the long run.

You can use these same audit tools to create an auditing spreadsheet. In the event that you want to do it yourself as suggested, the directions are found in the following steps.

Download Your Links

The first thing you will need to do is download all of your links. You can do this by using a webmaster tool. Depending on which tool you use, you can usually find your links listed under your traffic section. When you download links, you will want both the sample link and the most current link. You could use sites such as Majestic, Moz, or Ahrefs to help with this process. 

Here is a screenshot of some of Long Tail Pro’s backlinks from Ahrefs (under the Backlinks section on the left-hand menu): 

You can easily export the csv file to more easily work with the data in an Excel document.  

Create A Link Spreadsheet

Once you have your links, it is time to create a spreadsheet. You will likely have spreadsheets from multiple sources and you will want to combine all these into one large spreadsheet. This makes it so all of your links can be found in one place. 

You can easily make spreadsheets in software programs such as Excel or even in Google Sheets. It is important to note that when you’re creating the big spreadsheet, you should keep all duplicates. We’ll talk about how to get rid of them quickly in just a moment. 

Breaking URLs Down

Breaking urls downNow, it’s time to add a new column on your spreadsheet. You should do this to the left of your URLs. To make this task as easy as possible, start by highlighting your first column. After you have it highlighted, press CTRL and D at the same time. The next step is to highlight your first column again and then follow this sequence: 

  • CTRL + C (to copy)
  • Click edit
  • Select “Paste special”
  • Click “Paste values only” 

Once you’re at this point, you can use the find and replace tool. In Google Sheets, this can be found as the last option under the edit menu. Type https:// in the “find” column and leave everything else empty. Click “Replace All”. Do that same step over again and instead of typing in https://, enter “www.”

There you have it! Your links are now back to the subdomain level! 

Get Rid Of Duplicates

As mentioned before, I will teach you how to get rid of duplicates. You only need one link from every domain, and often times, you will see duplicates throughout your spreadsheet. When you have a lot of links to go through, you want to avoid crashing the spreadsheet. In order to avoid this from happening, use the following steps:

  • Start by sorting the links in your first column in alphabetical order
  • Create another column to the left of your first column
  • Enter this into the new column: ” =if(B1=B2,”duplicate”,”unique”) ” 
  • Filter the column to show you duplicates
  • Delete each duplicate

Audit

You’re almost done, I promise. Now it is time to click on each URL that is on your spreadsheet. You can make a column on the far right of your spreadsheet and type whether or not you want to keep or disavow for each website. If you’re unsure, simply write “unsure” in the blank instead. 

But, how do you know whether or not you want to disavow a link? Think about whether or not that link brings traffic to your website. You also want to think about whether or not you’d want the public seeing each link. Lastly, consider whether or not each link was made for SEO use. If you’re struggling with this part, you can ask a colleague for help or hire a professional.

Creating A Disavow File

After going through every link, it is now time to create your disavowal file. When you have a lot of links on your spreadsheet, it may be easiest to filter through your disavow column so that you only see the links you’re choosing to disavow. 

After this is done, it is time to make a new spreadsheet. On the new spreadsheet in your first column, you want to copy the domains that you want to disavow. To do this, type ” domain:” in front of every domain.

Now, it is to repeat a step from earlier. Copy the domains, click “paste special”, and then “paste as values.” Just like that your disavow directives will be in the second column of your new spreadsheet. Save them as a text file before moving forward.

Filing With Google

When you’re at the point where you’re ready to file your disavow, go to the Google Disavow Tool. From there you will choose your website from the menu. Then select disavow links twice and then choose the file. You will now select the text file you just saved from the previous step. The disavow tool will tell you whether or not you’ve successfully uploaded the file.

Editing And Modifying Disavow Files

If it any point you need to edit or modify your files, you can do so on a regular basis to make sure that your backlinks are of high-quality. At the very least, consider doing this once a month. You will then follow all of the steps listed above again. 

You can also update a disavow file that you’ve already uploaded. To do this, go to the Google disavow links tool. Select disavow links twice and then click download. You can then open the file and copy and paste the domains into a new spreadsheet and edit as needed.

Does It Take Long To Work

Google will immediately disavow a link as soon as you upload the file successfully. These links will not be included during any future crawl that Google conducts and will not be able to access algorithmic calculations. 

It may take a little longer to see changes if your website is affected by Google’s Penguin algorithm. At most, it can take up to 48 hours for the Google bots to disavow the links in the file you sent.

Re-Avowing A Disavowed Link

If you’ve realized there was a mistake in a file you’ve already sent in to be disavowed, don’t panic. You have the power to remove a disavow directive by editing the original file. 

Simply edit the file and remove the necessary domains and reupload it to the disavow tool. With that being said, it may be easy, but it will take much longer for a link to become re-avowed after it has been disavowed. 

Not only do you have to wait for the next time Google performs a crawl, but you also have to wait through a bit of a lag period. Why does Google do this? 

Many people who send spam will do this to find a way around the disavowing system. In order for Google to make sure that you’re not doing this, they take a little extra time verifying the link you’re re-avowing. 

Final Thoughts

Google’s disavow tool can be quite confusing. It is completely normal to not know whether or not you should use it. Many people are hesitant and play it safe, but hopefully, after reading this you’re comfortable choosing whether or not you’d like to implement this tool. It can be really beneficial if done correctly. 

It shouldn’t cost you anything as it removes harmful links to improve the ranking of your site, and the results are nearly immediate after sending in your file. Remember, there are right and wrong reasons to use this tool. Follow the in-depth directions listed above and you will be on the right track! Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope that Google’s disavow tool will benefit your website greatly!

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