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October 20, 2012

Google announces "disavow links" tool for SEO

By Chris Vendilli 3 Minute Read

This past summer, I put together a comprehensive guide on what to do about bad backlinks potentially harming your search engine rankings: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

At the time, I suggested that a Google disavow link tool could be helpful in a number of ways. Here is a brief quote:

“Despite the fact that many argue this is only going to help people who engage in questionable tactics, the truth is that many innocent webmasters and small site owners are hurt each year by links that are out of their control.”

Well, a couple months have passed and Google has finally decided to release its disavow links tool to the public.

In short, if you have been notified (through your Webmaster Tools account) of unnatural links pointing to your site, this is a tool that may be able to bring you relief and hopefully restore your rankings.

Before we go any further, it is important to note one thing: Google suggests that you first attempt to have the bad links removed on your own. Contact the webmaster of the site that is linking to yours, requesting that the link be removed.

If this fails and the link is still live, it is time to take advantage of this new tool.

Getting Started

Once inside your Webmaster Tools account, you will choose the website for which you want to disavow links.

At this point, you will be asked to upload a file containing the bad links. While this sounds easy enough, keep in mind that you need to proceed with caution. If you make any mistakes, you could end up negatively impacting your site’s rankings.

Here is an example, from Google, of the type of plain text file that you can upload:


# Contacted owner of on 7/1/2012 to

# ask for link removal but got no response

# Owner of removed most links, but missed these


How Long does it take?

As excited as you may be about this new tool, Google will not discount your links immediately. Instead, it will take several weeks to take effect.

According to Google search engine guru Matt Cutts, “it can take weeks for that to go into effect.” He goes onto add that Google has the right to deny a submission if it is suspicious for any reason.

Who should use it?

As noted above, this is a tool to use with extreme caution. You don’t want to start disavowing links on a whim, hoping that it will boost your rankings.

Google designed the tool for those who were impacted by the Penguin update, which destroyed many websites that previously held high rankings due to link spamming or purchased links.

Does this Tool Help Combat Negative SEO?

If you have hired an unethical SEO company in the past, have made link building mistakes on your own, or have been targeted by a negative SEO campaign, using this tool is a great idea.

Once you attempt to remove bad links on your own, if any still exist – regardless of the source – there is no better time to use the disavow links tool. This will ensure (most of the time) that all spammy links are no longer holding you back. In other words, you will have a “clean slate” moving forward.

There is some speculation that using the disavow links tool may be kind of like "telling on yourself" for having a bad backlink profile or footprint but I think the tool is a step in the right direction that will almost serve like a "confessional" for many webmasters and SEO's who have been using less than squeaky clean link-building practices in the past.  The success of the tool itself almost requires amnesty for the people who use it. After all, Google is discrediting most of these links anyway so it's almost like a way to just keep honest SEO's honest and hopefully get a few blackhatters her and there to abandon the "dark side" of the SEO wars.


A few months ago, it was easy to see that the disavow links tool was coming in the near future. Those who were hit by the Panda update were begging for a tool like this to help them recover.

It will be interesting to see how much of an impact it has on websites that were previously downgraded due to unnatural link building. Only time will tell – check back often for updates.

For more information, watch the following video by Matt Cutts:

Chris Vendilli
About the Author
Chris is the founder and CEO of Vendilli Digital Group. In his free time, you’ll find him camping, fishing, or playing beer league ice hockey with a bunch of guys who refuse to admit they’re already over the hill.

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