Google’s Disavow Tool: When To Use It and When Not To

On October 16, Google officially launched its Disavow Links tool. This tool is used to remove low-quality links that are believed to damage ranking for websites. While removing harmful links, it is also possible to remove entire domains, as well as comment on specific URLs. Once submitted, these links can take up to a few weeks to be removed. Google also reserves to right not to remove them if they feel there is a reason not to trust a submission.

When a submission is made, there is an option to download the files that are to be removed, in case a webmaster wants to edit and use them later. For webmasters and SEOs, this is a powerful tool that can give sites a clean slate, whether they have been victims of negative SEO or want to clean up their link structure.  However, caution is strongly recommended when using this tool.

Google has said that before using this tool, publishers should first work with site owners to have them remove bad links. The tool itself should be used as a last resort, since it has the power to not only have Google ignore URLs, but entire domains, which could have a long-standing negative impact on a website. Matt Cutts made it pretty clear to not use the tool unless absolutely necessary. So when is the right time to use this tool?

Google Sent Bad Link Warnings                                                                                                                          

A bad link warning from Google’s Webmaster Tools is a direct line from Google saying they have a problem with a site’s link profile.  While there have been rare instances in the past where Google has sent false warnings, most of the time it indicates site owners that an unnatural or artificial link is present, which can hurt PageRank.  There is a good possibility that when this warning is received, this bad link is already known. If you are not able to manually remove it, the Disavow Tool may be for you.

Your Site has Been Manually Penalized

It is difficult to find out if a site is actually being penalized for bad links. Many SEOs and Webmasters may assume many links are bad, even though they had received no messages from Google or been hit by algorithm changes. Unless you are completely sure you are being penalized for links, steer clear.

Reconsideration is Denied

After receiving warnings and penalties, and attempting to remove bad links, Google may still reject your reconsideration.  Now webmasters have a new weapon in their arsenal to seek and destroy any bad links that were not removed, usually because hosts of backlinks cannot always be reached. When this occurs and you are certain which links need to be removed, go for it.

An Angry Penguin Smacked You in the Face

Many sites were affected by the Penguin update in April.  If your site took a significant hit after April 24, the release date of Penguin, then it was likely affected by it.  The evidence suggests that Penguin targeted aggressive link-building and unnatural anchor text. There are, however, other ways to fix these links. You can diversify anchor text, or simply work with site owners to have them removed.  If this does not do the trick, then the Disavow Tool may be your answer.

“Negative” SEO

There are times when your site may come under attack from “black hats”, which may link spam to your site. Obviously these need to be removed, and it is unlikely that the publishers of these links will remove them when asked. This is a good time to use the tool. It should be known, however, that negative tactics like this are very rare. Be sure that it is not an internal error before disavowing links that may not be bad.

The Disavow Tool can be useful, but it should be used with restraint. In normal circumstances, it should not be used at all. Unless you are certain you are being penalized by Google or are receiving warnings from them, there are better ways to clean up a link profile. Disavowing chunks of links blindly can kill a site fairly quickly. If you are not receiving warnings from Google or are not being penalized, take caution before using this tool.