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Avoid These 10 Harmful Uses of Google’s Disavow Tool

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Google’s Disavow Links tool is an incredibly potent piece of equipment for any business concerned with negative SEO, old links and harmful remnants of old campaigns. Much like most powerful tools, however, it is very much a double-edged sword. It’s easy to misuse the Disavow tool and effectively shoot your business in the foot. Here are ten ways people misuse the tool, and why to avoid them.

1. Using it Before Learning it

articleimage502Using it Before Learning it

The Disavow tool is powerful and irreversible. Like any powerful tool, you need to learn how to use it before you put it to thee test. The last thing you need is to accidentally upload a list of links you want to save, for example. While that kind of catastrophic removal of good links is unlikely, it’s always possible for a good link to slip in through a copy and paste error.

Learn how the tool works before you use it. Matt Cutts has several good videos detailing how to properly use the Disavow tool. You can also find an excellent guide on Savvy Panda. Make sure you read all of the warnings posted by Google about the tool. Any link you sever with Disavow will be gone forever.

2. Using it Indiscriminately

articleimage502Using it Indiscriminately

Sometimes, when your site has been hit by an algorithm update or change in the SEO policies that results in results removal or manual action, it’s tempting to nuke everything and start over. Occasionally, if your SEO plan was too far in the hole or your site too low on the rankings to matter, that may be an option. However, the Disavow tool is not to be used as a weapon of mass destruction.

If you have any links to disavow, chances are you have a few links worth saving. Using the Disavow tool to remove every incoming link is an over-reaction in almost every circumstance.

3. Using it Without Other Strategies

If your site has been hit by a manual action or general SEO penalty due to older incoming links, especially those from paid links, it’s a good idea to use the Disavow tool to remove bad links. However, removing these links alone won’t boost your SEO up to functional levels. You need to implement a modern, developed SEO plan in conjunction with the Disavow tool.

The best modern strategy is a constant flow of high quality content, a campaign to develop quality backlinks through guest posts, minor keyword emphasis and an eye for local keywords. Paying for spam links, directory inclusion and other link building techniques will just lead to a situation where you’ll need the Disavow tool down the road.

4. Using it Without Trying to Contact Webmasters First

Before you even think about using the Disavow tool, you should contact the webmaster of the site that’s linking to you. Ask them to remove the link, and helpfully supply the URL of the page you’re talking about. Most of the time, the webmaster will remove the link.

If the website links to your site in several places, it’s possible that the webmaster won’t remove all of the links. It’s also possible that the webmaster is inattentive and does not answer e-mails. Some negative SEO webmasters will even try to charge you for the link removal. In these cases, it’s time to use the Disavow tool.

5. Using it Without a Link Profile

It may seem like a simple thing, but you need to have your link profile before you can use the Disavow tool. It might be enough to know the page URL of a single link you want removed, but chances are if you know about one bad link, there are others you don’t know about.

In your Google Webmaster Tools menu, under the traffic section, is a link titled Links to Your Site. Clicking this will allow you to view all of the incoming links to your site that Google has indexed. Click the more button to expand the menus and click the new button to download the entire table. Make sure to record all instances of spam links to remove.

6. Using it on High Authority Links

Another common trap for Disavow users is to attempt to remove any link you haven’t personally vetted. The Internet is alive and growing, and you can’t always control where your link is placed. One impulse may be to remove any link you don’t control, but that’s a good way to cut off your entire linkbuilding campaign.

In your link profile table, Google provides a column labeled Page Authority. This is the weight and value of the site that is linking to you. Higher numbers are good. A site with a high number linking to your site is a quality backlink. Under almost any circumstances, it’s worth leaving these links alone.

7. Using it on Individual Links

articleimage502Using it on Individual Links

In the words of Matt Cutts himself, too many people are using the Disavow tool like a fine-toothed comb. Instead, they should be using it more like a machete. What does this mean?

When you download your link profile and pull out all of the links you want removed, don’t just submit that list. Look over it and see what patterns emerge. Are there a few specific websites that tend to submit spam links to your page? Rather than remove each individual link on that domain, use the domain operator in the Disavow tool to disavow that entire domain. It makes it much easier for Google to process, and in turn lowers the time it takes to remove the links.

8. Not Using it as a Last Resort

The Disavow tool is powerful, but it is also a weapon of last resort. When a webmaster links to your site from a low quality, low authority site, your first move should be to contact them about removing the link. If manual action has been taken against your site, disavowing a few links may help, but it won’t completely solve the problem.

9. Using it When You Don’t Have to

Using the Disavow tool should be carefully considered. How important is it that you remove these links? Some links are actively detrimental, yes, and they should be removed. Others simply have no effect on your pagerank or site authority one way or another.

The best targets for the Disavow tool are old links from paid link campaigns, before said campaigns became flagged as suspect. The Disavow tool is great for cleaning up the messes made by bad SEOs. For most modern SEO campaigns and link management tactics, disavowal is not important.

10. Not Using it At All

There are many reasons to avoid using the Disavow tool, and for good reason. It can be incredibly easy to misuse the tool, especially when you don’t need to use it in the first place.

Equally bad, however, is avoiding the tool completely. There are a number of good reasons to use the tool, including your website becoming the target of a link bomb or negative SEO campaign. In these cases, avoiding the tool is worse than misusing it.

In any case, before you use Google’s Disavow Links tool, make sure you know what you’re doing. Download your link profile, pull aside the worst links, flag spam domains and submit the result for processing.

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Chelsea Harris

A Northwest native currently residing in Seattle and graduate of the University of Washington, Chelsea is an avid cyclist and rock climber and has been working in the Seattle startups scene since leaving the school.

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1 Comment

  1. avatar

    Rachel Gillevet

    Great post, Chelsea. Using Google’s link disavowal tool without knowing what you’re doing can be a huge mistake and it definitely should be used as a last resort. I feel like there are two basic situations where the Link Disavowal Tool should be used:

    1)You know that you or an SEO you hired has employed link-building strategies contrary to Google’s guidelines. You could wait until you get a manual penalty. Whether to take the risk of waiting is up to individual webmasters.
    2) You have received a manual penalty from Google. Disavowing bad links is an essential part of the reconsideration process.

    Thanks again for a nice post.

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