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Why Your Disavow List Didn’t Lift Your Website’s Penalty

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The Google Disavow Tool was first launched, it seemed like a lifesaving tool. Sites suffering from a Google penalty could simply upload backlinks that you wanted to disavow, and you suddenly had traffic again. However, then there was the curious moments where absolutely nothing happened to change your site’s circumstances. This is when the disovow tool actually created fear in marketers. It’s one of the most speculated and mysterious tools since only the developers at Google know exactly how it works. So just how dangerous is disavow, and how do you fix your site’s penalty if disavow doesn’t work?

Google warns the dangers of the disavow tool


To understand why disavow is so dangerous, you should consider that Google actually states before using the tool that you should take caution before using it. Have you ever known a company to tell you not to use their products? You probably have. It’s called a recall or when products have to be discontinued because of certain deadly side effects. Still, some people have used disavow and fixed the problem, so it can’t be that bad.

However, marketers have conducted all kinds of tests on disavow to figure out how it works. Sometimes it will disavow links, and in other cases, it takes over two months. At other times, you have to file a reconsideration request, and it may also be that the disavow tool protects you from disavowing links considered to be good.

Google hasn’t given a full list of instructions or details on how the tool works, so there are just guests. Marketers have seen results whether they have filed or not filed a reconsideration request. Google has stated that they can ignore disavowed links if they think that it’s a mistake to disavow them.

So if you are wondering why your links weren’t disavowed or why you are still being penalized, it could just be that Google doesn’t think they should be or that you didn’t file a reconsideration request. The process requires a little bit more research, and there still isn’t any definitive answers.

Can You Disavow Links for Penguin Penalties?


Many sites suffered penalties after the Penguin update because they had bad links in their profile or too many spam links in directories.  Google’s Matt Cutts has stated that the Disavow Tool can be used to help in cases where Penguin affected your site’s traffic, but he also states that it’s important to remove these links as they are in violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Penguin is often the reason for the Google Unnatural Link Warnings that come before punishment. If you are hit by one of these warnings, you were likely hit because of Penguin. In other cases, it’s a manual penalty that has occurred, and the only way to remove this is through a reconsideration request and then using the disavow tool. It’s still unclear whether the disavow tool will work every time if you were simply penalized because of Penguin.

How can you ensure your penalty goes away

As stated above, there is no clear process on how links are disavowed or how it be definitively used to drop a penalty on a site. However, there is a better way to disavowing than simply going to the tool, uploading your file with backlinks to disavow and hoping for the best. These are the steps that you should take if being penalized by Google.

Remove the link first

Google is penalizing your site because you have a bad link. The best way to stop the penalty is by removing this link. Google has also stated that they want webmaster’s to remove poor quality links first. If there are tons of links and it’s quite overwhelming, you should know that 100 percent accuracy isn’t required, but a sound effort that removes most of the poor quality links is preferred.

It’s also important to note that the Webspam team at Google keeps a historical index of your backlinks. When you file a reconsideration request, they can see all of the links that you have removed. This goes a longer way if you have actually removed a lot of the links.

Use Webmaster tools to collect links


Since Google is the one penalizing your site, you should use the tools that it recommends to remove links. That means using the Webmaster Tools, which will give you the “Latest Links” report that you need to use when removing and disavowing links. Of course, you can use any method that you like, but if you want to be the most accurate and save time, this is probably the best way to do so.

Find the rotten egg

There are two ways to go about finding your rotten link. You can use manual analysis or automatic tools. Ideally, you’re going to use both just to be sure. This manual analysis to remove bad links offers a step-by-step approach that is easy to follow.

Some automatic tools you might consider include:

  • Link Detox
  • SEOgadgets’ API Extension for Excel
  • Remove ‘Em
  • ScreamingFrog

All of these have great options for finding bad backlinks so that you can remove them.

Bring the ax down

Once you find where those backlinks are, you’ll need to send out a lot of emails. You may have to send out over a 1,000 emails. If you need help, there are some tools to help you in your quest. These include:

  • Rmoov
  • Remove ‘Em
  • BuzzStream

These should make the process more simple, but it will still take time to get the links removed. You may have to send multiple emails.

Provide evidence with Google Docs

You don’t want to send random links to the Webspam team in your quest to get your site off the chopping block. Instead, you want to share all of the evidence that you have with Google Docs. You allow the Webspam team to see the evidence that you’re removing links, and they’ll likely help you with that penalty.

Disavow when all else fails

When it’s time to call in the cavalry, you can use the Google Disavow Tool, which gives you two ways to disavow links. You can do so by an entire domain or by individual URLs.

Reconsideration requests often don’t go through because site owners don’t disavow as many links as they should. You should always disavow domains when they have too many bad links to count. If you are rejected in your request after submitting URLs, it’s also best to disavow entire domains.

Follow the right format

Disavow files must also be in the right format in order for Google to approve. This means that the files have to be .txt and must be encoded UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII in order to be approved.

The truth is that the disavow tool is tricky to master, and it may take awhile to get rid of the penalty on your website. If you are dedicated and willing to follow through these steps, you’ll have a better time of getting your site’s traffic back quickly.

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James Parsons

I'm an avid blogger on SEO, social media, and design. When I'm not working with the awesome guys at AudienceBloom, I'm writing for my personal blog at or working on my next big project.

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