Google’s Link Disavow Tool Explained

Last October Google announced its “link disavow tool” to help website owners ask Google to not consider certain links when evaluating their websites. These are links that site owners have no control over and may be coming from weak, irrelevant sites that ultimately damage the websites’ credibility, at least in Google’s eyes.

The link disavow tool is available here if you want to take a look: https://google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main

Before link disavow

This announcement was preceded by myriad changes in the algorithm itself—in fact, Google makes hundreds of changes every year, and they’re not all Panda- or Penguin-related. SEOmoz created a helpful timeline of all of Google’s changes over the last few years (the changes we know about, that is.)

What it means

So what’s it all mean? A lot of sites that used less than white-hat-link-building techniques suffered. Link-buyers and sites with unnatural link profiles sat in the penalty box, unable to get ranking until they cleaned up their sketchy link profiles. To that end, Google created the link disavow tool to help website owners clean things up.

Proceed with caution

For sure it’s tempting to get behind the wheel and start disavowing every link you don’t recognize, but I’d recommend taking a step back and proceeding with caution. The last thing you want to do is wipe out links that are actually good ones.

Don’t just jump in and disavow everything. This can have negative effects on your current rankings, as well as take a long time to remove from a “disavowed” state.

Audit your site and contact other webmasters before you disavow. Often a simple email to the webmaster of a site with links you believe are harming your site can be removed by asking. Document each time you attempt to contact the webmaster(s) as you can add this to the text file you will be uploading to the disavow tool later by adding a “#” before the comment.

This is not an overnight process. It can take as long as a month, and won’t reflect until the next time Googlebot “deep crawls” your content.

Do not submit your disavow list and a reconsideration request at the same time. You should give your disavow list time to process through the system, then submit a reconsideration request to Google.

Note: Having links on your site that have been disavowed by other sites should not harm your rankings.

Final considerations

This tool, like so many others, can make or break your site. Be positive that the links you are disavowing should be disavowed (because they are unnatural links or purchased links, for example).

In the future, ask yourself these questions before starting any new kind of link building:
Is this good for the user?
What would Google say if they saw this kind of link? If you’re not sure then you should do more research.

Making sure that you put things through this filter will ensure you “future proof” your link building tactics and don’t sacrifice long-term wins for short-term gains.