Google Cites Disavowed Links As Bad Link Examples

Nov 4, 2013 • 8:27 am | comments (76) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google Disavow Link ToolThere are two different threads at Google Webmaster Help where sites with Google manual actions received responses back from Google citing bad link examples including links already in the site's disavow file.

As you can imagine, this can be very confusing for webmasters. The webmaster disavowed the bad links, then Google tells the webmaster his site still has a penalty because of the links he already disavowed.

Read what this one webmaster said:

I looked at the links which were given as sample URL's from Google on the latest rejection and it is in my disavow file which was uploaded a week prior to my reconsideration request. Is this an error from Google as I am assuming that Google will be bombarded by these and some errors might come through the net, if so should i just reconsider straight away saying, the links you have given I dispute as they are already disavowed and I don't understand what else I need to do?

Another webmaster wrote, "The above URL's have all been disavowed at a domain level in the most recent disavow file uploaded. Given this, how is then that these URL's are still being flagged?"

Yea, that is confusion 101.

This is somewhat related to our story named Google's Link Report Now Much More Representative Of Your Links To Your Site. Where Google improved their link report because the example URLs provided were not enough.

But here, this is a way more confusing situation for webmasters. They disavow links and then Google tells them they have a manual penalty even with the links disavowed.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

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Daniel Sanchez

11/04/2013 01:37 pm

There a time delay that could take up to a few months on the disavow tool. Wouldn't that explain why this is happening?

Barry Schwartz

11/04/2013 01:44 pm

Doubt it. This is reviewed manually.

menachem rosenbaum

11/04/2013 01:47 pm

I have seen this as well, here is a tweet I complain about the problem one of the speakers at search love by distilled mentioned it as well. My guess is that Google just sends spamy links and dose not bother to compare them to the list in the disavow tool.

Daniel Sanchez

11/04/2013 01:51 pm

I see, didn't know every single disavow was reviewed manually. Pretty hefty task. Thought only reconsideration request were. Thanks for the info.


11/04/2013 01:51 pm

the disavow tool is a bit of a joke, its like a google afterthought or something. If google were serious about disavow or took any interest in using the disavow file they would add a little tick box next to each link in WMT that says "click to disavow" SIMPLE. Why all the cloak and dagger all the time???

Mark Johnson

11/04/2013 02:06 pm

Speaking objectively and from experience, if you file a Reconsideration Request, I would advise you to note the date of the latest Disavow file in your request. Personally I added the list into a Google document and linked to this with the date of the last disavow. Belts and braces, but it pays to be thorough, and it will potentially save any overlap or misunderstanding from Google when they manually assess the reconsideration.

Matts Backpack

11/04/2013 02:20 pm

Sounds to me like although the cited links were listed in the disavow file, they may not yet have been crawled and therefore are still "follow" links in Google's eyes. Google won't process the disavow file in one go - they process each link as they go to recrawl it. So if you upload a new disavow file, the links wont actually be disavowed until that site/page has been crawled again. Therefore if you upload a disavow file and 1 week later do a recon request, it's likely that not all of the links in your disavow have yet been processed. Therefore they are still follow links and still contributing to the penalty problem

Reality Czech

11/04/2013 02:38 pm

I don't think that Barry means that the disavow files are manually reviewed, more that the reconsideration request is. Google have continued to claim that the disavow process is completely automatic and have indicated that manual interaction with such lists is pointless other than to review as they claim to not have an activation switch that a reviewer can hit to speed things up. This happens on countless occasions but comes back down to the fact that Google have said that they want you to exhaust all you can to remove the links, fail to convince them you have done everything and you should expect a denial of reconsideration.

Michael Martinez

11/04/2013 02:43 pm

"[The Disavow Tool is] like a google afterthought or something" YES. It *IS* an afterthought. People begged Google to implement this tool for years and they expressed reservations at how helpful it would be. Nonetheless, they bowed to Webmaster requests and created the tool, with the best of intentions in my opinion, but they warned from the start that it should not be viewed as a universal cure for bad SEO practices. Maybe they will streamline the process in the future, if it can be, but I doubt that adding check boxes would be a good user experience.

Marie Haynes

11/04/2013 02:47 pm

It sounds to me like what is happening here is that the links were disavowed, but there were no attempts to remove the bad links. (Or perhaps that those attempts were not communicated to Google.) When you have a manual penalty, it's not enough to just disavow. You need to make an attempt to remove every unnatural link and THEN disavow the ones you couldn't get taken down.

Bradley Lewis

11/04/2013 02:58 pm

Google needs to be more transparent about this. What about when you submit a disavow file preemptively, before you can also submit a reconsideration request? How can I notate to them that I had tried to reach the webmasters then?


11/04/2013 02:58 pm

Whether disavowed or not, they are examples of the type of spam that Google is asking the webmaster to clean up. Sample links should never be taken literally but as indicators of the offense committed - comment spam, user profile spam, anchor-heavy PRs etc etc. And as pointed out, disavow is the last resort, so maybe the message was "you're joking, right? Log in and delete the articles/PRs/whatever, don't just try and disavow the lot and expect us to approve".


11/04/2013 03:09 pm

Yet another example of how Google is adding confusion to an already confusing situation. Google should just quit providing webmasters example links of penalized sites because it's inaccurate. The links Google is showing are just random links taken from that domain's profile. Because they are random links being displayed, that have not first been filtered through Google's own disavow tool, it is leading many webmasters on an even wilder goose chase then they are already on.

Reality Czech

11/04/2013 03:43 pm

In fairness... There could have been an effort to have these links removed as you writing that off is speculative at the least but what it fact is that he claims to have placed the disavow file into action a week before submitting for reconsideration. Google have already said that these lists are automatically actioned and that links are discounted as the pages are recrawled, so maybe their links were just still to work through the process? Want a hot tip? Why not publish your disavow file and then make sure to generate something that means that Google has to index those links faster? - You heard it here first and I claim all congratulations that come from your usage... :P

Marie Haynes

11/04/2013 03:47 pm

In a recent hangout John Mueller said that the webspam team has access to see your disavow file and even if the files are not crawled and disavowed yet the team can see that you have given the direction to do so. John also says that you can file your reconsideration request at the same time as your disavow. But, he says it could take up to 24 hours for the webspam team to be able to have access to hit. His rationale for filing at the same time is that it will take at least 24 hours for the webspam team to get to reading your request. What I usually do just to be safe is file my disavow, wait 24 hours and then file the reconsideration.


11/04/2013 05:03 pm

Seriously, I'm tired of Google. Let's create another fun and "not-made-for-money" search engine.

Yo Mamma

11/04/2013 05:04 pm

Confusion is the key word


11/04/2013 05:26 pm

That is why 15 different voices at Google can't explain the same problem.


11/04/2013 05:53 pm

Next. Google launches Disavow Confusion Tool to make sense of things.


11/04/2013 07:08 pm

Are any of the Google Webmasters on the same page? Doesn't seem so....


11/04/2013 07:40 pm

google is extreme buggy, i get constantly in gwt latest links - real organic links. not articles, not spam, real peoples posts with few links in the posts (including my site brand). But google not care, it see unnatural links everywhere.


11/04/2013 07:44 pm

because every voice not have full picture. even matt cutts and his indian friend.


11/04/2013 07:45 pm

but matt cutts & co still believes on their "not-made-for-money-and-not-evil" mantra. especially when checking their bank accounts.


11/04/2013 07:52 pm

it mean what disavow tool have something bad or not working inside. some kind of google virus, or some limitations which we don't know.


11/04/2013 09:55 pm

If Google is holding us accountable for all the links, then show us ALL the links in the backlink profile so that we can properly analyze them. Also, I am not sure why Google needs to respider the inbound links on the 3rd party sites in order to know what is in a disavow file for an algo penalty. Seems backwards to me. Why can they just view the links in the disavow and ignore the links there? Case closed. What am I missing?


11/04/2013 09:57 pm

a lot


11/04/2013 10:04 pm

Confusion increases profits.


11/04/2013 10:05 pm

Too funny

Dave Fogel

11/04/2013 10:59 pm

This whole disavow file is a mess. Either allow us to disavow links or don't.


11/04/2013 11:35 pm

This is just crowd sourcing of bad link data. As if Google would not be using this data to help them fight spam.


11/04/2013 11:37 pm

Marie how would Google know if you made the attempt? Please explain.

Jimmy P

11/05/2013 12:24 am

Sorry Marie, but this is just nonsense. Under no circumstances could Google realistically know whether you've made any attempt to remove said links. And going by your logic, if they decide no attempt has been made (even if it has) and choose to still flag those links, the user is effectively backed into a corner they cannot get out of, should it genuinely be impossible to get those links remove. Newbies should disregard of treat the post above me with a great deal of caution, it's extremely misleading!

Marie Haynes

11/05/2013 01:17 am

Alan, if this person received an example of an unnatural link then it means that they were filing a reconsideration request in regards to a manual unnatural links penalty. (This is as opposed to an algorithmic issue. If there is an algorithmic issue such as Penguin then no Google employee sees the work that you have done.) If you have a manual penalty then Google outlines in this video what they would like to see in a reconsideration request: It's best to include everything in a Google Doc so that the webspam team can see your work when they review it. So, in my spreadsheet, if the webspam team was checking out a particular unnatural link to see what I had done with it they could see that I identified it as one I wanted to remove, that I gathered an email address from the site and also the whois email address for the site and also that I tried to fill out a contact form to ask for the link to be removed. If those attempts failed, then I'm comfortable adding the domain to my disavow file because I have truly tried to remove the link and was unsuccessful.


11/05/2013 01:26 am

So if I lie and say I emailed all these people and none of them took away any links that will be enough for Google?

Marie Haynes

11/05/2013 02:15 am

The webspam team is not dumb though. It would probably be pretty easy to tell whether you were faking the fact that you emailed site owners. It wouldn't be enough to just make a note saying, "Emailed"'d probably want to visit each site to get the email address that was found on the site. If you went through that trouble but then didn't bother to email them then that would be a little silly. Plus, the chances that you emailed all of these people and no one responded are small. (I have had it happen with some sites with pure spam backlink profiles but usually you are going to get some responses.) In my spreadsheets I will put notes like, "Site owner wanted $25 to remove - will disavow" or "Site owner declined to remove link" or "Site owner removed one link, but 2 more still up - emailed to ask for additional links to go." The point is that the webspam team can see that I have truly done the work. I also include a copy of each email and screenshots of contact forms. John Mueller has since said that that is a little bit of overkill. Yet, I think it goes to show the team that yes, we really have worked like crazy to remove links. If you just say that you emailed site owners and no links have been removed then you're likely not going to pass. Also, there are some sites where the webspam team probably knows that you can usually get a link removed just by asking. For example, every time I have emailed goarticles or other similar sites they are very quick to remove the link. So, if you say you emailed them and failed, combined with the fact that no other links got taken down, then this is not going to look truthful to the webspam team.


11/05/2013 02:32 am

You are delusional Marie. Kind of typical of people who have come late to the SEO game. I have contacted hundreds of websites on behalf of clients and have had 1 link removed in that whole time. Why? because most of these sites are scraper sites. Email addresses go to >null. You are wasting your time and you are wasting your clients money. Even Barry is questioning whether disavow even works. Most SEO's agree now that it doesn't. It is only the sheeple that believe it does work. Google is not God and it is not omnipresent, YET!


11/05/2013 02:40 am

Totally agree. We had our manual penalty removed on our first request. We documented everything and spent over a month on link removal outreach. The end result was the number of links removed was more than the number of domains/urls disavowed and I think this is what they are looking for. Of course we have not seen any real improvement since the penalty was removed nearly a year ago but that's a whole other conversation.

Marie Haynes

11/05/2013 02:44 am

Hi Jimmy. Here is the video that Google links to when you are given a manual penalty and advises that you watch: In it, Matt Cutts is talking about what they are looking for in a reconsideration request. He describes how the webspam team looks at the work that you have done to get links removed. He also recommends putting all of that work in a Google Doc so that the webspam team can review it. This video is an even better one that describes what Google wants to see for reconsideration requests: At 3:40 they talk about how important documentation is in the reconsideration request. They want to see as much of the linkspam gone as possible and that you have documented a "prolonged sustained effort to try to clean up as much as possible". Just having links in your disavow file is not going to be enough to get a manual penalty lifted.

Marie Haynes

11/05/2013 02:58 am

"You are delusional Marie. Kind of typical of people who have come late to the SEO game.... " Alan, I have been doing manual penalty removal as my sole line of work since early 2012. My company now has 9 employees who do link audits and link removal all day long. I don't claim to know everything about these penalties, but I can tell you that on most days I spend between 12 and 16 hours a day doing this work, watching John Mueller hangouts and reading everything that Google or a Google employee publishes or says about Google Penalties. I'm happy to take a look at your situation if you'd like to contact me. I've had sites before where the penalty was removed without very many links coming down because those links were all on black hat networks. Every situation is different. Regarding the scraper sites...if they are scraping sites that contain unnatural links to you then yes, you still need to show effort that you tried to remove the links (even though you know it is going to be fruitless.) But, if they are sites that are just scraping your own content or sites like or keywordspy and the like then those are not the links that Google wants to see gone. Contacting sites like that for link removal is definitely going to be a frustrating and unhelpful venture.

Emory Rowland

11/05/2013 03:22 am

'add a little tick box next to each link in WMT that says "click to disavow"' Just select all and click disavow. That way you won't have to switch to a new domain :)


11/05/2013 03:22 am

Penalties get removed yes but won't help the site. I have had penalties removed from clients sites doing nothing but submitting reconsideration requests. Yes that is right, we just submit reconsideration request and keep submitting until they remove the penalty (not other action took place, no links removed) I understand Marie you have built up a business based around this. Good on you. However it is a false economy. You are selling something that does not really exist and unfortunately eventually when the users get educated to this you won't have a business.

Marie Haynes

11/05/2013 04:12 am

It really depends on the nature of the penalty. If a site has a sitewide penalty then it usually means that they are either completely out of the index or they are ranking extremely low for their brand name. For these sites, when you do the work to get an unnatural links penalty removed the results can be dramatic. But, if you've got a partial match penalty then usually there is no huge rankings increase once the penalty is lifted. This is because those links were already being discounted, so it's not like Google will give you back the link equity once you remove and disavow them. However, for many of these sites, doing the work necessary to remove the partial match warning will also be enough work to make the site look better in the eyes of Penguin. I have seen sites recover in this respect...but...they can only do so if there's a good base of natural links and if the site has the ability to attract links naturally on its own. Several times a week I turn new jobs down because the work involved would be extensive and the probable outcome would be that there was no improvement. If you're doing penalty removal on sites that have link profiles that are almost all spam links then I could see why you could conclude that this work is not worth it.

Jitendra Vaswani

11/05/2013 06:06 am

Yeah true

Jitendra Vaswani

11/05/2013 06:07 am

Google confuse us badly

Jitendra Vaswani

11/05/2013 06:07 am

Yes now rank this keyword for Disavow :P

Jitendra Vaswani

11/05/2013 06:08 am

Totally Agree with Marie.


11/05/2013 07:14 am

If it is crowd sourcing it would be nice if Google let us know what the spammy sites are

Nick Murden

11/05/2013 09:39 am

Save the headache and just dump your spammy domains.

Sourabh Rana

11/05/2013 10:20 am

I also faced the same situation in past for my website,I disavowed the links from vietnamtravelforum( dot) com for keyword "cheap flights". Google rejected reconsideration request & showing this site in example links. I was surprised to see this thing from google. Foolish google or oversmart google ?


11/05/2013 10:40 am

looks like matt cutts or his indian friend not agree with me. :)


11/05/2013 10:45 am

Dave just summed it up, simple "Either allow us to disavow links or don't" quit all the bollox in between G!

Yo Mamma

11/05/2013 12:52 pm

Simplicity combined with openness is the basis of old Google. New Google, runs scared, paranoid and frantic from the concept

Yo Mamma

11/05/2013 12:55 pm

Simplicity is good. No need for an essay. All Google wants you to know is: You will have a hard time, maybe impossible time, fixing a site trapped in a Google Algorithm change. Thats all

Yo Mamma

11/05/2013 12:56 pm

We gotcha! Now suffer. The epitome of evil

Patti Paz

11/05/2013 01:02 pm

Yea, what an astute statement! How do you 'just dump' links that were added to your site in which you had no control, OR can you get removed. Any more really helpful comments??? I can hardly wait . . . . .


11/05/2013 01:23 pm

Did you have any notation of actions taken to have the link removed before submitting the disavow? I find that you need to have a few attempts at contact documented; the person contacted; how you contacted them; the response, if any; how many times you attempted contact and on what dates. It is a bit of a pain in the ass, but Google has said on numerous occasions that they want to see some action on the webmasters part before the disavow file has any impact on anything. I am willing to bet that a lot of disavow files do not show any logging of the attempts to have links removed by other means first and are just populated and shot out to the web spam team. They could do a much better job explaining this, and to be honest, people could probably do a much better job at attempting/logging the attempts before submitting.

Nick Murden

11/05/2013 01:46 pm

I admit I could have explained my position a little better, but I get rather annoyed about the whole control thing. My experience has been that I have recovered a number of sites well by moving domains and reaching out to the high quality links that existed and getting them to repoint.I have also found that people tend to keep parked domains for years, often or .com alternatives of the domain they're using. Quite handy really.

Sourabh Rana

11/05/2013 01:53 pm

I did every possible step what google suggested for this process. I contacted webmasters 3 times & documented each & every thing in crystal clear ms excel format.

Nick Ker

11/05/2013 02:54 pm

"I have contacted hundreds of websites on behalf of clients and have had 1 link removed in that whole time. Why?" It is probably because of your abrasive nature, if your behavior here is any indication of how you request link removals. Asking nicely - without demanding, accusing or threatening - has worked very well for the sites I have been helping with penalties & removals for the past couple of years. Even with heavily spammed sites with links from hundreds of spamblogs, article marketing, forums, etc; I get anywhere from 5% to about 50% success rate on removal requests. The low end of that being sites with a large percentage links from unattended spam blogs or comment spam. It depends on the niche and types of linking sites, really. Some are more cooperative than others.


11/05/2013 04:22 pm

Just had to add my comment. Marie your an idiot!


11/05/2013 06:28 pm

they reject 5 or 6 times, after this time will approve your request almost automatically. Just give them list of already deleted links (by natural way, by time, not by you).


11/05/2013 06:28 pm

soon you will need also disavow tier links. hahaha


11/05/2013 06:30 pm

new google is heartless, overoptimized, brain-killing, over-ads-ed, stupid, high authority spammed, etc.

Marie Haynes

11/05/2013 06:46 pm

LOL. That means a lot coming from an anonymous user who didn't even have the courage to say that as a reply so that I would see it. :) If you've taken issue with something I've said I'm happy to respond or clarify in any way.

Patti Paz

11/05/2013 07:05 pm

Sometimes, when you are digging a hole, you should simply STOP digging. How can you 'recover a website' if you in fact MOVE IT? I have recovered a number of sites well by moving domains Moving to another domain / website, is NOT at ALL recovering it?

Nick Murden

11/05/2013 07:56 pm

I said recover website not domain. Same website, same content, same brand but slightly different domain. No redirects just re-engaging with high quality links. Is that so hard to understand.

Gracious Store

11/06/2013 05:53 am

I wish Google soft pedal and give them a second chance


11/06/2013 09:24 am

Oh Nick, Marie doesn't need the help of the worst SEO in the industry defending her. She is doing fine on her own. How about you go learn some more SEO skills by playing in a punk band or whatever it is you do.

Tim Whittingham

11/06/2013 11:12 am

Finally an article that is correct about GWT! It isn't meant as an easy escape from bad backlinks, you have to try and get your links removed before using this service. I found the best way to do this is to get a link audit. I went to The Link Auditors for mine. Their tools are all automatic and very easy to use. They have different tools for detecting various things such as duplicate IPs, Key word density, site wide links and others. They also run a link removal service. Their removal service is much quicker, easier and more effective than any other available on the net. All of their tools give detailed data, not just a list of bad links; but a description of whether the link is toxic or not and a percentage of how harmful it is, and this goes for every backlink in your profile. Their team is always available for a chat and with their five years of experience, they will talk you through your audit, what needs to be done and give you advice on what needs to be done next.

Nick Ker

11/06/2013 01:31 pm

Now I remember you - you are the guy who didn't like when I pointed our where you were wrong about some things, so you started making slanderous claims about me, and even threatened to attempt a negative SEO attack on my site. As usual, you don't know what you are talking about. I am not in or from the UK. Oops - by the time I got here to reply, you changed "UK" to "industry". So I guess maybe you are capable of recognizing at least some of the times when you are talking out of the wrong end. But you still don't know when to quit digging the hole you are in when you are the only person who believes in a particular piece of nonsense. You have been floating around the web long enough to know what it means when everyone is "wrong" except for one anonymous babbler who has nothing more to offer than than ad hominem jabs, haven't you? I wasn't defending Marie, as she has handled it just fine. Kind of ironic that you, of all people, would call her delusional. I was trying to give you a clue as to why your removal requests are failing. Trying to talk sense to the irrational is a bad habit of mine. But, hey - keep on doing things your way since it is obviously working so well for you that you have the spare time to float around blaming Google for your shortcomings.


11/06/2013 09:54 pm

"Now I remember you" ? Come on Nick you know you follow and troll me every chance you get. By the way your site is looking awesome these days. You design the site yourself?

Spook SEO

11/23/2013 09:39 am

Hi Barry, This is really informative. I think Google is just doing every means to fight spammers. Unfortunately, everybody is affected. Moreover, it’s really confusing but we have to deal with it. This is just a beginning.

Ari Roth

11/29/2013 09:17 am

Google is on the record as saying that webmasters should first try to physically remove the links rather than just disavowing. Perhaps Google was telling this person that their manual removal effort didn't go far enough?


12/21/2013 06:54 am

If you misreport your link removal efforts in an effort to deceive the webspam team, then it will likely irritate them to the point they may ignore your next recon request.


04/08/2014 03:14 am

Give me an example of a type of "bad" link...


04/19/2014 09:53 pm

I also just love folks who write the basically meaningless "your an idiot", rather than the attack on someone's intelligence of "you're an idiot". It really strengthens the commenters argument lol. And maybe not surprisingly it also seems to be the case with the majority of those folks who go around calling others idiots. Amusingly ironic.

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