Google's Disavow Link Tool: Their Best Spam Reporting Tool Yet

Oct 17, 2012 • 9:42 am | comments (39) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google Disavow Link ToolIt is finally official, as promised Google launched a disavow link tool yesterday afternoon. It was officially launched during the lunch with Matt Cutts at PubCon Vegas.

Yes, Bing launched one months ago so let's get that out of the way now.

Google's Best Spam Reporting Tool

My big issue, as I said before, this is not a win/win - this is the best spam reporting tool Google has launched to date. Suffering webmasters point fingers at their competitors and friends and blame them for their poor rankings, which Google can use.

Matt Cutts said repeatedly at PubCon, on the video (see below) and in the blog post that you should try not to use it, don't use it, really. Why? One example he said is do not disavow internal links - it can hurt. Right, Google is just using this as a "hint" or "signal" now, like they did with the rel=canonical when that launched, but this will be a powerful signal within 6 months - so be careful if you have to use it.

Will all SEOs use it when they need it? I suspect so. Will some stand up like they did with the nofollow attribute and say - no, we won't use it because it is a form of outing? I suspect so. But 99% will use it in a second if they feel they need it.

How Does The Google Disavow Link Tool Work?

Okay, now that you will likely use it, how does it work? Go to this page (currently not linked within webmaster tools) to see the sites you can disavow links for.

Now pick a site:

Google Disavow Link Tool

Then you will see a warning screen:

Google Disavow Link Tool

Then it will ask you to upload a disavow.txt file:

Google Disavow Link Tool

Here is an example of what a file might look like:

Google Disavow Link Tool file

Now the rest of the screens ask you to confirm. Once you do, you can always delete the file - but it can take a long long time for Google to process those requests.

Here is a video from Matt explaining it in 10 minutes:

Here is the basic disavow help page on Google's help content.

Here are some Q&A from the Google blog:

Q: Will most sites need to use this tool?
A: No. The vast, vast majority of sites do not need to use this tool in any way. If you’re not sure what the tool does or whether you need to use it, you probably shouldn’t use it.

Q: If I disavow links, what exactly does that do? Does Google definitely ignore them?
A: This tool allows you to indicate to Google which links you would like to disavow, and Google will typically ignore those links. Much like with rel=”canonical”, this is a strong suggestion rather than a directiveGoogle reserves the right to trust our own judgment for corner cases, for examplebut we will typically use that indication from you when we assess links.

Q: How soon after I upload a file will the links be ignored?
A: We need to recrawl and reindex the URLs you disavowed before your disavowals go into effect, which can take multiple weeks.

Q: Can this tool be used if I'm worried about "negative SEO"?
A: The primary purpose of this tool is to help clean up if you've hired a bad SEO or made mistakes in your own link-building. If you know of bad link-building done on your behalf (e.g., paid posts or paid links that pass PageRank), we recommend that you contact the sites that link to you and try to get links taken off the public web first. You’re also helping to protect your site’s image, since people will no longer find spammy links and jump to conclusions about your website or business. If, despite your best efforts, you're unable to get a few backlinks taken down, that's a good time to use the Disavow Links tool.

In general, Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking. However, if you're worried that some backlinks might be affecting your site's reputation, you can use the Disavow Links tool to indicate to Google that those links should be ignored. Again, we build our algorithms with an eye to preventing negative SEO, so the vast majority of webmasters don't need to worry about negative SEO at all.

Q: I didn’t create many of the links I’m seeing. Do I still have to do the work to clean up these links?
A: Typically not. Google normally gives links appropriate weight, and under normal circumstances you don't need to give Google any additional information about your links. A typical use case for this tool is if you've done link building that violates our quality guidelines, Google has sent you a warning about unnatural links, and despite your best efforts there are some links that you still can't get taken down.

Q: I uploaded some good links. How can I undo uploading links by mistake?
A: To modify which links you would like to ignore, download the current file of disavowed links, change it to include only links you would like to ignore, and then re-upload the file. Please allow time for the new file to propagate through our crawling/indexing system, which can take several weeks.

Q: Should I create a links file as a preventative measure even if I haven’t gotten a notification about unnatural links to my site?
A: If your site was affected by the Penguin algorithm update and you believe it might be because you built spammy or low-quality links to your site, you may want to look at your site's backlinks and disavow links that are the result of link schemes that violate Google's guidelines.

Q: If I upload a file, do I still need to file a reconsideration request?
A: Yes, if you’ve received notice that you have a manual action on your site. The purpose of the Disavow Links tool is to tell Google which links you would like ignored. If you’ve received a message about a manual action on your site, you should clean things up as much as you can (which includes taking down any spammy links you have built on the web). Once you've gotten as many spammy links taken down from the web as possible, you can use the Disavow Links tool to indicate to Google which leftover links you weren't able to take down. Wait for some time to let the disavowed links make their way into our system. Finally, submit a reconsideration request so the manual webspam team can check whether your site is now within Google's quality guidelines, and if so, remove any manual actions from your site.

Q: Do I need to disavow links from and if they're the same company?
A: Yes. If you want to disavow links from multiple domains, you'll need to add an entry for each domain.

Q: What about vs. (without the "www")?
A: Technically these are different URLs. The disavow links feature tries to be granular. If content that you want to disavow occurs on multiple URLs on a site, you should disavow each URL that has the link that you want to disavow. You can always disavow an entire domain, of course.

Q: Can I disavow to ignore only links from that subdomain?
A: For the most part, yes. For most well-known freehosts (e.g.,,, and many others), disavowing "" will disavow links only from that subdomain. If a freehost is very new or rare, we may interpret this as a request to disavow all links from the entire domain. But if you list a subdomain, most of the time we will be able to ignore links only from that subdomain.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help, WebmasterWorld, Google+, Cre8asite Forums, DigitalPoint Forums & Search Engine Watch Forums.

Previous story: Ex-Googler: No More Than Two Commercial Keywords & More


Adam Grunwerg

10/17/2012 02:51 pm

I don't see how webmasters can have any issue with this. I for one think this disavow tool is the best thing to happen to SEOs in 2012. It gives control back to the webmaster and allows us to remove low quality links that we can't personally get removed. I will only use this tool as last resort; however for lots of webmasters with links built from 2007, it provides a much easier way of getting rid of the 100s low quality links they built in the click of a button. Furthermore, it's a very useful threat to those that won't remove thinks (or charge to remove links) that if they don't do it for free they will just get reported using the disavow tool. I couldn't care less if they get extra spam signals from this tool. It's win/win for Google and webmasters. The only people that lose are the people selling links and not removing them on request!


10/17/2012 03:08 pm

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy the tool is finally here but its implementation is convoluted. Wouldn’t it have been a better idea to have a disavow tick box next to the links Google has found to your site in Webmaster Tools?


10/17/2012 03:49 pm

I think its funny SEO's have been begging for a Google disavow tool to help client's with their terrible link profiles. Then once it's here, we are caution to even touch the thing. Try telling your client to get down 100,000 spammy *manually* when they realize this exists! Is it a trap to use this? I guess there is only one way to find out...

Kevin Gerding

10/17/2012 03:54 pm

I agree that this tool will be used to harvest more data directly from webmasters themselves. The amount of collective labor exhausted from disavowing links, from webmasters around the globe, will be staggering. Since Google will use this tool for suggested directives only, it promises to leave webmasters spinning their wheel in mud and with the knowledge that negative SEO does indeed exist.

Kevin Gerding

10/17/2012 03:57 pm

Adam, threatening webmasters to remove links does not work in all cases. You will find some that respond very harshly to requests, including some that say they will give you thousands of spammy links if you don't leave them alone or pay. Having a tool to disavow backlinks will simply devalue backlinks across the board. That's the direction things are moving in anyways.


10/17/2012 04:34 pm

I'm confused about this line from the Q&A: "You’re also helping to protect your site’s image, since people will no longer find spammy links and jump to conclusions about your website or business." Huh? The links are still going to be on the crummy website, so I don't see how this could help a site's reputation.


10/17/2012 05:41 pm

Does anyone know how long you should wait between submitting your disavow document and filing a reconsideration request? Google says it takes up to 2 weeks for the links to be disavowed, but I seem to remember reading/hearing somewhere that you could submit a few days after filing the disavow.txt document.

Ian Scott

10/17/2012 06:02 pm

Exactly, especially when you search google for backlinks to a site, they only provide a small fraction anyhow. So..... yeah, unless someone is savvy enough to use Majestic or HREF's, how in the world would this help a site's reputation??


10/17/2012 07:44 pm

On one of my sites i reported more than 600 different domains of 850. I'm getting ride of all the low quality spammy links.

Mike Kalil

10/17/2012 07:51 pm

And why would the average site visitor bother inspecting its link profile?

Alexa Van Klemp

10/17/2012 09:09 pm

How can google trust the disavowed sites, surely there will be a lot of false alarms and many people will unkowingly disavow good links. Nobody really explains what are bad links in google's eyes either. Is it one with many unrelated outbound links? or just low pr pages? or a combination of both factors?


10/17/2012 10:51 pm

None of those. You should disavow links that are against Google TOS and that's it. Nothing more, nothing less. That's what i did.

Peter M

10/18/2012 02:32 am

I think what this must be alluding to is that the "people" who "will no longer find spammy links" are actually Google's site reviewers. If so, then that's interesting.

Link Removal Ninja

10/18/2012 06:52 am

Adam - you sound just like the sort of idiot who used article directories 5 years ago and then expects a site owner to dig out and remove links for free. Your unprofessional approach got you into trouble and will not get you out. Bet you get a lot of people threaten you with XRumer blasts.


10/18/2012 07:16 am

I think he meant getting the links taken off the web will help, then using disavow is a sort of last resort which isn't ideal because even though Google may ignore the links, your customers could still see them on whichever website the bad links are on.

News World Inside

10/18/2012 08:54 am

nice to hear :)

10/18/2012 09:54 am

What happens if a competitor inserts my good links in the tool to harm me? Or do I have to verify myself as owner of the website the links point to?

Dewaldt Huysamen

10/18/2012 11:55 am

I think if they already picking up what links are spammy and you sure about the links they label as spam then this tool is awesome. Only thing that confuses me so in the SMX q and a Matt Cutts said that one should not look at penguin as penalising you but that it devalues bad links in other words bad links do not let you rank well any more. Why then do you need to disavow them as well if you do not get penalised or do you now get bonus points for noting what links you also know or feel is spammy or against Google's guide lines. Look a lot of clients we take over had bad links built the wrong way and this tool will make it just so much easier to remove than always emailing etc.

Sudeep Banerjee

10/18/2012 12:49 pm

Ahh.. Finally Some Real Relief for the webmasters!


10/18/2012 12:50 pm

My Site lost most of its google traffic on the 24th April so I think we all agree thats the Penguin update. I have never asked for or paid for or any other way of getting inbound links ever, not once. Someone else however posted over 10000 links from message boards on the 21st April. Google seems to say that they have a handle on negative SEO and not to worry about it and only use this tool if you've hired some dodgy SEO firm. So how exactly do Google tell if you hired the dodgy firm or someone else hired it to damage you?

Nick Stamoulis

10/18/2012 01:36 pm

I know that some site owners are thinking this is the chance to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, but if you are an SEO provider please remind your clients that this tool isn't a reset button. Should you use in when you really need it? Of course. But don't think you get to disavow any link you want and walk away like nothing ever happened.


10/18/2012 04:09 pm

You've got it all wrong Adam im afraid, this is the worst thing for SEO in 2012. Look it at from another angle. Google are admitting that negative SEO exists, and they are struggling to identify manufactured links as we are becoming more advanced in our methods. They are in effect crowdsourcing to get us to report all the spam domains, it smacks of desperation to me. There was nothing wrong with the old algorithm which ignored spam links, now they are saying these links will damage your sites ranking. So whats stopping me firing 10k spam links to a competitors site and taking him down? Google has created a problem that didnt need to exist in my opinion.


10/18/2012 04:19 pm

Because google will still get endless spam reports from your competitors, which wastes their time at google ;)


10/18/2012 06:26 pm

I am not entirely sure this tool is working correctly? Is anyone else having issues with it? It states above: You’ll then be prompted to upload a file containing the links you want to disavow. I seem to click on the link to disavow links and it will NOT browse for the file? Have I missed something?


10/18/2012 08:45 pm

google not want to share their links. all links list you see in gwt is not full. best links (which they count is hidden from us). but compare gwt and ahrefs backlinks and you will see what them hide.


10/18/2012 08:46 pm

still no reports, but looks you already know. cutts tell lot of time not use internal own site links inside, so it can have effect now.


10/18/2012 08:48 pm

only google (and search engines) cares about backlinks really. i don't know any surfers who search and check backlinks. it can do only webmasters or search engine developers


10/18/2012 08:50 pm

it will really cool, but google not have enough money to take care webmasters with normal interface. Also google not want to display all backlinks.


10/18/2012 08:52 pm

lost your workjob, ninja?


10/18/2012 09:02 pm

Err? This does not answer my question. The tool is not working properly on my system - it will not browse for the disavow txt file on my mac desktop! Anyone else?

Peter Watson

10/19/2012 04:10 am

lol. I was just thinking the same thing Joshua! Obviously webmasters who received the 'inorganic links ' email and are suffering from a manual penalty, will welcome this tool with open arms. Everyone else should stop worrying about how this tool is going to ruin 'other' peoples websites. Since when do webmasters care about any other sites but their own? Also, I am wondering why we do not receive a confirmation email from google after submitting the disavow.txt file?


10/19/2012 04:23 pm

For my situation, a site added my link to a global file and I keep finding hundreds of new poor quality links. I can disavow the entire domain and not worry about them adding new ones in the future.


10/19/2012 07:07 pm

Had issues using this tool on my imac as it would not browse for my txt file - but works great in chrome, just a heads up if it decides to freeze on you.


10/20/2012 04:13 am


SEO Blue

10/22/2012 06:22 am

What's to stop people reporting all of their competitors domains, and flag those sites to Google as spammy domains? Or the domains where their competitors have many links from in order to flag them as spammy...

Amol Pomane

10/31/2012 12:52 pm

this will help to penguin affected sites


11/15/2012 06:44 am

We have seen no results after submitting the disavow tool the day after Google released it. We have taken our site from over 15k in links down to about 2k by hand... all that is left is from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Technorati etc. I don't even think we have any do-follow links to the site at all anymore but just to make sure we used the tool for anything left that even looked remotly spammy and we are still under manual penalty after 7 reconsideration request laying out exactly what steps we have done to try and fix the sites linking profile. We have been totally screwed with a very high profile .com domain that was getting about 100,000 unique's a day making about 50k per month and now we are lucky to see 5-10,000 hits per day and $$$ has tanked. Still waiting, not really sure what to do anymore ;( Google Ruined Us and unfortunately for us we where not prepared for something as devastating as what happened. We think the real problem is that one of the kids we had doing SEO work for us said that video marketing was the future and we where like cool hook it up and well... we had no idea he made like 10,000 youtube accounts all linking to us directly through several domains we owned. We have since been able to remove about 9,500 of them as thank god he kept a user list on the machine he used that the owner of the local SEO firm allowed us to get and we closed most all those accounts manually. So we are pretty sure Google has seen these links as we can in WMT and is basically telling us to **ck off for spamming one of Googles owned sites we are assuming why we continually get denied every time. We will keep chugging away though as it is all we can do.


04/05/2013 03:43 pm

Disavow - Well Google, the spy number 1, is finally recording more informations from these files than just for blocking bad backlinks to YOUR WEBSITE. Nice to know that the bad boys can ruin a website by just creating tons of disavow files/entries against YOUR WEBSITE since disavow is born.


04/11/2014 11:40 am

Fantastic post. I agree with this. I think disavow tool is most important now a days. Though it takes some time find out the bad links and then disavow them. But the disavow tool is beneficial.

blog comments powered by Disqus