Google: Use The Disavow Tool Like A Machete & Not Fine-Toothed Comb

May 28, 2013 • 8:39 am | comments (37) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google Disavow Machete ManEarlier this month, Google's head of search spam, responded to a comment on his blog explaining that when most SEOs and Webmasters use the disavow tool, they use it wrong.

Matt Cutts said you should not use it like a "fine-toothed comb" but rather use it like you would use a "machete,"

Matt wrote:

Hmm. One common issue we see with disavow requests is people going through with a fine-toothed comb when they really need to do something more like a machete on the bad backlinks. For example, often it would help to use the “domain:” operator to disavow all bad backlinks from an entire domain rather than trying to use a scalpel to pick out the individual bad links. That's one reason why we sometimes see it take a while to clean up those old, not-very-good links.

To me this means that webmasters and SEOs are missing too many bad links when they use the tool and possibly often, Google will flag a whole domain as being bad and not just a specific URL. So if you use the disavow link tool too gently, then it might not work. But if you use it too aggressively it might hurt you as well.

Google's John Mueller reshared this on Google+, so clearly we have Matt Cutts saying this, Google's John Mueller sharing it again on Google+. This must come up fairly often.

Forum discussion at Google+.

Image credit to BigStockPhoto for machete man

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Nick Ker

05/28/2013 01:06 pm

Hmm. I agree that domain: is often the way to go, but after all the warnings to be careful, what did Matt & Google expect people to do?


05/28/2013 01:18 pm

Barry, please be informed, that you violate court rule next time you'll diffuse false information about porn in SERP.

Emma North

05/28/2013 02:21 pm

It's good to see Matt has been very clear about this because there is still a lot of fear surrounding the use of the disavow tool and I personally don't see why. Be brutal with your links and cut the junk out completely. If you have to think about whether it's a dodgy link, it probably is. I always disavow at domain level except in very exceptional circumstances. Thanks Barry.


05/28/2013 02:46 pm

I filed my first disavow report yesterday and used only domain: - I could not see any point in doing otherwise. Some old directories had 4 or 5 URLs listed in the backlink reports, but that may not be all the links. Better to cover them all with one line than hope you find them all.

Graham Ginsberg

05/28/2013 03:35 pm

What Cutts says about his new machete, is ANY backlink is a baaaad backlink, unless its a Google Adwords backlink, in which case those paid links are just fine. #blockgoogle

Graham Ginsberg

05/28/2013 03:46 pm

I am convinced this disavow tool will do no site any good at all. What its doing is providing Google a list of questionable websites that offer backlinks. It then takes those sites (based on averages) and devalues them, which in turn gives the juice less value to you. This is nothing more than a snitch tool to help Google. I tried their 'tool' months ago. Even removed hundreds of thousands of backlinks. yes, I had millions. My site kept on dropping. The only change in the past year since Penguin 1, was Penguin 2, which captured more sites and dropped THEM in the SERPS, thus helping others creep up.


05/28/2013 04:11 pm

Why are you idiots still listening to what that fool has to way? His job is to confuse you, they want you top buy Google links, that's all.

Nick Ker

05/28/2013 05:39 pm

Of course your site kept dropping. You didn't gain any legitimate links if "the only change in the past year since Penguin 1, was Penguin 2". Your site ranked wherever it was before Penguin due to the value those links you removed or disavowed may have had prior to Penguin. That value is gone. If you didn't gain any good links or make some other improvements to the site, you can't really expect your rankings to do anything but drop more or stay flat at best. The Disavow thing does work. If you had millions of spam links, it may be that it is just too far gone, or that you may not have tracked down all of the bad links. I have salvaged 6 different sites with varying degrees of success with removals and disavows. One was nearly a complete recovery, since we also worked on new content and real promotion while working on the clean up. The others were "partial", meaning they went from no ranking at all post-penguin to page 2 or 3 for most keywords. Improved content and legitimate links are gradually bringing them up.


05/28/2013 05:42 pm

If you had millions of backlinks, you are absolutely blackhat. Your site(s) never stand a chance most likely.

Graham Ginsberg

05/28/2013 05:53 pm

No doubt about it jimster and I was really good at it. But, now I am very much a white hatter, and that transformation is what Google should be interested in. If they in fact take control and punish the 'wicked' they will undoubtedly make a dent on SPAM But, destroy sites that once had black hat, that have now transformed to white hat, and the cycle of trying to deceive Google will continue. You all know that the vast majority of the internet was black hat. That is why Google took this action seriously. Just some did more than others. They also know that there is $$$$ in backlinking and now Google is the king backlink pimp of the internet. What gets my goat is the sites that far exceed my best blackhat efforts, are still ranking today. Now that is amazing.

Graham Ginsberg

05/28/2013 06:00 pm

Umm, what do you consider "legitimate links". Can you explain in detail? IS that a nofollow link, is that a Yellow Pages link? Is that a link from someone in your field in another part of the country? What exactly is your understanding of "legitimate links"? And, to try consider what I did to my site isn't worth it, and reasons as to why it dropped is almost impossible to figure. What matters is how to move forward.

Graham Ginsberg

05/28/2013 06:02 pm

If you look at it gives a good number of prominent business directories and shows how your citation looks. Will Google penalize those sites for having purchased a link from these sites? Yes its a purchase to get a follow backlink otherwise it nofollow.

Nick Ker

05/28/2013 06:39 pm

Legitimate = from good quality & trustworthy sites (high pagerank does not guarantee quality or trust), editorially placed, not from a link farm, you don't have control over what the anchor text says, not from something under your control like article marketing, comment spam or bulk directory submissions... links that happen "naturally" or at least make some sense to be where they are for some reason other than to influence search results. Even links that fit some of the above descriptions can still be problematic if they all use the same few keywords as anchor text. Getting good links isn't always easy, because your site has to be something that other people with good, trustworthy websites will want to link to. Links are like an endorsement of a product or a reference on your resume. An endorsement or reference from someone with lots of integrity who doesn't lend their credibility to everyone who asks means more than a recommendation from someone who endorses just about anyone. The value of links in SEO is pretty much the same thing. And it isn't just about links anymore. I have been seeing some sites that are doing very well with little more than a few links from above average sites, a half-decent social media presence, and some particularly good content. As for moving forward with your site... Can't really say specifically since I have no idea what the site is. But I think it is safe to say that with hundreds of thousands of spammy links it is probably more practical to start over with a new domain... unless your current domain is also your brand name or you can't give it up for some other good reason.

Troy Foote

05/28/2013 06:52 pm

I must be out of it, this is the first time I have heard of the disavow tool. Think I had better look into this more.


05/28/2013 08:09 pm

What a load of balony. There is no such thing as a natural link. Not even google can show you what a natural link is. Most brand sites rank due to links that if you look at carefully break one or more google guidelines .

Graham Ginsberg

05/28/2013 08:43 pm

Nick, I unfortunately agree with Merlin that there is no such thing as a 'natural link'. People are highly paranoid about their sites and they won't make an effort to put you on if no money changes hands. Thats why the system is broke. I must also point out an observation of a 2 system rule: You are either a site behind the Penguin filter or not. If you're behind Penguin (caught), no matter what links you build, it will push u further down in the rankings. Call it what u will. I have tested this over and again. If hit by Penguin, do NOT build any more links. If you're not caught, its link building as usual. Even spamming, keyword stuffed articles, will not push you down in rankings. This is why its confusing, because of the 2 systems I observed.


05/28/2013 08:46 pm

There is such thing as a natural link. I never participated in any link exchange and have about 100000 incoming links according to WMT.

Alex Chan

05/28/2013 08:55 pm

It's really best not to use this tool at all unless absolutely necessary. It's new, they don't know what they're doing with this data yet. And I bet even Google couldn't tell you what happens when you disavow a ton of links at once.


05/28/2013 10:39 pm

I don't think Merlin meant that you cannot earn a link. I think they meant there is no such thing as building a natural link. I actually agree with Merlin that brands are notorious for building links. Those "brands" will literally do anything to strengthen their brand. I also see that a lot of people which have or have had financial gain from the brand saying good things about them without even evaluating the competition - always making them seem like they are one step above the rest.

Nick Ker

05/28/2013 10:48 pm

If site "A" links to site "B" simply because someone at site A likes something about site B, that is a natural link. Maybe you don't remember when the WWW started and there were no search engines. We found things by following links. Links were placed because of the value of the pages being linked to, not to please some search engine, and while I am sure there was money exchanged sometimes, it wasn't a requirement. It isn't now either. People who only see links as a way to promote their own site never seem to understand that.

Nick Ker

05/28/2013 11:01 pm

That is unfortunate that you agree with Merlin, because you are both wrong (see my reply to him about natural links). Just because nobody ever linked to you without getting something in return doesn't mean it does not happen. This is where the "quality" Google is always going on about comes into play. People do indeed share things that are good by way of linking to it. OK, maybe they get something out of it since they get to be the cool person who saw it first or something. "People are highly paranoid about their sites and they won't make an effort to put you on if no money changes hands." What niche are you working in where greed is the only motivator? "Even spamming, keyword stuffed articles, will not push you down in rankings." ...until you are caught. Consider algorithm filters like Penguin to be like tax evasion, or maybe speeding. Lots of people do it, but not everyone gets caught right away. Some never do. So you have tested your 2 system theory... Got a link to a case study or something that would actually show proof? Of course a site that has a Penguin problem will not go higher by doing more of the same thing . The algorithm limits how high that site can rank for those keywords (and maybe more). The bad links must be removed, etc before the site's rankings can get much better. If you stick your hand in a fire and it gets burned, do you stick it in there some more expecting it to get colder?

Graham Ginsberg

05/28/2013 11:14 pm

Nick, I have many. many examples of what I refer to. I just don't place them here because #1 when you realize its true, you disappear without explanation #2 Its like whining . Boo hoo, my site got hit but theirs didn't. Link building shouldn't make a site a priority site, but rather good content, ease of use, engineering, speed, time spent does. You maybe the most popular idiot in town, but you're still an idiot (hypothetically referring idiot to the idiots website). Just because an article talks about a 'popular person' doesn't make that a superb site in say, my field of real estate. Also - Do you see real estate agents giving backlinks away? No, they trade them and sell them. (to answer you question : where greed is the only motivator) If you like email me through the my site and I'll send you all the examples you like, graphs and raw data, tracking hundreds of keywords.


05/29/2013 02:11 am

To be honest, I don't care what he meant ) I see that there is a panic among link builders (obviously because methods they used don't work anymore) and this is positive sign.

Alan Smith

05/29/2013 05:26 am

Disavow Tool should be last weapon for the webmasters and they should use it in smart way.


05/29/2013 05:53 am

Really Google could tell us anything. Just seems to be more confusion being spread. He did originally say be careful when using it and now we have him saying go crazy! Which one is it Matt? Actually it doesn't even really matter it is just Google crowdsourcing spam signals.


05/29/2013 06:21 am

Please can you tell me what type of links you are getting. Are you telling me 100 000 people love your site so much that they have giving that all important citation. Are the links mainly from blogs, news authorities? What type of niche are you in? Is it easy to get citations in your niche.


05/29/2013 11:18 am

what a waste of time.. why doesn't google provide specific guidelines on what is a bad link, you just disavow, plus announce a Grandfather clause.. so links time stamped many years ago are disregarded. so companies are not wasting their time going back changing links from 3-10 years ago... I would have thought encouraging web masters to invest in better content and quality in the future would ultimately provide better search results


05/29/2013 11:19 am

disavow tool - Just handle with care :)

Anil Godara

05/29/2013 11:45 am

Yeah megawatty, I endorse your thought, Google can tell all SEOs about the guidelines to avoid spamming and to more clear the data of the Google.


05/29/2013 01:37 pm

Various links, including wikipedia, Washington Post, all sort of blogs, etc ... even seomoz ) I don't care too much about them, so don't make precise analyze. Nope, I don't tell you 100 000 people love the website, some of them probably hate ) But they still talk about it ... Niche - content, publishing. I'm not sure what do you mean by "get citations". I think that "citation" is related to academy level of publications. The publications on the "street level" cause buzz. People just talk about various things and drop links to support their point of view. Also a bunch of links are from aggregators. They use an excerpt followed by link. So, different sources, different links, different reasons.

Jonny Lis

05/31/2013 01:34 pm

My main issue with the disavow tool is that there's zero confirmation on whether or not it has actually been effective or not. It seems to help when removing links penalties but never seems to have much of an effect on rankings either way, even if you're confident you're disavowing harmful links to your site. Overall, there needs to be much more communication from Google in my opinion - it feels too much like a 'hail mary' approach to removing links at the moment.


06/03/2013 08:37 pm

google is like a cop that gives you a ticket and suspend your drivers license leaving a note on your windshield saying "because you broke the know more about laws go online to figure out which one you violated" they don't tell you what you did wrong.


06/27/2013 10:21 am

Hello, I need you help I had a forum on my website which has been extensively promoted by my competitors on adult and poor quality website. Due to extensive spamming on my forum I decided to remove forum from my website. My website's home is still penalized. What should I do now? Use disavow or there is a better way?


06/27/2013 10:23 am

Can I disavow my domain dforum directory that is ?


06/28/2013 10:59 pm

How many domains can you disavow with each .txt request? I have a list of about 35XX+ spammy and insidious domains I want to disavow, but not sure if there are restrictions with requests.


07/04/2013 01:04 pm

Quality content and inbound joins had basic influence in standing assessment and it appears Google will do the same move however first how about we take a gander at the different flow that will regulate Seo. pandalinkbuildings

Spook SEO

02/01/2014 05:50 pm

But why is it that some are against with this tool from Google? I was hit a bit by Penguin and I put my website stuck for some reasons. I had read a blog where the blogger completely counterfeits the Google Disavow Tool as she cited some disadvantage in using it. Can anybody hardly explain and contrast what is the risks and the advantage of using the disavow tool?

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