So Google has been confusing us a bit, with good intention, on the disavow file and its use after Penguin 4.0. Initially, Google implied disavow files help with Penguin still - but that does not seem to be true. Since Penguin devalues and doesn't demote - disavowing a devalued link, doesn't do much - at all.
But then John posted on Twitter this morning that "nothing changed with the disavow." Well, it has, in terms of Penguin - but Google still thinks that if you are concerned, use it for other algorithms and manual actions.
@Marie_Haynes Yeah, nothing changed with the disavow.— John Mueller (@JohnMu) October 4, 2016
John spoke about the disavow file a few times in the hangout yesterday morning.
First was at the 20:09 mark where he said the vast majority of sites do not need to use the disavow file:
So, I’d say the largest majority of the websites don't need to do anything with the disavow. Because like you said, we were able to pick up the normal issues anyway and we can take care of that. And if you do know that your SEO in the past has done some shady things with links or previous SEO or someone else, then of course doing the disavow is a good way to to kind of make sure you could you can sleep at night and don't have to worry that Google is maybe interpreting those links in a way that you didn't want.
I mean that the normal small business website out there they don't need to do anything with the disavow tool. That's also why that the tool isn't tied in with the normal the rest of search console. It's kind of a separate tool on its own. It's really something that you only really need to do if you're aware of of issues around links to your site.
Then at 23:20 John said it doesn't mean you shouldn't use it. Even if Penguin devalues, use it for other reasons:
Now that Penguin runs real time would we be correct in thinking that if we found a few bad links on our site and we disavowed them we should see a rankings benefits relatively quickly? Also has Penguin now just devalue those low-quality links as opposed to punish you for them?
So I guess first thing to keep in mind is that Penguin is a web spam algorithm in general. It's not just specific to links. We look at web spam overall. So we try to figure out what we need to do when it when it comes to web spam. And if these are problematic links that are affected here and use the disavow file, then that's a good way for us to pick that u and to seek recognize, ok, this link is something you don't want to have associated with your site. So that when we recrawl that that page that's linking to you we can drop that link from essentially our link graph.
With regards to devaluing those low-quality links as opposed to punishing you for them. In general we try to figure out what what kind of spammy tactics are happening here and we say well we just will will try to ignore this part with regards to your website.
He then was asked about those who suggest to remove the disavow file completely:
That sounds like a particularly bad strategy. So if if this is something that you really don't want to have associated with your website then you should keep that in your disavow file. So that's not something where I'd say for this one specific algorithm Google is able to kind of kind of devalue those and handle them on our own. Therefore i won't tell Google anything about the problematic links that I found. I think that's that's a bad idea.
So I’d keep the disavow file, I’d use the disavow file for any links that you really don't want to be associated with and then you're sure that they're not taking into account across-the-board.
What about the reverse, those who disavow all links?
I know there's some sites that have gone in and said okay we'll just going to disavow everything that's been linking to us. And that was probably a bad strategy before and is just as bad strategy now. That's something you might want to clean up but in general if you're using the disavow file for what it was meant to be used I would continue to use it.
Here is the video embed:
So yes, as I said, use the disavow file but you do not specifically need it for Penguin. But use it if you have used it in the past.