Google’s Disavow Tool: Is Google Doing More Harm Than Good?

Google has again pushed its fight against blackhat SEO to another level by introducing a new tool – Google’s Disavow Links tool – for webmasters!

This fight can actually be said to have started on April 24, 2012 when Google announced one of its major search engine algorithm changes in over 8 years – the Penguin update – which specifically targeted websites with poor quality links and “over-optimized” anchor text links!

Following the Penguin update many webmasters suddenly discovered that the links they have spent years and resources to build are now “poison” that negatively impacted their rankings! It was a shocking experience for many webmasters and site owners with many struggling frantically to remove the offending links.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in a post how a site owner contacted me requesting the removal of every link pointing to his site from my blog. Of course, a ‘professional’ SEO hired to build links to the site has been posting comments on this blog basically to build links. Unfortunately, this SEO had fallen foul of one of Penguin’s top rules – “over-optimized” anchor text links.

I was gracious enough to remove the links however, not every site owner who was faced with this problem was that lucky. In fact, this particular site owner informed me while we were in contact on this issue that most of the site’s he has contacted to remove such offending links were not as understanding as I had been.

This shows that removing offending links once they have been built, is not easy and it has been a bone in the neck for many webmasters and site owners ever since.

Google’s Disavow Links Tool to the Rescue!

The announcement of the disavow links tool by Google this past week is indeed a relief for webmasters faced with this problem.  it is now clear that site owners who were Penguin casualties now have a ‘voice’ to ‘inform’ Google about specific links and domains they want ignored.

The fact that Google has continued to use links as a ranking signal despite the abuse by SEOs and is continuing to work to sanitize the system, shows the importance they place on it:

“Links are one of the most well-known signals we use to order search results. By looking at the links between pages, we can get a sense of which pages are reputable and important, and thus more likely to be relevant to our users. This is the basis of PageRank, which is one of more than 200 signals we rely on to determine rankings. Since PageRank is so well-known, it’s also a target for spammers, and we fight linkspam constantly with algorithms and by taking manual action.”

Unfortunately, because of this importance that Google place on links and PageRank, linkspam has become a big problem so much that most of the algorithm changes are targeted at it.

It is not a wonder therefore that since the Disavow link tool, questions and fears have been expressed by SEOs and webmasters that this tool may be misused or abused by ill-intentioned SEOs.

Many believe that negative SEO could become an issue as SEOs with bad intentions may decide to build links from the same sources their competitors are using and then report such sources as bad links to effectively reduce the ‘link-juice’ of their competitors!

But are these fears real? Is Google’s Disavow Links tool something that will harm the SEO community or another plus from Google?

To answer these questions we may need to look at how the tool works.

How It Works

In a nutshell this is how the Disavow tool works:

1. If you are caught with linkspam, Google will notify you with a message in your Webmaster Tools about “unnatural links” pointing to your site. Most of these linkspam may come from paid links, link exchanges, or link schemes that violate Google’s quality guidelines. So, if you are using any of these sources to build back links, beware!

2. Whenever you receive such a message, Google expects that you manually remove these links by contacting the offending site owners.

3. If however, after contacting the offending sites you still could not remove the problematic links, (may be they are not cooperative) you can then visit the Disavow links page.

Google Disavow Links tool graphic

4. On the Google Disavow page you will be prompted to upload a file containing the links you want to disavow.

Upload links to Disavow links tool

What you need here is a plain text file with one URL per line.

Here’s a format provided by Google:

# Contacted owner of on 7/1/2012 to

# ask for link removal but got no response
# Owner of removed most links, but missed these

In the above example, the pound sign (#) indicates comments and will be ignored by Google. The “domain:” keyword indicates you want to disavow links across a particular site (in this example, “”). You can also indicate individual pages you want to disavow.

Of course, Google was very clear that submitting your request does not mean those offending links will be immediately taken care off besides, you are advised to be careful in using the tool!

But Is There Really Any Problem In This?

Taking a look at how the Disavow Links tool work as shown above, should webmasters really fear its being misused?

After analyzing the Google Disavow links tool, I’m really surprised that many SEOs are already skeptical about its effectiveness in fighting the linkspam war. I think Google should be commended for once more trying to help rid the internet of any form of bad SEO.

Indeed, this may not be the solution since blackhat SEOs have always found a way around every tool that Google introduced. But for now let’s see how this will help those who were hit by the un-merciful Penguin!

Over to you: What do you think of the Google Disavow Links tool? Do you think it is a tool ready to be abused by SEOs or one that will help sanitize the SEO environment?

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