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When to Use the Disavow Tool

In a post penguin world which one is better: proactive link building vs link disavow tools?

I just got back from Pubcon Vegas, where I sat in a ton of sessions where speakers talked about how to get out of Panda and/or Penguin rankings holes.

As SEOs, we all know the best practices:

  • Create great unique content
  • Diversify links to your site
  • Remove spammy backlinks from low-quality article marketing, paid link networks, negative SEO links, and links from dangerous sites

Doing these three things will help your site begin to climb in the search results pages. The first two are relatively easy because they are tasks owned by the webmaster. But the only way to get links removed from another site is to contact that webmaster and ask them to personally remove the link.

But then, on Tuesday, Matt Cutts announced the Google Disavow Link tool in Webmaster Tools. Finally! A way to start taking out links that are hurting my site! (Yes, Bing announced their Disavow Link tool first.)

Though this has been long-awaited, I would be very careful about using this option. “But, why?” you might be asking. If I have been hurt by Penguin, I have already done the link analysis on my site and I’ve figured out what links are causing the issue.

Point blank – we are not provided Google’s algorithm, so it’s hard to be fully confident that any one link is causing a problem. We may know that we have too many exact match anchors to certain pages, and it would be super easy to cut down some of those with this Disavow Tool … and move out of Penguin, right?

Not so fast – external links are still one of the big factors in how your site ranks. Taking away these links may fix your exact match problem, but then your site could suffer because it is not as trusted as it was before Penguin – because that link juice is now gone.

Consider the message that comes before starting the disavow process:

Screenshot of Disavow Links tool in Google Webmaster Tools.

Be sure that you are disavowing links that are hurting your site.

So, how do you know if you need to use the Disavow tool?

If you got an email from Google via Google Webmaster Tools stating that the tool has detected unnatural links, then you will need to do some back link analysis to determine if using the disavow tool will be needed.

Please note, not every site that got this notice got penalized. Penalties were determined by the extent of unnatural links in your site’s backlink profile.

With that being said, there are definitely links that you should remove. For example, were you a victim of “negative SEO”? If so, then yes, take out the “viagra” and “porn” anchor texts coming to your site with this new tool. This would be the only time I would say it’s a no -brainer to use this tool.  Once submitted, the whole process does take at least four weeks to take effect, so keep that in mind when you are checking back on the links to your site.

If, in your analysis, you found that the sites that are linking to you are not really low quality, and the issue is more about exact match anchor text, I would highly recommend building more diverse links to your site rather than disavowing links from decent domains.

As with everything in life, when something is new and shiny, you want to go and play with it. But, the Google Disavow Link tool is something that you should use with caution and with purpose.

Quick Pro Tip

There is only one .txt file per account to which make edits and upload. If you have a team of SEOs working on one account, using Google Docs can help you keep an updated single file of changes.

Select Download Format from Disavow Tool.

Just note, that you will have to designate a person to periodically re-upload the new version of the file into the tool since it does not push changes to the .txt file.

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