Information updated on February 06, 2023
Disavow Links is a tool to disavow backlinks to your website/website you manage. With it, you can reject the effect of links to a site confirmed in the Search Console. Google will no longer take into account the rejected link in the calculation of the authority of the site and in ranking.
The tool itself appeared in 2012 in connection with the Penguin algorithm, which was just the same aimed at combating unnatural links. At that time, the Disavow Links tool was useful, because it allowed you to somehow protect yourself from negative links from competitors or your own actions in the past, when it worked. The physical "removal of paid links was a huge problem because they had to request removal from every site.
Whether Disavow Links is actually a useful tool is a matter of debate among SEOs. To write this article, in addition to the official help, I studied more than 10 case descriptions of working with the Disavow tool from SEOs. I myself also worked with the tool on numerous sites, and came to the conclusion that the tool is not working, at least in my tests it did not affect in any way. But I do not want to impose my opinion, but here I simply systematize the information that I found.
In this article, I will cover the following points related to the Disavow tool:
In general, on the page of the tool you will see a notice that you should disavow links very carefully, only if you are sure that this action is necessary, as this may negatively affect the site.
This fact should already suggest that the tool should not be used thoughtlessly every time you have a small drawdown in positions. The help clearly states two points that can be a reason to use Disavow, and there is no way to remove the link from the donor site (no contact with the webmaster).:
If everything is clear with the second point, then probably more than 80% of sites fit the first point. Therefore, let's see what other information about disavow tools is from official representatives, and what SEO specialists think about it.
The first thing I want to point out here is that the topic of using the Disavow Links Tool is rather vague. Yes, in 2012 the tool helped to get rid of those incoming links that had a negative impact, but after 2016 and the update of the Penguin algorithm to version 4.0, Google itself learned not to give any weight to low-quality links.
Here's what Cyrus Shepherd writes on the subject: “The vast majority of sites don't need to disavow anything. Over the past few years, Google has made tremendous progress in determining which links to simply ignore. In fact, it was one of the highlights of the latest update to the Penguin 4.0 algorithm.”
A funny two-valued comment about the need to disavow links is provided by John Mueller: "If you're not sure whether Google really takes them [bad links] into account or sort of takes them out of the equation, then a disavow file is a great way to find peace of mind and say that I'm sure they won't be counted by any of Google's algorithms." In the video below, John talks about how the tool is mainly for when there are manual sanctions.
Видео с English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout. Needed information from 2 minutes, 50 seconds.
On the other hand, the same John Mueller said that disavowing can help some sites even algorithmically. So that the phrase does not look out of context, I will give the full dialogue between Muller and Marie Haynes:
Marie asked the following question while discussing unnatural links: "I'm guessing you probably can't answer this question, but is there a way... to say they didn't get a manual action. Can these links harm them algorithmically? Because we feel like we're seeing some improvements on some sites after the disavowal."
John's response: "It certainly could be. So that's what our algorithms are when we look at it and they see, oh, there's a bunch of really bad links here. Then perhaps they will be more careful about linking to the website in general. So if you clean it up, the algorithms will look at it and say, "Oh, that's kind of okay." It's not bad."
If you read authoritative articles on the topic of disavowing links (see section Resources), most of them will recommend using the tool only in case of manual sanctions, provided it is impossible to physically remove the links. A large number of cases show that the Disavow Links Tool is often useless in an attempt to regain slightly sagging site positions without a manual filter. However, there are some experts who claim that disavows help them, in particular, Marie Haynes claims so in article of 2019. I believe that she is interested in making such a claim, because she sells such a service as the analysis of the link profile.
If you decide that you still need to disavow links, you will need to do this in three steps. The first is to decide which domains/pages to disavow, the second is to generate a disavow file, and the third is to directly upload the file to the Disavow Links Tool.
Another debatable issue in the topic of disavowing links is how to properly select donors for disavowal. I will perhaps quote the most authoritative sources, and then express my opinion on this.
Ahrefs recommendations (what to disavow):
My comment: most sites in highly competitive niches rank at the top due to the use of a set of backlinks that includes all of the backlinks listed on this list (except #6). That is, these are guest posts with a direct anchor (of course, there is also an indirect anchor in the link profile), PBN, sometimes even scrap, crowd from directories and forums. I would not reject any of this, and in case of problems, I would physically remove the crowbar.
On point 6, that is, negative SEO (when competitors point at you a huge number of low-quality links with irrelevant anchors that may relate to "adult topics"), my personal opinion is that a long time ago Google learned to see such links and not them do not take into account. Here is John Mueller's comment about negative SEO:
Not to put more fuel on the fire, but negative SEO is not a reason we have this tool -- and I honestly can't recall a situation where a site ever needed to do a disavow for that. I'm sure there are a handful of cases, but for the most part, it's totally unnecessary time spent.— John Mueller is watching out for Google+ 🐀 (@JohnMu) May 12, 2020
Nevertheless, yes, I would reject such links (from point 6) through the Disavow Links Tool just in case. But I know from practice, and I am 99% sure that Google knows without me that this should not be taken into account. In general, I absolutely disagree with the selection of Ahrefs.
Moz recommendations (what to reject):
My opinion on Moz's recommendations - I agree with the first point, the fifth and the sixth. Personally, I like that Cyrus Shepard (the author of the article) emphasizes the need to use the tool only with manual sanctions, and states very clearly that most sites do not need to do this.
As you can see, neither Ahrefs nor Moz recommend disavowing links based on a mass comparison of bullshit (like DR and the like), which is often done by SEOs. I absolutely agree with this.
Marie Haynes recommendations (what to reject):
Marie Haynes, who is an expert on off-page and link spam, believes that the types of links that should be rejected are those that violate Google's linking guidelines, namely:
Again, according to this description, 80% of sites have link profile problems, because everything that Google considers spam is a standard promotion scheme. So I wouldn't reject any of the above except for the last item unless there is a manual filter.
You can use the default Notepad application to create a rejection file, as the file must be in a certain format - text, UTF-8 encoded, or 7-bit ASCII. The file name must end with .txt and the maximum size is 100,000 lines or 2 MB.
To disavow a page, simply enter its full url on a new line (so 20 disapproved pages is 20 lines with the full address of that page on each line). To reject a domain, precede the domain address (without protocols or subdomains) with domain:. To enter a comment, put a hash mark in front of it.
# Two pages to disavow http://spam.example.com/stuff/comments.html http://spam.example.com/stuff/paid-links.html # One domain to disavow domain:shadyseo.com
An interesting addition to the deviation file (not in the help). It turns out that you can reject not only the domain / pages, but also entire domain zones. Here is a article about it; on how to do it technically, John Mueller answered:
domain:tld— John Mueller is watching out for Google+ 🐀 (@JohnMu) June 1, 2021
I really wouldn't recommend doing that though. It makes no sense imo.
That is, in case of rejecting the entire domain zone (please note that this is not recommended, I'm just talking about the possibilities), you need to enter this:
domain:cf domain:ga domain:gq domain:tk domain:xyz domain:site
If such a site file is loaded into the link rejection tool, you will invalidate all self-linking pages on sites with a .cf, .ga, .gq, .tk, .xyz, .site domain zone.
Most of the Disavow Links Tool disavow file advice is to disavow by domain, as you may not notice all the low-quality pages with bad links to you from that domain.
After generating the file, do the following:
Please note that you can post one rejection list per site. If necessary, you just need to update the file - download the old one to your computer, edit it, and then upload it again to Disavow Links. Uploading a new list will replace any existing list for this site.
Another point: disapproved links will still show up in the link report.
One last thing: the list only applies to the specific resource you loaded it into, but also to all of its child resources.
I have read enough practical cases of rejection of links and now I will give here the following information on the most important of them: the name of the case + a link to it, the date of the case, the result (briefly - positive or negative) + in one or two sentences a description of the work and the result.
Achrefs case study on test rejection of all links on multiple pages. Held in August-September 2021. The result is positive (the goal was to demonstrate the work of links and the rejection tool - and the goal was achieved). The guys decided to see if the links and the disavow tool worked, and rejected all links (3476 links) to 3 pages of the Ahrefs site for a month. As a result, the traffic dipped, and after deleting the file it returned.
The case of trying to remove the filter was conducted in 2019, but was unsuccessful. The removal of sanctions took 4 months, and it was not the Disavow tool that helped, but the physical removal of links. And how do you like this quote: "in this struggle, the Disavow tool, which is familiar to optimizers, is not a friend. Popularity is gaining the opinion that Google has specially developed a tool to train the algorithm to identify purchased links."
Checking Disavow Links Tool on 4 sites published in March 2022. The result is negative. In general, the article is very good, and the information about the health of the sites for which the deviation was applied was regularly updated. The author's conclusion is the following: "One thing is for sure - downloading the disavow files did not have a positive effect on any of the 4 sites."
I did not give more cases, because I may be a little biased, because I determined the lack of usefulness of the Disavow Links Tool for myself a few years ago. And of course, I decided to conduct my own test to see if link disavowal works in 2023.
I made deviations more than once and did not see the result of this, but for the purity of the experiment in 2023 I decided to repeat the test and see what would happen.
I will reject links to https://onlinecasinohub.com/au/ and https://onlinecasinohub.com/de/, because either because of the action an unconfirmed Google update in the second half of January 2023, or because of the Link spam update in December 2022, these pages have sunk a lot.
I think that the experiment will last about two months, and I will write about all the updates here. The first stage - the selection of disapproval links - has already begun, and I manually selected disavowal links only from those links that are in the Search Console, paying attention to links from low-quality donors with a direct commercial anchor. At the moment, I'm still skeptical about the results of the experiment. In addition, we continue to work on the quality of the site further, that is, this is not a pure experiment.
I don't think so. My arguments:
The only time I would consider using this tool is a manual filter for links. Google's October 2012 official announcement explains: "If you have been notified of a manual anti-spam action based on 'unnatural links' pointing to your site, this tool may help you resolve the issue. If you don't receive this notification, you usually have nothing to worry about with this tool."
Once again, in my conclusion, I will give a rather interesting "conspiracy theory" associated with this tool. There is an opinion that now it only works as a service that allows Google to learn what spam links are. In Runet, Igor Shulezhko stated this on his YouTube channel. Also, Matthew Woodward in his blog said that in fact Google created a tool with which millions of webmasters can train Google's spam algorithm.
Main article about Disavow Links on Google Help
An article about the whole domain zone rejection case
2020 article by Ahrefs Google’s “Disavow Links Tool”: The Complete Guide
2019 Moz article What Links to Target with Google's Disavow Tool
2019 article by Marie Haynes Disavowing in 2019 and beyond – the latest info on link auditing
Google article: Disavowing Random Links Flagged By Tools Is A Waste Of Time
Google Disavow Tool Case Study Article – Does it Really Work?
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