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Google Disavow Links? Maybe, Maybe Not

By Valerie DiCarlo

So, OK we get it. If a site has been given the unnatural links warning message (in their Webmaster Tools), they can use the Google Disavow tool.

But according to the Matt Cutts’ interview with Danny Sullivan, Google may or may not disavow the bad links! Why?


What if you don’t try to remove links? Given what a pain it is to get links off the web, why wouldn’t someone just use disavow? I know Google recommends requesting link removals, but from a technical standpoint, if they don’t do that and just disavow, it’s pretty much going to work, right?

No, I wouldn’t count on this. In particular, Google can look at the snapshot of links we saw when we took manual action. If we don’t see any links actually taken down off the web, then we can see that sites have been disavowing without trying to get the links taken down.”

Specifically addressing Matt Cutts’ answer… this is NOT always the case. Sometimes it can be next to impossible to remove the unnatural links that have been placed. I am currently dealing with this very issue for a client:


The site owner previously hired an “SEO firm” who, unbeknownst to the site owner, implemented shady link building tactics. The site owner’s site(s) not only got the unnatural links warning message in WMT (for one of the sites), but they also got hit hard by Penguin – greatly losing business revenue from their online properties. (BTW and FYI, the site owner’s WMT warning message was sent several months before SEO Web Consulting came in on this project)

The site owner, who is busy running the business(es), notices something amiss w/online sales. They login to Analytics and see a dramatic drop in site traffic and online sales. Like most site / business owners, they haven’t kept a close eye on what their “SEO firm” vendor is doing except when something gives them reason to question.

Site owner reaches out to my firm for an evaluation/assessment and I uncover the issue: spammy links.

Long story short, before firing them, the site owner made multiple attempts to get the previous “SEO firm” to remove the spammy links. Many of the links were on sites that were created to ‘house’ links – and of course these sites have no contact info, etc. Site owner received no response from previous “SEO firm” vendor and has had no recourse. Nothing could/can be done to remove those links.

Fast forward: My SEO firm is now handling this site owners’ sites and is trying to implement holistic and ethical remedy for recovery from the previous mishap (and Penguin).

We (sort-of) breathed a sigh of relief with the latest Google disavow links tool and did our due diligence by submitting/uploading a file list of the spammy links – with a # note explaining that multiple attempts were made, but we got no response from our requests for the link removals.

So now what?

Matt Cutts Quote:

“…Google can look at the snapshot of links we saw when we took manual action. If we don’t see any links actually taken down off the web, then we can see that sites have been disavowing without trying to get the links taken down.”

Seriously? If Google goes back to the time when the unnatural link warning was sent and reviews the snapshot, THEY WON’T DO ANYTHING?

With the rush (and misuse) of the disavow tool and the (long!) time it will take Google to sort thru the data, I am not hopeful – or counting on – this disavow tool as a remedy.


How long will it take sites to see any potential improvement? It seems like potentially months.
IE, say you upload a file. It takes several weeks for that to be read. Then you might wait several weeks for the next Penguin Update, until the change would be reflected, right?
Or when you say multiple weeks, do you mean that really, the file might get read right away, but the changes might not be reflected until some Penguin or other update can act on those changes?

It can definitely take some time, and potentially months. There’s a time delay for data to be baked into the index. Then there can also be the time delay after that for data to be refreshed in various algorithms.”

And site owners need to jump through one more hoop… in addition to disavowing links, you also have to submit a reconsideration request thru Google WMT… and Matt Cutts stated, "and we also recommend mentioning that you disavowed links in the reconsideration request itself." – so don’t forget to submit the reconsideration request!

In theory, the Google disavow tool may sound good, but it may not work for all situations.

As a result, many site / business owners who have been adversely affected by Penguin are frustrated – and many SEO professionals are frustrated.

Was the Google disavow tool added as a remedy for the can-of-worms that Penguin opened – including negative SEO?

While Danny Sullivan’s interview w/Matt Cutts and Google’s Webmaster Central Blog are helpful in understanding more about the disavow tool, it does not really address the percentage of situations where using the disavow tool may not benefit site / business owners.

Google Disavow Links Tool