Google’s Disavow Links Tool: The Complete Guide

Kaushal Thakkar is the Founder and MD of Infidigit. He has developed award-winning search strategies for various organizations, ranging from large enterprise and e-commerce websites to small and medium-sized businesses. Before Infidigit, he was leading digital marketing, product, and eCommerce initiatives at Myntra (a Walmart Company), Times Group, ICICI Group, Tata Group. Being an engineer and product manager in his earlier days, he loves to hack growth for websites via technical SEO strategies. He is a speaker at various forums and a Pro bono guest lecturer on Organic Search, Digital Marketing, Analytics & eCommerce. In X @

Google’s Disavow Links Tool: The Complete Guide

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    What is Google’s Disavow Links Tool?

    Google’s web algorithm crawls billions of pages and backlinks every year. The objective is to identify spam content and keep users protected. Link penalties based on these algorithms turn successful websites into barren landscapes. So, if your website plays a role in running your business, remember to check your link profile regularly and avoid costly mistakes. To facilitate this evaluation, Google Disavow Links tool steps in.

    The Disavow Links tool is part of the Google Search Console. It lets webmasters notify Google of poor-quality links that they no longer wish to associate with their website.

    Why was the Disavow Links Tool developed by Google?

    Disavowing links helps protect a site from “bad” links that can damage the reputation of a website. Therefore, they harm its ranking on the Search Engine Results Page. There are many reasons for the creation of bad links. Irrespective of the cause, bad links are bad for companies. Google Disavow is an initiative to stop the harm from continuing. 

    In January 2005, Google tried to lower link spam for the first time with the nofollow feature. In subsequent years, Google persistently adjusted its algorithm. In April 2012, the next massive change targeting link schemes was announced with the launch of the first Penguin algorithm

    The algorithm passed search results through an external filter. As a result, an algorithmic penalty could continue for quite a long time, post a thorough site clean-up. Website owners received a manual action when Google identified that some links on the website did not comply with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines. It was when Google identified a pattern of deceptive, manipulative, or artificial outbound links. 

    The downside to this algorithm is that it can demote a complete site even if the link scheme targets a single page or a subsection of a website. 

    Google, then, developed the Disavow Links tool, increasing the webmasters’ control over the links Google uses to rank or penalize a website. 

    When the tool was rolled out in October 2012, Google believed that it applied only to a few webmasters. It helped to address the concern of unnatural links, for which Google notifies you with a manual action report. If you do not receive any notification, there is no need to use the tool. 

    The objective of the tool was never to act as the first line of defense against link-based penalties. It helped to accelerate site recovery after site owners took all necessary steps to clean up the site’s backlinks

    In September 2016, Google released the fourth iteration of Penguin. It marked Google’s update to a real-time algorithm and let it target link spam at a page-specific level. While the algorithm became smarter and the likelihood of ignoring spam links increased, there was no guarantee of perfection. Bad links still existed and devalued websites. 

    Penguin 4.0 didn’t impose as many penalties, but Google employees reviewed backlinks manually and continued to send out penalties. And that’s when Google’s Disavow Tool became necessary for webmasters. 

    What Happens When You Disavow a Link?

    What happens to a bad link after you disavow it? A request is sent to Google to ignore those links to your domain. Successful disavow links aren’t considered to determine your website’s search engine ranking

    However, you must know that there is no obligation on Google to honor your link disavowal request. It is clearly mentioned in the documentation that your submission for a disavowal is a suggestion. The material also describes that the Disavow tool is a means to undo the actions of a poor SEO team or fix bad linking practices. So, you can hope for them to honor your disavow links request rather than imposing a penalty. 

    If required, you can delete a previously uploaded disavow file. But there is no clarity on whether Google immediately reinstates the links and their influence on your ranking or it retains a copy of the list. 

    Why Should You Disavow links?

    Paid links

    Paid links are a target for Google. These links are non-editorial, dofollow links that can pass PageRank easily. Detecting paid links may not be easy but there are some indicators, such as dofollow links from unrelated content and dofollow links with signs like “Sponsored Post.”

    Private Blogging Networks

    In 2014, Google started de-indexing private blogging networks. While you will still come across some of these networks, their links aren’t a part of the white-hat link-building approach. Sites often pick up random links that seem spammy, but the algorithm generally ignores them. The tool disavows links from PNBs using exact-match anchors

    Forum and Comment Spamming

    Google encourages comments and participation in forums. You can drop comments on authoritative websites and include a link back to relevant content on your site. The concern is the automation or scaling of that process. A lot of comment platforms now make all links nofollow, making it tougher for you to benefit from this. 

    Low-Quality Directory Submissions

    A low-quality directory is unlikely to give you referral traffic. Website owners haven’t really benefited from low-quality directory submissions even when some unethical SEO experts suggest otherwise. A few niche-specific or high-quality directories can be worth paying for, but the strategy is not a great way to develop site authority. 

    Hacked Websites

    If you post on hacked websites, receiving a Google penalty is guaranteed. Moreover, your participation in hacking can lead you to real trouble. After all, hacking isn’t legal, and the consequences are severe. 

    Negative SEO Attack

    Backlink spamming is the most frequently used style of negative SEO. It involves intentional backlinking to a competitor’s website from many low-quality websites. Google’s suspicion increases when your website receives hundreds of spammy links in a short period. The activity can result in a potential penalty.

    Risks of Disavowing

    The process to disavow links remains risky even if you identify the difference between “good” links and “bad” links.

    • The biggest risk is invalidating the good ones. Some bad links can also be beneficial for your site. And if you get rid of them, you can lose valuable traffic. Moreover, you may ruin your rankings during disavowing. Therefore, it is vital that you carefully disavow backlinks and perform the action only if it is crucial and you are 100% sure that the link is malicious or bad. 
    • If the number of links routing to your site increases rapidly without you taking any action, it is a cause of concern. You must assess if the links are natural or sent by some malicious agent. A professional SEO team can help you identify these links and spot link patterns that are malevolent, spammy, or unnatural. 
    • Manual actions require you to use Google Disavow. Here, Google’s team manually penalizes a site if it does not fit their guidelines. But there are several types of manual actions, and disavowing links isn’t a solution for all. 
    • If you decide to reavow links, it will require more time. Moreover, Google will not give it the same value after permitting reavowal. 

    When do you need the disavow links tool?

    Manual Action

    A Manual Action is an obvious instance to use Google Disavow. When Google notifies you of removing or demoting some pages or the entire website, you need to take action. This action isn’t associated with any Google algorithm updates, but it is Google manually penalizing websites for spammy behavior. 

    An increase in low-quality links, leading to a fall in rankings.

    When a stable website doesn’t appear in search results due to an inflow of bad links, it indicates the need for disavowal. There isn’t always a need for a sharp fall. Disavowing proactively can help in protecting a website.

    Connecting a suspicious backlink profile to a client’s admission that they are paying or did pay for the links in the past.

    A disavowal of links that you suspect are bad links is a good idea. The client may have paid for these links in the past or even today. 

    How to Use the Google Disavow tool?

    Step 1: Perform a link audit

    Your website has good links and bad links. You need to identify the bad links using an online tool to perform a link audit. Many of these tools estimate the value of a link, but they also give false positives.

    Step 2: Spot the Spammy Links

    After you have the list of links, you need to detect the spammy links. The most effective way to do this is by manually visiting each link and determining if it is sensible and useful. Try and disavow links on sites that appear suspicious. 

    Step 3: Format your list of links and upload it to Google’s Disavow Links Tool

    On the Google Disavow Tool, click through all the warning prompts to reach the dialogue box that lets you upload a file. Select the property you are working on and upload the file you have created with all the bad links to disavow. 

    Step 4: Once uploaded, monitor your progress

    The effects of disavowing take about a week to become prominent. Google will adjust the evaluation of your backlink profile and search ranking after recrawling the disavowed links. Interpret the file you have uploaded with links to disavow and monitor the progress carefully. 


    Use of the Google Disavow Tool can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know how to do it. You can harm your website’s SEO if you overdo it. Thus, website owners must familiarize themselves with the tool to ensure that the result is a good profile and not a spam-like link profile. 

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    Google’s Disavow Links Tool: The Complete Guide