Webmasters: disavow links to escape ranking penalties

Martin Brinkmann
Oct 17, 2012
Updated • Oct 17, 2012
Development, Google

Google made a lot of changes to its search engine algorithm and web rankings in recent time. Two of the changes that had a lot of impact on the Internet were the Panda and Penguin updates. Both are algorithmic changes that penalize websites for low quality contents or artificial link building. Especially the changes introduced with the Penguin updates hurt a lot of webmasters. While these updates certainly have hurt webmasters trying to game the system, it also hurt webmasters who hired SEOs that ran low quality link building campaigns or used known link building networks to increase a site's ranking in the search engine artificially.

Webmasters who found out about the penalty, usually in the form of ranking drops, and sometimes by getting notified about the change in Google's Webmaster Tools, had only one option until now to resolve the issue: get the bad links removed from the Internet.

Google, unlike Bing, did not offer a tool to disavow links, which left webmasters with no other option than trying to communicate with website owners to get those links removed. As you can imagine, this not only took quite some time but also usually resulted in response rates that were not optimal.

Once done, webmasters either had to wait for the next Penguin update, or file a reconsideration request with Google to see if the issue has been resolved. It was suggested to provide Google with a detailed account of what has been done to resolve the issue.

Google today announced that it has added an option to disavow links to Google Webmaster Tools. Webmasters need to make sure that they have access to the website in question in Webmaster Tools before they open the disavow links tool on the Google website.

Here they see a list of all websites they have access to, and a disavow links button. Just select the website you want to disavow links for and click the button. You are then taken to a page that explains possible consequences of using the tool.

This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site's performance in Google's search results. We recommend that you only disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.

google disavow links

You can upload a text file here that lists the links that you want to disavow. Make sure that the text file displays one link per line before you upload it. You can add comments to the text file that need to begin with a #. This can be helpful if you need to edit the file later on to add new links to it, for instance to add date and time to the text file. The second option that you have is the domain: parameter which you can use to disavow all links from a particular domain that point to the selected websites. That's saving space if you need to disavow a lot of links from a particular site, especially since the text file is limited to 2 Megabytes in size.

Here is a Matt Cutts video talking about the new tool.

You find additional information, including questions and answers, on the official Google Webmaster blog.

Webmasters who have received unnatural link messages on Google Webmaster Tools still need to file a reconsideration request to get the penalty removed.

The tool is a step in the right directly, and certainly helpful for webmasters who have received messages of this kind or experienced a drop in traffic coming from Google. According to Matt Cutts, it will take weeks before the list is processed.


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  1. Robert said on October 21, 2012 at 2:26 am

    At least this tool (potentially) provides a way out of algorithmic / manual action that’s hurt hundreds of thousands of sites. Thanks for the article and tutorial.

  2. matt at YT said on October 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    heres the video with spanis subs

  3. Morely Dotes said on October 17, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    “webmasters who hired SEOs” are suckers. The only thing SEOs *ever* do is take your money and make a half-hearted effort to game the system.

    High-quality content is how you get high ranking. IF your content is cr*p, you deserve to disappear.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      Good contents may be best in the long run, but you are nothing without at least some site authority. There are many very popular sites out there that post a single paragraph of content that ranks before your well written and researched 1000 word article, simply because they have more domain authority thanks to a large following that likes, tweets, +1s and links to the content automatically.

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