Google’s Disavow Tool? 18

This week, Google released a tool called the Disavow tool.  Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture.

imageFirst Google unleashed the Penguin that was designed to penalize poor quality web content.  Webmasters were up in arms accusing Google of hating affiliates.  However, from what I have seen over the 10+ years I have been working online is that affiliates tend to be the people who put up poor content.

Next up was Google’s Penguin.  This seems to be targeting overly aggressive SEO tactics.  Again, webmasters complained that Google were penalizing affiliates.  Again though, the people that often pushed SEO to the limits were the affiliate marketers.

Next up came the EMD update that reduced the ranking benefits of owning an exact match domain.  For some reason, Google had previously given this type of domain a major ranking advantage.  Why?  I don’t know why they would except for the fact that the domain is pretty important and it had a keyword phrase in it.

The problem with this is that there are/were a huge numbers of EMDs out that that are pure rubbish.  Webmasters (in particular affiliates and those concentrating on Adsense) bought up EMDs for every potentially profitable keyword they could find and built 1-5 page websites targeting that single phrase.  Most of the sites were very poor and should never have ranked in the first place.

Now, during this period of changing SEO, Google were up to something a little more sinister.  They were changing their policy on inbound links.  In that past, Google had always stated that inbound links could not hurt your rankings because otherwise a competitor could wipe you out by building spammy links to your site.  However, if you read their current policy on link schemes, it is clear that this document would be a waste of time UNLESS Google were policing this aspect of SEO.  In short, at some point, Google started to look at inbound links differently, and penalize websites with poor backlinks. 

Now, I am not totally sure when this started, but I know it was more than a couple of years ago from my own testing.  Over the last year or two as this news started to leak, a whole new industry grew up called “Negative SEO”.  That is where a webmaster would deliberately fire crappy links by the thousand (or tens of thousand) at their competitor website to make their competitor drop out of the Google results.  Did it work? Well it did on a test site of mine that I tried it on.  I even reversed the penalty by removing the links.

So today we know that bad backlinks can hurt our site. 

As this knowledge became generally accepted, webmasters once again claimed foul play by Google.  I mean how heartless are they if they change their algorithm to make bad links negatively affect our rankings. 

Many of us have no control over the links pointing to our site, and spammers, scrapers and general low-life can get our site penalized with a few clicks of a button in their expensive link generating software AND there is nothing we can do about it. Many webmasters even stated that Bing had a tool that allowed webmasters to remove links from their profile, so why didn’t Google if backlinks were so pivotal to receiving penalties or good rankings.

Fast forward 16th October, 2012 and the release of the Disavow tool

Matt Cutts discusses the Disavow Tool

I had never heard of that word before the 16th October.  Now I have dreams about is.

This is what many webmasters wanted, so finally they could list the links that they did not create (or were done by competitors to negatively affect rankings) and get them discounted from their website’s ranking factors.

So everyone is happy, right?


It seems that now webmasters have what they want, they are cautioning everyone from using it as they say it will just help Google penalize more websites. 

The truth is, Google cannot win.  They give us what we want, but then we are suspicious of their motives.

I don’t doubt that Google will use the data submitted by this tool to help improve their algorithm.

Some of the following are reasons I have seen why people are skeptical of the new “free” gift from Google.

1. They will use the data to identify blog networks?

I would think so, but why is that a bad thing?  If people are generating links with push button ease, then those links are not quality and should not be used to help a website rank.  Therefore if those poor quality links can be removed from the ranking factors of every site, better sites with better links can float to the top.  That has always been Google’s objective.

2. It will create a new form of negative SEO

I have seen it mentioned on a couple of sites now that webmasters may use the Disavow tool for a new kind of negative SEO.  The way they think this might work is to find out who your competitor has links from, and build a site that gets links from the same sources.  Then report all those links to the Disavow tool and hope that Google punishes those backlink sources and in doing so, punishes your competitor who has links from those punished domains.

Now, my point of view on this is that the only sites that have to worry are the sites with lots of spammy links in the first place,  i.e. usually those webmasters that have consistently ignored and been in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines.    Think about it.  If a competitor is going to replicate your backlinks, they will only be able to do so for backlinks found on websites that give out backlinks easily.  To put this another way, a negative SEO would only be able to replicate your spammy links. 

If you have concentrated on building up your online presence with high quality links, then spammers would have to work really hard to build links on those same resources, and even then, a disavow would probably be useless. 

To take an example, you might have a presence on Quora, where you are helping people out in your niche.  You have a number of links back to your website to highlight examples in your answers, or maybe just link to a more complete discussion of the topic.  Overall these are great backlinks.  If a competitor tried to replicate your backlinks and built out a profile on Quora just to disavow those backlinks, then what are Google going to say when they check out the list of URLs in that Disavow report by manual review?  Are they going to go to Quora and see “quality” links and decide to devalue Quora?  Nope.  If a list of disavow links from a competitor comes in with several of these false reports, I can see the whole report being thrown out.

3. They will identify YOU as a spammer

OK, you submit a list of links to disavow on your site.  If it is a long list, maybe into the thousands, then this report may tell Google that you are a spammer who created all these poor quality backlinks even though you knew it was against their webmaster guidelines.

So, what do Google do with this data?

Do they think, “Hmm, at least this webmaster is trying to correct their problem”, or do they say “once a spammer, always a spammer” and bury the site?  I know which answer 99% of affiliate marketers would select.

What do I think?

Well, I think that if you have been only creating poor quality backlinks to your site you might be better off moving the site to a new domain and starting afresh with backlinks.  Even if you could recover your rankings by disavowing bad links and getting more good links, all of those spammy links are still out there, giving a bad impression about you to anyone that might see them.

If however you have a lot of good backlinks but a number of poor backlinks, then I think it would be worth trying the disavow tool AFTER manually contacting webmasters to try to get poor links removed.  In this case you have nothing to lose, and if Google do penalize your site as being created by a “known spammer” (which I personally doubt despite liking a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy), you can always move the site to a new domain and start again.

In his video, Matt Cutts specifically said that only those people with unnatural link warnings need to use the tool, and only then AFTER trying to clean up the links by contacting webmasters.  He says that you can use the tool if you have a “small fraction of links left” (that’s spammy links) after trying to clean them up.

Disavow is a last resort for those webmasters who have not been able to clean everything. 

I don’t think Google will look favorably on any webmaster who submits huge numbers of links to disavow when it is obvious that the webmaster has NOT tried to manually clean up their link profile.

In other words, I don’t think this is a tool that can “one-click” clean-up your profile and get your site reinstated.

I would also think that any site that has good quality links from authority sites in their niche will be a lot less susceptible to ANY kind of negative SEO campaign.

As far as this tool is concerned, I think we all need to wait a while and see how this pans out.  I do not recommend using this tool if your site has mostly poor quality links that you have built.  If you have built the links, do your best to clean up your link profile first.  Time will tell if Google have released this to further penalize people who have consistently ignored their webmaster guidelines.

My final thought:  I personally have a website that I built to test if it was possible to rank a site using Fiverr gigs.  Up until the October Penguin update, that site was ranking really well and making me a passive affiliate income of between $150-$280 a month.  After the Penguin update, that site was penalized, and rightly so.  100% of the backlinks are spammy.  I would not try to disavow those links to the site, because 100% of them are spammy, and I had them built.  At the same time, I cannot remove those links as only the fiverr gig author has the logins.  I will therefore be looking as a couple of alternatives to get the penalty removed (these alternatives are experimental and results will only be made available to members of my Insider’s group – sorry). 


What do you think?

I know that webmasters are very emotional about the changes that Google have been making recently.  I would love to hear your opinions on the Google Disavow tool.  Do you think Google have an ulterior motive in releasing this tool?

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18 thoughts on “Google’s Disavow Tool?

  • Dave

    Google gave EMD’s a boost in the past for two reasons I think. Firstly, it automatically shows relevance, just like a title tag or H1 tag does.

    Secondly, I think it was to do with brands. It’s highly that a brand would have an EMD for it’s brand name. It would be a bad results if someone searched for a brand and got a load of affiliate sites. Therefore, they gave a boost to EMD to make sure that people got the brand results they were looking for.

    It’s just too easy to abuse it!!

    The only problem I have with the way Google is going is that I cannot understand how a website would get itself recognised in the first place. When you’re not talking about popular topics like internet marketing, how would you create real shares and stuff if your website was about Self Storage, Radiator Repair or something like that? It’s just impossible to go viral from nowhere.

    • Andy Williams

      I agree with you on the EMD thing about Brands. I actually wrote that in my first draft but cut it out because I thought of reasons why it was stupid to assume that. However, when EMDs were first given their power, I agree with you.
      As for getting a site recognised, it’s easy. For any niche, go where people are talking about it and join in the conversations with help and advice and the odd link back to your site. It really is that simple.

  • Jim

    At last, somebody who tells it the way it is. I have seen so much of the anti-affiliate and conspiracy theories recently that I have simply given up on visiting some of my previously favourite forums.
    If you do your job correctly then I do not believe that Google will attempt to penalise anyone since they actually require a source of good information sites as much now as any time in the past.
    An affiliate link to a program or service closely related to your niche is only to be expected and the search engines will not simply ignore what you have to offer simply because you have such an affiliation.
    Thankyou for a well reasoned argument that I can be happy to point others to. Jim

    • Andy Williams

      Thanks Jim. I sometimes wonder if I trust Google too much, but every site I have had penalized has had problems that I know would cause a penalty, and I do have affiliate sites ranking high and doing well.

  • Charles

    I don’t pay any attention to this Disavow Tool – I don’t have any reason to do so.

    I got into internet marketing almost four years ago, put up my first site November 2008. It took it over six months to start making money and even then it wasn’t much. Now, I have several sites in various markets that I am passionate about.

    I have never gone with back linking crowd even when all the guru’s including yourself Dr. Andy said it was necessary. I didn’t purchase Backlinks Battleplan when you were marketing that product nor did I purchase all of those expensive SEO courses or the hundreds of things marketers say you need. I don’t use YouTube or other social sharing site to get users, link wheels or anything that “the crowd” does. I have always figured if it is easy – don’t do it. Create valuable content that people would pay for and give it away. Create Fat Content is what you taught me.

    I used one thing that you recommended the Google Webmaster Guidelines. I also purchased your Web Content Studio software and your original Creating Fat Content course. Those were my tools along with Camtasia studio to create videos and other content creation tools.

    I must also add that I have been busting my butt working hard for years. All and I mean all of my sites are profitable with a variety of monetization methods including services I offer and my readers buy for reasonable prices. I make a full time living from these handful of sites. I have a real business that will last for years.

    Even though in your reports and on this site you always talked about the need to create back links for ranking I never bought that line. I never used EMDs and I never have used keyword research or tools except for what comes naturally using Web Content Studio and the good old Spider. My sites rank in the top ten for every topic I cover – thanks to Web Content Studio, enriched content and engaged user interactivity. All the sites are authority sites with lots of video, audio, infographics, beautiful images, and written content. I have hundreds of back links and they are all natural links from users, schools, colleges, other authority sites, universities all who appreciate and trust my content.

    The very first thing I read from you mentioned the Google Webmaster Guidelines, it seemed very reasonable and logical to just follow that document and I have always resisted short cuts. Now and I never have or will worry about Panda, Penguins or Disavows or any of the latest algorithm changes. Instead of spending my time and money buying and working schemes or the latest and greatest whatever (Kindle books) – I spend it creating valuable content that I am proud to share. So that is what I think of the Google Disavow Tool. Not much. Not much at all.

    • Andy Williams

      Hey Charles – congratulations for not getting distracted and working on the most important thing – your visitors.

      Backlinks are important but by the sounds of things, you are getting them from the best place possible – natural links because people like your content. 99% of people cannot do that, which is why building links is important for them. However, if you attract them naturally, that is far better.

      BTW; Kindle books is not just the greatest “whatever”. It really does have potential and can make more money than the same amount of effort would take to put the information into a site. ANyway, not trying to convert you. I say keep doing what you are doing!

  • CFA

    Hey Andy, you have done a good job taking an unbiased look at Google’s latest attempt to generate data or should I say ‘help’ helpless webmasters.

    I am really waiting to see how the new form of negative SEO you talked about will play out.

    Keep on sharing………. I am also sharing this one 🙂

  • Norm

    Google giveth and Google taketh away. Blessed be the name of Google. Charles, I’m glad you made it. Most don’t in a family supporting kind of way.

    Andy, here is what may be a minor snip of your excellent article, but the thing that caught my eye. You said, ” …you might be better off moving the site to a new domain and starting afresh…”

    Well, smarter, wiser, etc.. I’m just burned out on IM.

    If I had it to do all over again, I would have maybe three sites that I would do and really concentrate on. White hat all the way. Alas, I made tons of sites, (A balanced mix of Adsense and Affiliate) many of them still ranking well, in search of the honey hole, mostly finding the alkali pits.

    Arguably, the Internet is not the free range place it used to be. Way too many speed traps. I was getting a crick in my neck from looking over my shoulder.

    Nowadays I simply don’t worry about backlinks, backlink removers, or any of that stuff. I finally learned how to Love Google and Stop Worrying About Getting Bombed.

    How do I do that? I write. You see, all those sites were a means to an end. They allowed me to concoct all sorts of wonderful worlds about a plethora of the most popular topics like travel, diet and health, dog collars, and even grape jelly through writing, since at the time, I had no other outlet for my talent.

    So, starting with your intro of Kindle I went back to square one…writing, which is what I wanted to do before I found out that getting published the old fashioned way was next to impossible.

    Now I’m happier, if poorer. My intention is to keep my best producing sites and let the rest expire to Pluto or the Oort clouds when their domains expire. Writing is my future, win, lose, or draw. (I just hope I get discovered before I trundle off to Pluto!)


  • Trevor Greenfield

    Hey Andy,

    Good to get your take on the EMD and Disavow link tool. I was pleased to see Google take action on the EMD anomaly because the ranking benefit it was providing was responsible for a lot of the rubbish sites being created.

    I’m online to make money as much as the rest but I am a passionate believer that we as Internet Marketers have a duty to increase the value found online not decrease it.

    As far as the disavow link tool goes it seems that Matt Cutts is concerned that they may get snowed under with disavow link requests by his insistence of this being a last resort. I do hope that webmasters will remove links when requested, I’ve had a few requests to remove links and always acted quickly to protect the other webmaster from getting penalised.

    I’m sure that some people will get tagged as spammers as a result of this but like you say they probably already are and have no reason to complain.

    As always you’ve provided an honest, educated and unbiased review which is why I’ve been following your input for the last decade or more.

    Thanks a lot,


  • JanPaul

    I totally agree with Charles. People should stop worrying about Google completely. As long as you provide good content, you will rank and it doesn’t matter wether you have an emd or whatever. It’s really not important at all. The same counts for being pussyfooty about promoting stuff. Just be blunt and clear from the first sentence, that you have something for sale. That’s my experience anyway. As long as you can back that up with good articles and videos, you will rank! And that will not change either, because real good customer reviews are valued by everybody …. always! …. Also by Matt Cutts.

    So do yourself a favor and keep things simple.

  • Bill Taylor

    Hi Andy:

    From what you say the main takeaway for most people at present would be to actually wait and see.

    As I have said before I choose not to trust a thing that Google say or do and certainly everything is in their own self interest not that of the internet community or society in general.

    I was on a good call last week with Dori Friend and John Limbocker. The general consensus was that this was just another move by Google to entrap webmasters who are stupid enough to provide them with the feedback using this facility. Basically John thinks it is the typical Google poison apple and will come back to haunt those who use it at some future date as the real reasons for Google doing this become more apparent.

    He also thinks for the same reason that Google Webmaster tools are one of the most dangerous things you can use in your relationship with them.

    I am inclined to taking his approach more than trusting them.

    Having said that I have adjusted my strategy to having great content all over the internet (not just Google) as that over time will bring the independence from relying on Google for traffic which has already been proven to be a major mistake.


    • Andy Williams

      Hi Bill
      People have had held conspiracy view against Google Analytics and Webmaster tools for a long time. All of my QUALITY sites are still ranking well despite me having used these tools myself for years. The only people who have to worry about using these tools are those that have created poor sites and consistently ignored webmaster guidelines. That is my view as a Google tools user, and I suspect the same is true for the Disavow tool.

  • Derric

    Dr Andy,

    In view of this article on the Google Disavow Tool, my only question now is how do you get backlinks?


    • Andy Williams

      By going after quality links on quality sites. Forget volume. A small number of high quality links is better than thousands of poor quality links (the latter will even get you penalized).