Google wants us to use the disavow tool when we get a notice from them telling us we have websites pointing dodgy links at us. Although this would seem like a straight forward task, there are some myths and elements of confusion that have built up around using the disavow tool.

Experts Bust Google Disavow Myths

As there are numerous people who are far more experienced and expert on this subject, I decided to ask a few. Here is what they said. I asked:

What do you think the myths of using the Disavow tool are and what is the thing that most people seem to get wrong?

Mark PorterMark Porter

@markcporter There does seem to be a few misconceptions around the disavow tool recently that, based on our experience, simply aren’t the case. The main ones for me are:

Myth – You always experience a recovery after using the disavow tool

Unfortunately this simply isn’t the case. While it is dependent on the current situation (if it’s a manual action or algorithmic, such as penguin), we’ve found that it largely depends on what genuine, reputable links the site has, aside from the unnatural links that are being disavowed. If the domain does not have the backlink profile to support itself once these unnatural links have been disavowed then you are unlikely to experience a full recovery. It may be that these unnatural links were the only reason the site was ranking in the first place, in which case you’ll probably tumble away into the dark depths of Google.

Myth – You should ALWAYS disavow at domain level

While this may be true 95% of the time, there are some exceptions where it doesn’t make sense to disavow a link at domain level. For example, perhaps you have a client who used to send out press releases with multiple anchor text links in them, which got picked up or syndicated on a decent high value site. It’s usually best to disavow these at URL level in case they receive natural pickup from these sites further down the line.

Myth – You can pick and choose your links

“I believe this was one of the arguments on why the disavow tool shouldn’t be used in a recent moz post. The disavow tool is not there for you to select which links are helping or hurting the sites, regardless of how natural or unnatural they are. Links should be audited based upon whether they are meeting Google’s guidelines or not. Unnatural links which are undoubtedly helping a site may have to be disavowed to avoid problems in the future – you have to take it on the chin and move on!”

Myth – You have to make an effort to remove links

Again this is somewhat dependent on whether the site has a manual action or algorithmic, but we’ve found that just using disavow tool is sufficient and that no efforts need to be made repeatedly trying to get links removed from sites.  

Krystian SzastokKrystian Szastok

@krystianszastok Some people (including me at the very early stages) used to believe that people read disavow files, so I used to put comments explaining why certain domains were disavowed.

What’s the thing that most get wrong: Disavowing at link level.

Most websites – especially the spammy ones – will give you many links from the same domain. Directories are a good example, you get a link from your listing and from any type of a category page. Lesson: always disavow at domain level.

One more thing many get wrong: trying not to disavow all keyword rich anchor text links.

If you got penalized – you need to disavow any suspicious link out there, otherwise your chances of getting out are slim. Getting out of a penalty at the first try is a skill. One doesn’t really do it without any past experience. Any number of software can dictate to you which links are bad and which are good. I use Cognitives Link Navigator which allows me to manually go through each link – one per domain – and review them by my own eye. I judge each link on the basis of ‘does this link have purpose other than giving me some tiny little bit of PageRank’. If the answer is ‘yes’ then the link usually stays. If the answer is ‘no’ – I remove it.  

Marie HaynesMarie Haynes


I think that the biggest myth out there when it comes to using the disavow tool is that it doesn’t work.

I have seen so many people say, “I used the disavow tool, and my rankings did not improve, so it does not work!” But, there are many other factors that can be in play. For example, perhaps the site had very few good links and was only ranking well previously because of the power of links that are now being considered unnatural. Or maybe they disavowed the wrong links. Or perhaps the site is also dealing with other issues such as suppression by the Panda algorithm. I have seen many sites who have escaped Penguin, or have had a manual link penalty removed, who would not have been able to succeed without using the disavow tool. In my opinion it is a vitally important tool that needs to be used by any site that is suffering because of the presence of unnatural links.



Another myth surrounding the disavow tool is that you can do damage to a site by disavowing it.

If I disavow my competitor I am not going to do any harm to my competitor’s site. I’m just going to ask Google not to count any links from their site to mine when it comes to calculations for algorithms like Penguin. I do not believe that Google crowd sources data and says, “Ah! This site has been disavowed by many people. Let’s penalize it!”

And a third misconception about the tool is that it is read by the webspam team.

I see a lot of cases where the disavow tool was used with the intentions of it being a reconsideration request. In these cases, the first line of the disavow file contains a comment that says something like this: #We contacted all of the sites below and tried to get links removed but could not. Please reconsider our site as we are not ranking well because of past SEO link building efforts. However, disavow files are completely machine read and will not be seen by a Google employee. The comments in the file are really for your own use to make it easier to understand changes you make as you continually update the file. What do people most often get wrong when using the disavow file? I think that the most common mistake that I see is that the wrong links are disavowed. The most common reason for this to happen is that too much reliance has been placed on an automated link auditing tool. These tools can be useful when used in conjunction with a manual link by link audit. But, if you are running an automated report and going straight to disavow then you are definitely missing unnatural links and there is also a decent chance that you will disavow good links.

I think that the disavow tool can be extremely helpful if used correctly.


Chuck PriceChuck Price

@ChuckPrice518 This is a great question, as there are very few tools that have generated as much FUD as this one. The most common misconception is the disavow tool doesn’t work. It does. For a manual penalty, the disavow file works, when used as a last resort, That means that a full fledged and well documented link removal campaign must precede it. The disavow file, combined with a detailed reconsideration request, is a core component in successfully getting a manual penalty revoked.

For an algorithmic hit (Penguin), the disavow file also works.

What “most” people get wrong is that a manual link removal effort is NOT required.

In fact, manual link removal is a waste of resources. Since most link removal campaigns result in 5 – 10% of the links being removed, it is generally not enough to move the dial.

The Penguin algorithm is driven primarily by a good link to bad link ratio. Your time is better spent replacing the disavowed links with good ones.

Another point most people get wrong is their expectation for what a “recovery” looks like.

Many people expect that a recovery means regaining their former SERPs after they have escaped a manual penalty or algorithmic hit. Since many of the links that once propped up SERPs are now in the disavow file, that’s not going to happen. At least not until those links are replaced with good ones.

Gabriella SanninoGabriella Sannino

@SEOcopy Oo dear, dare I say I never heard of the “myth” rather opposition to the action? We’ve used the disavow process with several clients who had either been penalized or we took proactive measures when we noticed a large amount of toxic links. Granted you can’t say definitively that any recovery came directly due to the disavow process, however, they (clients’ sites) show signs of recovery when we’ve done them.

In regards to what people seem to get wrong is their disavow specific links rather than a domain.

In our case, when we have proactively used the disavow tool (without having been manually penalized), I would say results are inconclusive, but show STRONG correlation. But I would still advise and recommend doing it as part of any link profile clean-up.

Russell JarvisRusell Jarvis

@russelljarvis Three most common myths:  

Myth 1: Submitting links for disavowing guarantees that your site will be out of the red for link malpractice immediately.

Reality: If your site has been negatively impacted by penguin you generally have to wait until Google crawls all the domains requested and wait for the next penguin update to roll out before seeing full recovery in SERP visibility. If you have been hit by a manual penalty it usually takes a lot more work than just submitting domains to be disavowed. Manually removing spammy links to your site trumps disavowing links.

Myth 2: Using the disavow tool flags your site as using spammy link building practices to Google.

Reality: This is untrue. Google does not flag your site as spam for using the disavow tool. They are usually very good with picking up unnatural link activity and will probably hit you with a manual penalty on detection. Same goes for having your domain submitted in another sites disavow list, remember links that may seem unnatural for some sites can be more natural for others (it depends on industry, content, context and a bunch of other factors).

Myth 3: Once you disavow links there is no going back.

Reality: This is untrue as Google has confirmed that it is possible to reavow links. You simply have to remove links from the disavow list and resubmit it. However, reavow requests take much longer to be recognized as Google takes even stricter precautionary measures in this process to aid combating spammers who are trying to find loopholes. They usually crawl a domain a couple of times before revoking the disavow request. On the topic of resubmitting a disavow list, remember that when you submit a new list in the tool it overrides the old list. Thus, always work from the original list and update it. You can also add comments between using hashes (#–add comment— #) to the file to make notes for yourself and other webmasters that may need the info in future. Don’t rely only on tools to classify your links as spam or quality. Nothing is more accurate than the eye and instincts of an experienced search engine marketer. It may be a tedious task working through hundreds or thousands of links and categorizing their quality, but I guarantee it’s worth the time and effort. Disavowing too many links (including good quality links) is just as dangerous as disavowing too little. In short, marketers shouldn’t test the disavow tool … it should be used only when necessary. It is not there to clean up after the mess of knowingly dodgy link building practices.

Emory RowlandEmory Rowland


The worst and most deceptive myth is that uploading a list of unsavory domains with the disavow tool gets you out of jail.

Why would Google want you to do just this? Consider the absurdity of this cycle. You build links. Get a short term boost. Blame it on spammers. Disavow. Build more links. Rinse and repeat. Soon someone creates automated disavow software. So, you no longer even have to think about the consequences of bad links, just click the auto disavow button. Somehow, people forget that the point is to lose the links. And Google is taking account of the ones that fall off. The disavow tool doesn’t prove your motivations. Actions speak louder than disavows. Get it right the first time by disavowing and losing links.

David CohenDavid Cohen

@explorionary In my experience, I believe the worst Disavow Tool myth of all is that you must remove some or all links in order to restore the organic search visibility and traffic that’s been lost because of a Penguin-related issue. Using the Disavow Tool and blindly removing links on a wholesale scale isn’t a smart and strategic approach to solving the problem, it’s sloppy.

It’s not a myth that you can successfully use the Disavow Tool, not remove links, and experience a restoration of what’s been lost.

Pure opinion – but I feel the last step you’d ever want to take is actually removing links to your site as part of the entire disavow and restoration process. The best way to both avoid the myth and avoid making your site perform worse is to hire a professional who has a proven track record of solving your Penguin-related problem. Using amateurs will always end up costing you more than using professionals in this scenario.




I would like to thank all those who took part in the expert round up for taking the time to participate as I know we all get very busy. As we can see there are some very interesting issues raised here by our panel of experts.

While some people disagree with certain techniques regarding the disavow tool, one thing is certain, you have to be careful and you have to know what you are doing.

If I can make a shameless plug here, cognitiveSEO has a very useful unnatural link detection tool that will help a lot in the disavow process. You may also be interested in these further articles regarding the disavow tool: Unnatural Links & Penguin Recovery using the Google Disavow Tool Google Penalty Recovery Using the Disavow Tool – [Manual Action & Penguin 3.0 Refresh]

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