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The Google Disavow tool: FAQ

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 by Chris Pitt tagged ,

The Google Disavow ToolIt is almost five months ago now (October 16th 2012 to be specific) since Google released the Disavow tool. It was intended as a last measure in cleaning up backlink profiles of sites that had been on the receiving end of a Google penalty.

During the course of these five months I have had the opportunity to use the tool and have been questioned about it extensively. I thought therefore that I would try to answer some common questions I am asked about the tool (and associated penalties) – and also share a case study in a future blog post of a successful disavowal following a reconsideration request.

What is the penalty?

There are a number of different penalties that may be applied to your site. These penalties might be automated or they may be manual; but all will be levied due to an infraction of Google’s Webmaster guidelines.

In the last few years, there has been an increase in algorithmic or automated penalties; the most well-known being Panda (a penalty against ‘thin content’), Penguin and EMD (exact match domain).

How long will it take for a penalty to be removed?

There is no official timescale within which a penalty will be removed; neither is there a guarantee that your penalty removal efforts will be successful. The important thing is to be honest with yourself (and Google) about the depth of the problem and how it occurred. The sooner you are honest, the sooner you will be able to deal with the problem.

Your first step after removing as many links as possible is to submit a reconsideration request.

What is a reconsideration request?

A reconsideration request is the process you can go through when you believe that you have either been unfairly hit with a penalty or that you have made sufficient effort to ensure your website adheres to Google’s Webmaster guidelines.

In order to submit a request you need to have done everything you possibly can to correct the issue that is causing the penalty. If the penalty is as a result of a poor backlink profile, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have identified all offending links and made contact with the site owners and requested the offending link(s) be removed. In the event that contact can’t be made, or you don’t get an answer, you need to demonstrate the other steps you have taken (or are taking) to remove the links.

How long does the reconsideration request take and what happens next?

There is no official timescale for a reconsideration request. It takes as long as it takes, but in our experience it has taken anywhere between a week to two months for a reply to come back.

You will get one of two responses – penalty removed or penalty still in place. If the penalty is removed then you can go back to being amazing. If the penalty is not removed, then you have two options:

  1. Go through your links again and ultimately perform another reconsideration request
  2. Use the Disavow tool

What is the Disavow tool?

In its introductory blog post about the tool, Google refers to the primary purpose of the tool as being:

‘…to help clean up if you’ve hired a bad SEO or made mistakes in your own link-building.’

When should the Disavow tool be used?

The Disavow tool should be used only as the final measure when all other attempts to remove a link have been unsuccessful. All other attempts include contacting the site owners via phone or email, completing onsite contact forms and finding site owner information via the whois record.

If you have honestly done this (and the only option seems to be to build a fresh website with a new domain), it is time to try the Disavow tool.

How do you tell which backlinks are genuinely harming your site?

The first step to identifying which links are bad for your site is honesty. If you or your SEO agency built the links, you will already have an idea of where any problems might lie. If in doubt, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Was this link created for any other reason than ranking purposes?
  • Does the linking site offer any other benefit aside from the backlink?
  • Is the site relevant to what my website offers?

If you answer no to any of those questions, then you need to consider the worth of the link. If you answer no to two or more, then remove the link without fail.

Another consideration to take into account when reviewing a link is the country the linking site operates in. If you are a carpenter that only operates in West Sussex, what possible benefit can a link from a property agent in New York have for you?

Am I limited to how often I can use the Disavow tool?

No, you are not limited to how often you can use the Disavow tool, but it is not a case of simply uploading a new file each time you want to disavow a link. What you need to do is download the existing file from your Webmaster Tools account and add the new link(s). You then upload this same file once again.

You must remember though that Google is under no obligation to act upon your submission.

I hope that this FAQ has been helpful in answering your questions about use of the Disavow tool. In my next blog post on this subject, I will demonstrate the process I have typically undergone when trying to remove a link penalty.

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About the author

Chris Pitt

Chris Pitt

Chris joined Vertical Leap in April 2012 as a Campaign Delivery Manager. He previously worked as the marketing arm for a number of finance, tax and accounting companies. His background is almost entirely marketing based, although he did enjoy a few years touring the country as a semi professional musician and played in front of festival audiences in excess of 4,000. He recently became a first time father and can no longer remember what it is like to sleep past 5am. Follow me on Google