Why the Disavow Tool Can Be A Dangerous Time-Sink

Disavow message

After a site has been hit with a penalty there is a danger of people jumping to the first life raft available. It’s a natural response, after all, if it’s your business, your livelihood, then of course you want to do something immediately to firefight the problem. This approach has been made by many a site owner, with a desire to fix the problem and get their site back into the search results

Alternatively, there are those site owners that have read online about how Google’s Matt Cutts recently stated that Guest Posting is dead as far as gaining backlinks is concerned and that it would be targeted by Google in 2014. Much has been said of this topic and ultimately, many believe that Guest Posting isn’t dead but merely that Google is tightening its belt on the content it accepts as legitimate when crawling the web and that we now must be more cautious and stringent on where we “submit” our content to. Can it be better used on our own site? Should it be farmed out to an average site? Will it work better as a resource?

The reaction to a penalty, or reaction to Matt’s recent comments can cause confusion and worry and so it’s important that we understand the options available to us. In particular, the Disavow tool offered by Google has been viewed by many as a catch-all solution to a tricky situation. Put simply, it’s not and we are naïve to think Google would offer such an easy get-out tool, whether we have willingly or unknowingly allowed our sites to gain links through dubious methods or not.

Time Intensive

Like with most things in SEO unfortunately, the Disavow tool had no sooner been unveiled, than Google was already warning people not to abuse it and only use it in extreme circumstances. It was inevitable that some would ignore these warnings and I can’t help thinking that perhaps this has affected the value of the tool. After several submissions of a couple of disavow lists, all varying in content and numbers, and after seeing case studies from industry professionals, it seems that Google very rarely actually takes any notice of what is sent to them. Admittedly, it probably would have been a fairly labour-intensive process on Google’s end but then so is putting a disavow list together.

The process of manually looking at a link profile, sometimes in the thousands and mining for low quality dubious links, formatting a spreadsheet to organise them, reviewing the links live in some cases and identifying the value of removal is a very costly exercise in time. On top of that, once the links you want removing have been identified, you then are required to make contact with the offending site linking to yours. In almost all cases I’ve read and heard about (including my own) there has been a high percentage that just never replied. One instance saw around 95% of contacted sites ignore and fail to reply when asked about removing a link. In another, one that I can attest to, rather than contact a directory site, there was an option to remove the link automatically….great!…except they wanted $5 for the privilege (unfortunately, charging for this service has become more common). Only you can decide if it’s worth it, but with a profile of potentially hundreds of links, this could cost more in time and money than it is worth.

Use with Caution

After working through this lengthy process, the actual list needs creating in a .TXT format to send to Google. I suppose this was a clever move on Google’s part because if they just accepted a CSV Excel file, people would be using site explorer software and just exporting everything to the hilt. The Disavow file has to be structured in the correct way but the useful rule of using “domain: EXAMPLE” to ask for disavowal of every URL under that domain does save a lot of time. The problem of course is that some would just list hundreds of domains and still expect it to be taken into consideration

In my recent filing, I had to do just that, there were nearly 100 domains which did genuinely need removing and that had not replied or didn’t have a contact method but this was from a profile carrying a lot, lot more. If you send the file with mistakes in or not structured properly it won’t be accepted. However, a lot of people are now wondering whether it actually matters, as many of us have had no response or seen a visible change in results since submitting these requests.

It’s a cautionary tale and actually, Google were right to offer such a tool but wrong to assume they could limit our reliance on it. Especially since Matt Cutts’ recent announcement on Guest Posting, it seems people everywhere are now turning to the disavow tool to fix their problems. I say, use it sparingly, spend as little time as possible on it and target only those really poor links that could negatively impact your site.

If you have a big profile with thousands of links to your site and they are of a dubious nature, don’t even waste your time. Concentrate on moving forward with better quality links and impressive content. If Google can see a steady change in approach over the next six months, it may be enough to suddenly get your site improving again in the SERPS. If not, perhaps the domain is irreparably damaged and it’s time to start thinking about a new site. Either way, never assume that the time and effort with the Disavow tool will equate to a guaranteed positive result. Look to the future and the things you can affect moving forward.