The Disavow File: Impactful or Irrelevant?

SUSO 07 November 2023

Learn what Google’s Disavow File is, how it works and when you should use the Disavow Tool.

Author: Deep Shah, Project Manager

Deep Shah

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a misconception within the SEO community that the Disavow Tool should be updated and submitted whenever you come across a “poor” backlink to your website. This comes as a result of fear that such backlinks will harm a site’s ability to rank. 

But in reality, there’s only one scenario where this Google tool can actually make an impact. Using the disavow file for any other instance is irrelevant.

In this guide, we’ll go through exactly when and how you should go about using Google’s Disavow Tool for your website.

What Is the Disavow File & Why Was It Created?

The Disavow File is a means for webmasters to inform Google about backlinks to their website that they want the search engine to ignore when assessing their site’s ranking in the search results. 

Essentially, it’s a way for site owners to tell Google, “Please don’t consider these specific links when evaluating my website”.

A precursor to Google’s Penguin algorithm, the tool was Google’s way of giving webmasters a way to combat spammy links that may harm their site.

When Should You Use the Disavow Tool?

When the Disavow Tool was launched in 2012, Google made it very clear when they expect webmasters to use the tool.

The only time that you should use the disavow tool (according to Google), is if you have (or feel you are about to get) a manual action against your site for unnatural links to your site.

If you haven’t received such a penalty, you generally don’t need to use the tool and by doing so, according to Google’s Illyes, you are likely doing more harm than good. 

Fast forward a decade, and this still stands.

Google’s link spam detection capabilities in recent years have only strengthened. With the addition of SpamBrain, Google’s AI-driven spam prevention system, Google is able to “neutralize the impact of unnatural links on search results”.

This means that the need for using the disavow tool (even if you feel your website is under a negative SEO attack and someone is building 100s or 1000s of spammy backlinks to your site) is reduced even further – as Google’s link spam systems will have automatically ignored such links, if they were spammy.

 

How to Disavow Links in Google Search Console

The disavow file is a simple text file that contains a list of URLs or domains that you want Google to ignore. 

Each line of the file specifies a single URL or domain.

Any lines that start with a # will be ignored by Google.

# Disavow the backlink to my site from this URL

http://spammysite.com/spammy-link.html

# Disavow all backlinks to my site from this domain

Domain:example.com

If your site has received a manual links penalty, and you need to disavow the unnatural links, you can copy and paste them into our free Disavow File generator, which will automatically create the file for you.

disavow file generator

The file must:

  • Have one URL or domain to disavow per line. 
  • Be a text file encoded in UTF-8 or 7-bit ASCII
  • Have a name that ends in .txt
  • No more than 100,000 lines

Once you’ve got your file, you’ll need to submit it to each property of your Google Search Console account.

To do so:

  1. Navigate to the Disavow Links Tools page.
  2. Select a property from the property list.

disavow links tool

If a list already exists for this property, Google displays a summary of disavowed pages and domains. 

Uploading another list to this property will replace the existing list for this property.

  1. Click the “Upload disavow list” button to upload your list.
  2. Choose the disavow file from your computer and upload it.

If there are any errors, Google won’t upload the file and will display the errors immediately so that you can fix and re-upload them.

Once the upload has gone through, it can take Google a few weeks to incorporate the new domains and backlinks into its index. This is because it depends on when Google recrawls and reprocesses the pages where those backlinks exist.

What to Do Instead of Disavowing Links?

As we’ve already established, the Disavow File is only impactful if your website has received (or you feel is going to receive) a manual links penalty.

Therefore, if you disavow links in any other case, what you’re actually doing is risking losing precious PageRank and authority (albeit small, if the referring domain isn’t the best in terms of quality) from the sites linking to you.

Instead, your focus should be on creating great content that will naturally accumulate backlinks and then add internal links from relevant pages on your site to and from these pages.

The Bottom Line

The answer to our question as to whether the Disavow File is impactful or irrelevant – is it depends… on whether you’re using it for the right reasons. 

Are you using the Disavow tool because you’re worried a few bad backlinks are going to cause your website’s SEO performance to tank? If yes, then the Disavow File isn’t the answer – because Google’s SpamBrain is sharp enough to have picked those up and ignored them.

If you’re still not sure, take it from Google’s own John Mueller, who puts it nicely in a tweet: “When in doubt, leave disavow out”.

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