What are common mistakes you see from people using the “disavow links” tool?
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What are common mistakes you see from people using the “disavow links” tool?

OK. For today’s video, we wanted
to talk about what are the common mistakes that we see
when people try to use the Disavow Links Tool. We jotted down a few thoughts,
and so we thought we’d sort of work through them and
mention some of the mistakes that we see. The first one is the file that
you upload is supposed to be just a regular text file. So expect something like either
a comment on its own line, a domain, so it starts
with domain colon or a URL. Everything else is weird syntax
and, in theory, could cause the parser to
reject the file. What we see is people sometimes
uploading Word files, so .doc, Excel
spreadsheets, and that’s the sort of thing that our parser
is not built to handle. It’s expecting just
a text file. So if you upload something
really strange, that can cause the parser to throw that
file out, and then the reconsideration request
would not go through. The other thing that we see is,
a lot of the times, the first attempt at a
reconsideration request, you see people really trying to take
a scalpel and pick out individual bad links in
a very granular way. And for better or worse,
sometimes when you got a really bad link profile, rather
than a scalpel, you might be thinking more of
a machete sort of thing. You need to go a little bit
deeper, in terms of getting rid of the really bad links. So for example, if you’ve got
links from some very spammy forum, or something like that,
rather than trying to identify the individual pages, that might
be the opportunity to do a domain colon. So if you’ve got a lot of links
that you think are bad from a particular site, just go
ahead and do domain colon and the name of that domain. Don’t, maybe, try to pick out
the individual links because you might be missing
a lot more links. So a lot of the times people try
to pick out the individual URLs, when they should start
thinking about domain colon, at least for the first cut. The other thing that we see is
the domain colon needs to have the right syntax. So domain colon and then
a domain name. Don’t do domain colon and then
HTTP, you know, or www. or something like that. An actual domain like
example.com or mattcutts.com is what we’re looking
for there. A bunch of people, we sometimes
see them putting context, or the story, or the
documentation for the reconsideration request in the
Disavow Links text file that they try to upload. And that’s really not the
right place for it. The right place to give us the
context or to describe what’s going on is in the
reconsideration request, not in the Disavow Links
text file. And a corollary to that is
sometimes people will have a whole story up at the top, and
they might have the first line commented, but then if they
paste multiple lines of stuff, maybe there’s some other line
there that isn’t commented. So if that’s the case, then
the parser might again say this looks like a bad file and
throw it out, in an abundance of caution, and then that
might cause the reconsideration request
to not go through. So you probably don’t need
a lot of comments. If they’re there, I’d
keep them short. I wouldn’t make them multiple
lines and all that sort of stuff, because it increases the
likelihood that you might make a copy and paste error,
and then we would not trust that particular file. The other thing that we see is
sometimes people think that Disavow is the be all end all,
the panacea that’s going to cure all their ills. And yet, we do want, if you’ve
been doing some bad SEO and you’re trying to cure it, in
an ideal world you would actually clean up as many
links as you can off the actual web. That’s just a really helpful way
for us to see, when you’re doing a reconsideration request,
that you’re putting in the effort to try to make
sure that things have been corrected and cleaned up and are
not going to happen again. So those are the common things
that we see going on with Disavow Link requests. By far the biggest one is
people submitting like a Microsoft Word or a doc file,
instead of a text file. But if you look through all of
those, I hope you can sort of do a little checklist and make
sure that you’re submitting a file that will pass by the
parser and make sure that you put any context in the
reconsideration request, all those sorts of things. And that just increases your
odds that the Disavow and, thus, the reconsideration
request process will go well.


  • Razvan Girmacea

    I like that Matt Cutts gives educational videos for us. Specially useful for people that are not that advanced.

  • MrTVTL905

    Are you taking new questions now, by the way? I haven't seen a post in that regard, and a friend of mine and I have a really esoteric question.

  • Dick Bradley

    Thanks Matt. I appreciate you trying to make my absolute waste of time more efficient. Maybe one day we'll finally move past this and actually be able to spend our efforts on building amazing content to add value to our visitors. We can all hope, huh? Oh, and if you could give us some kind of criteria to help us identify bad links, that might actually help us with this goose hunt. But wait, if you know what links are bad, then you can just tell us, right? That would save everyone a ton of time!

  • Philip Zeplin

    Is it just me, or do webmasters and marketers spend more time trying not to get a link penalty, then actually creating solid content and relevant links from relevant sites, these days?

  • Jeff Ostroff

    Yes Philip I agree, we spend too much time hunting down all multiple spam incoming links designed to kill your rankings on Google, and it seems Google ignores the disavow list anyway, along with the Authorship profile, BTW Matt Cutts has stated in the past that another site cannot hurt your rank, but then they tell webmasters that there's spammy inbound links that are affecting their rank! Well duh, we know many webmaster bought low quality links, but what about scrapers ruining your rank?

  • Philip Zeplin

    It's common knowledge now, confirmed too I believe, that negative SEO is a thing. If someone wanted to, they could spam another site to death (or at least until they waste tons of time disavowing links). More so, it's crazy that just normal white-hat link building, through things like guest posting, marketing, and so on, now needs to be carefully considered and reviewed, so that it doesn't give you a penalty. It's just getting a little extreme.

  • mick say

    Hi Matt – I watch most of your videos to help keep my skills fresh and I appreciate your "non-tech" language. Have you ever considered posting or offering downloads of example files in order for us to see perfect, workable examples of such .txt files as explained in this video. Thanks buddy, may the force be with you. Mick

  • Adrian Bold

    I can just imagine thousands of site owners now clamouring to revisit the disavow tool and opening Notepad* as we speak!

    * other text editors are available.

  • Scott

    How about you don't create spammy links in the first place? How can you not see that by giving you a list of "bad links" all you need to do is nothing but spam links then just disavow the ones Google doesn't like.

  • Michiel Van Kets

    no, what he's saying is that you should try and remove them as much as possible, but those you can't remove, those you can then submit in the link removal tool thingy they got somewhere hidden in webmasterstools, when that's done you can ask for a reconsideration request (in case you were hit by a penalty)

  • Lisa Colangelo

    What happens if you created a "disavow" file back in February and the links (domain:) is still appearing in "Links to your site"?

  • WSI Connect

    It would be really helpful to know if there is some type of threshold for spammy links and more clarification around what constitutes a bad link…

  • Jonathan Guy

    Not sure how many times we need to say it, but don't penalise sites for bad link profiles, just count the ones you think are good. We don't know which links you don't like and as you won't tell us this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Turn it on its head, count the ones you like and let us get on with creating great content. If SEO's still want to buy cheap links, let them waste their cash. If you reward the good instead of penalising the bad then this would go away much quicker.

  • Spook SEO

    The only people who really really need to do disavow is if they've been hit with negative SEO anyway. And this won't affect more than 0.01% of websites on the internet. Very few other people really need to bother with it.

  • Dick Bradley

    You assume that everyone hit with a Penguin penalty is guilty of link spam, and that's simply not the case. There are a lot of innocents being punished here. And Google doesn't need to tell us what links are spammy, they can just devalue or ignore ones they don't trust. We don't need any transparency into that. Entire family business are being destroyed because a mock court has deemed them dubious when they're not.

  • Душан Богдановић

    Yes I was hit by a penalty with links that I was put on my second site. When I was found why I was hit, I was remove that links about 5 days ago but still not get previous SERP. Can that site return traffic that have before penalty?

  • Michiel Van Kets

    in theory yes, sure, but in reality … only if you indeed removed all the bad links, you might have more bad ones than you accept. but ok, if they're indeed gone, Google will pick it up sooner or later, but you can of course speed up the process by dropping a link removal request and then the reconsideration request

  • Душан Богдановић

    Yes, I'm 100% sure that I was remove all bad links. OK, I will wait but really don't have much hope, will let you know if something change. Thanks.

  • Luke Douglas

    Mick, sorry buddy but there are no perfect, workable examples…according to Google. 🙂 Seriously, Google has created an environment of constant maintenance for website developers and owners just to try and get a good search engine ranking yet business listing services STILL dominate most searches and Google has done nothing to stop that. I tell business owners to promote their sites and do not depend on 'any' search engine. Those that have taken this advice are doing just fine!

  • Rachmad Igen

    hope on webmaster tools for disavow link there will be an input column for entering example of url to be disavow

  • Michael Matthews

    Why do i feel like we are all being pushed into pay per click!
    So this confirms that my competitors can point spammy links to my site and damage it's reputation with Google, well shouldn't they be punished too with perhaps a total ban.

  • Ted Mueller

    @Matt and bumping @Michael Pasquale's comment: Do you need to submit a reconsideration request with a Disavow file upload? My understanding was a reconsideration request was something to do after a manual penalty and Disavow upload is something you could do if your site lost some ranking from the algorithm (probably after Penguin 2.0) due to spammy inbound links that may not have been created by you, allowing you to neutralize them. Clarification would me much appreciated.

  • Chetan Bhasin

    I have always wanted to know how do you figure out the bad links that are coming to your website. Any idea?

  • Sing Weist

    Thanks Matt, this is very informative! I love the breakdown, this makes it easy for us to send you information to get links disavowed. 🙂

  • Help Me Reach 1k Subs With No Videos

    How do I know if the request was successful? I submitted one last year following the guidelines and haven't see much change since then.

  • Steve Jackson

    Matt, am I missing something or would it make WAY more sense to have an AVOW tool rather than a disavow tool. This way site owners would not be exposed to spam links because all links would be ignored until they were accepted (avowed) by the site owner…problem solved and negative SEO prevented??

  • Spook SEO

    Hmm… I didn't think that others are sending other files than txt since Google's guidelines on disavow usage are pretty clear about it.

  • Kelly Neddo

    I really just wanted to say thank you for the videos – I am an artist that turned into a nerd and Matt is my personal hero – (sorry to anyone that disagrees), instead of making jewelry or going out late nights, I actually ENJOY Matt's videos, and am thankful for the big guy Google. I wouldn't be eating or having shelter if it were not for these videos. Yes everyone I am fully aware I am writing this in public this time. 🙂 Kelly

  • Steve Roy

    Cracking idea. I'm fed up with spam links that when you request their removal, the bandits want to charge you. $250 from one today to remove 6 links they took it upon themselves to link to my site

  • Steve Roy

    Come on Google. You need to get with reality. The vast majority of bad links this day and age IS NOT from trying to be an SEO cheat. My site for example has suffered from negative SEO and obvious criminal dodgy sites taking it upon themselves to link rubbish to my site then demanding large amounts of dollars to remove them upon request. I know of 2 small family companies, employing a handful of local workers, go out of business thanks to poor quality unauthorised links.


  • Imri Sagive

    i Created a helper tool that work with the diavow process… its free and would save a lot of time when dealing with a site that has a lot of links. check it out (for real – you should) sagive.co.il/tools/disavow-helper/

  • Imri Sagive

    people never read those stuff but skim the headlines you know… the best thing is a huge title when you want to get people to notice that.

  • Imri Sagive

    wont that mean people would get even more obssesed with searching for links to them? "new link new link" lets go check it out!… 🙂 but intresting idea…

  • Steve Jackson

    If they choose to, yes. But at least everyone else could be sure not to have penalties imposed on their sites for links they never asked for and can't remove easily.

  • Bruce Bromley

    What annoys me is that it appears we have been hit by negative SEO but I still have to waste my time trying to get links removed. The Disavow tool should address this!

  • Miklos Szanyi

    I never did any black hat SEO stuff, but now my ranking are down and I'm spending my time to dig into my 10-20 thousand backlinks and figure which are bad and which are good. Why should i do this? Completely unfair! Lot's of spammy sites ruined my income and i did not do anything wrong, but i'm the one who is punished.

  • Michael Haley

    Do we need to disavow sites that merely scrape our content to use on their sites – usually when they are building "adsense" sites? There seem to be a lot of these and going through them is tedious. I am hopeful that Google is distinguishing between sites that scrape and sites where links were intentionally built. Also, why are no-follow "comment" links showing up in Webmaster tools? I thought google didn't count those. Do we need to disavow no-follow links?


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  • Francois Harris

    Can you let me know if changing the disavow file will have any effect if the manual action has been already revoked? A client had added loads of domains to their disavow file, the manual action is now revoked, but many of those domains were perfectly fine. If I change the disavow file now, will it make a difference?

  • Tim Whittingham

    rather than crawling through all your links, trying to find the toxic links, conduct a website link audit to give you a full list of toxic links in minutes, ready to be removed.

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