The Disavow Tool Works! Real Sites, Real Recoveries!

See update here  – More Insights on the Disavow and Recovery


It seems like the only thing I have posted about this year is penalties, link removals and reconsideration requests!! Well at long last I can finally put a post together that is a little more positive; in short I have some good news! But I still want to discuss the above.

If you have been negatively affected by unnatural links, penguins or any other type of link spam penalty, there is a solution, you can get out of it and in a reasonable amount of time.

The Disavow Tool

Yes, you will all be aware Google launched this on the 16th October, and there has been mixed opinion on whether or not the tool works, why Google have launched it, and what impact it might have on search results in general.

Well, just so we’re all clear, it does work. If you have been hit by a penalty, following a few simple rules and using this tool is all you need to recover your rankings.

However, before I dive into the evidence I thought it might be useful to go over some of the reasons people were against or dubious of the disavow tool, and then I can talk you through how to sort this mess out.

Negative SEO

First of all let’s be clear, in my experience negative SEO has never really been an issue, I’m yet to see a plausible study that shows negative SEO really works. Yes since penguin hit there have been forum threads and the odd post about negative SEO attacks, however I have seen nothing convincing (feel free to prove me wrong in the comments). We even had a client that was hit with around 10,000 Xrumer links as part of an attack, the impact on rankings?? Nothing! In fact we saw improvements.

So, to say Google have brought out the disavow tool to defend negative link attacks holds no weight in my opinion.

Google should just ignore bad links

I am 100% sure that if Google could ‘just ignore bad links’, we would not have seen the unnatural links message or Penguin. The reason why Penguin rolled out, the disavow tool launched and unnatural links messages were sent, is because Google cannot algorithmically tackle link spam. They may be able to identify certain types, and devalue certain anchor text signals, but ultimately they are fighting a losing battle. This is the reason we have the disavow tool and all the penalties, Google wants us to clean up the web for them; “hey we’ve identified some bad links, we believe you are trying to manipulate our results, go clean it up or consider yourself penalised.”

Now you may feel this crowd sourcing from Google is wrong and a way of trapping SEO’s, that’s’ fine, but don’t be naive enough to believe that Google could just ignore bad links.

Yes, Google may have said in the past “Hey don’t worry about bad links, we can detect them and stop them passing value”, but come on, they’re not going to say, “Hey we’re really struggling with this link spam”. We’d all have a field day!

Good sites might get hurt

I have heard people saying “Good websites may be wrongly reported and stopped from passing value”, honestly; I don’t think this will be the case. If you have been hit by a penalty the last thing you’re going to do is disavow your better links. Plus if links are on good sites, its straightforward enough just to email and ask them to remove or change the link. It’s the spam sites with no contact details, no maintenance, it’s these sites that will get reported, and if reported enough may get de-indexed.

Basically, if your link profile is made up of bad links, expect to lose rankings soon.

None of the above reasons should stop you using the tool!

Anyone who completely disregards the tool based on some moral stance against Google obviously isn’t or hasn’t made any money from natural search. Any agency who advises against link removals, link disavowing or sending in a reconsideration request is naive and doesn’t fully understand the updates that have rolled out this year.

If used correctly the tool works, and here are some examples to prove it:

Example 1 – Manual Link Penalty

– removed 95% of link spam by August
– Unnatural links message in July 2012
– Reconsideration rejected
– Used link disavow for remaining links
– Filed reconsideration
– Rankings came back within 10 days

link disavow />

Example 2 – Manual Link Spam Penalty

– Unnatural links message received back in March
– 80% of links pulled down within 3 months
– Multiple reconsideration rejections
– Disavow tool used
– Filed reconsideration
– Message received advising manual spam penalty removed
– Rankings back within 7 days

manual action 2

Example 3 – Algorithmic Anchor Text Filter

– Unnatural links message received in March
– 60% of bad links removed
– Multiple reconsiderations rejected
– Disavow tool used
– Filed reconsideration
– Message received advising there were no manual penalties
– Rankings algorithmically recovered 3 weeks later

algorithm filter penalty

The above charts are from searchmetrics and give a visibility score based on rankings and potential traffic on those rankings, it is just a trending tool, but perfect for spotting penalties.

So if you have been hit with any kind of links penalty you’re going to want to know how to deal with it, and there are a few pieces of advice I would recommend you follow:

Link Audit

Make sure you undergo a thorough link audit. Combine Opensiteexplorer, Majestic SEO and Webmaster Tools links to ensure you have the biggest sample possible. You will then need to work through them and classify your links; I would split them into 3 groups:

> Good link
> Good site, aggressive anchor text
> Low quality website and link

Obviously leave the good links alone, contact the sites with aggressive anchor text and request removal, and add all spam links into a text file ready for the disavow tool.

You MUST do a link audit before using the tool, the last thing you want to do is disavow a link that is genuine and passing value. On the other hand you need to make sure you get as many of the bad links as possible.

If you do the audit and find you have very few or no good links then don’t expect your rankings to return, at best you’ll have a clean sheet to start working from again.

Disavow + Reconsideration

As well as disavowing the links you should also send in a reconsideration request, this is the only way a manual penalty can be removed and until you get a response you don’t know which one you have.

Remember there are 2 penalties at play!

The link penalties handed out in the last 18 months are made up of 2 types:

1 – Manual penalty for unnatural links

2 – Algorithmic anchor text based penalties

The problem is you may have them both. If you follow the advice from above you will receive a response from Google advising which you have, this advice comes in the form of 2 messages:

Manual Penalty

manual action revoked

manual action revoked 2

If you get a response like above, happy days! You will recover within 10 days.

Algorithmic Issue

You may get 1 of 2 messages:

algorithm filter

If you get this back it means your issue is algorithmic, and adding the suspect links into the disavow tool will help you overcome it, or you may be suffering with a Panda penalty which will need to be investigated.

algorithm filter disavow

Again this message means there were no manual actions and the issue is algorithmic, if it’s down to links, disavowing them will alleviate the issues.

Remember you may have an algorithmic penalty and a manual action! You have to take care of both and send a reconsideration request.

So there you have it, the tool does work, and it will help you sort issues with penalties.

It amazes me when I see people advising against the use of the tool, some businesses are losing millions in revenue because of these updates, to not use a tool that kills links that are hurting that revenue is just ridiculous.

Before I finish up, let me add a couple of warnings:

> Building good links and doing lots of social/content/viral marketing, is not going to sort out your penalty

However, on the other hand:

> If all your links are low quality, then Google isn’t going to reward you for removing them, you need good links in the first place

In summary:

1 – Carry out a link audit and classify links
2 – Manually remove aggressive anchor text
3 – Add spam links to a text file
4 – Disavow spam links
5 – File reconsideration
6 – Await response
7 – Recover rankings

Throughout all this, you should build great links through REAL outreach and marketing.

If you are struggling with this penalty or have any questions about using the disavow tool, please let me know. At Branded3 we’re continually advising businesses how to deal with these penalties and seeing lots of successes.


Tim Grice is the CEO of Branded3, a search marketing agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

Latest posts by Tim (see all)

202 Replies to “The Disavow Tool Works! Real Sites, Real Recoveries!”

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write and share these case studies Tim!

    It’s great to see that to disavow tool works, but what the future will bring for linkfarms/bad-links/grey-link building, is left unknown.

    Overall, do I fell pretty good about the new initiative, even though it doesn’t solve the problem of “hobbybloggers” getting hit by negativ SEO, since they don’t have a clue that the disavow tool exists – and there for are unable to report bad links.

  2. Hey Tim, thanks for taking the time to post this article about the disavow tool and your experiences with it. How long until after you submitted the disavow .txt file did you wait until submitting a reconsideration request? I had submitted the disavow.txt while still pending a response from Google, and within a matter of days it came back denied. I have since sent out more link removal requests to my targeted domains for client X and will be doing another reconsideration request again soon; I was just curious if you waited a little bit like Matt Cutts suggested or if you just submitted the reconsideration directly after uploading the disavow .txt file.

  3. Hey Matt,

    We disavowed and waited a few days to submit a recon, we attached a Google doc showing the disavowed links.

    I’d suggest double checking the links, and making sure you have disavowed everything in WMT, even if it is 404ing. The disavow seems to act like a ping, and prompts Google to neutralise.

  4. Hi Tim, this is my first time on your site and I dig it!

    Any regard to blocking individual links versus blocking entire domain? I.e. for your third class of links (Low quality website and links) did you block the link or the domain?

    Just curious about that, I’m looking forward to seeing some changes on my site(s) as well.


  5. Thanks for posting this! I’m about to submit a few reconsideration requests after using the disavow tool for clients who had failed previous requests.

    I was wondering why you used the Searchmetrics graphs that are “a visibility score based on rankings and potential traffic on those rankings,” rather than the actual analytics of the site. Did these sites actually recover?

    I have had a few sites that had penalties removed but still did not see an increase in traffic.

    Now that I think of it, perhaps these sites were affected by Penguin…perhaps we need to do some disavowing and try again…or maybe we need to wait it out and see if the penalty eventually lifts.

  6. Hi Tim

    Thanks for posting

    Is it safe to assume that all three examples had a fair amount of “good links” and a fair amount of unique content before hand?

    Also the time for the recoveries seem quite short, if the tool was only released last week, how could recovery happened 3 weeks later? (was there a beta access for example) maybe recovery wasn’t soley due to the tool alone?

  7. Thanks for the interesting examples. Would you mind specifying what dates those recoveries occurred? And were they in the US, UK, other?

  8. Typically if we think the domain is spam site blog network/seo directory/link farm, we will block the whole domain. Anything we consider a legitimate site but the link is aggressive, we’ll just block the offending URL’s. There are a lot of forums that have been spammed and getting in touch with webmasters is tough, but the forum may be good, in this case we’ll disavow the URL.

  9. Hi Marie,

    I used searchmetrics because I thought it was a good visual, and some of them recovered in the last few days making comparisons difficult. The way these links penalties work is through the devaluation of sets of keywords you have aggressively targeted with links, all the sites in question saw all the rankings return, sometimes to better positions.

    Remember there are 2 penalties at play, we have had a manual penalty recovery and then the algo update hits them, but you can use the disavow tool to remedy both.

  10. Hi Jon,

    Yes the sites had good links in place but were being held back by the penalties. You have to have good links that justify good rankings, Google won’t reward you for removing the bad ones alone.

    I can assure you the link removals, disavow tool and a reconsideration are behind the recoveries, let’s just say we had an early insight 😉

  11. We’ve seen multiple recoveries, some of the dates are 13/10, 16/10, 24/10, there is no set date, just whenever the message comes back and the algo updates.

  12. Thanks Tim…I should have specified my interest in the algo-related ones. The SM charts you provided all appear to have rebounded on the same day. I saw an algorithmic recovery for a particular site on 23/10 and was wondering if that date correlates with algo recoveries you’ve seen. Cheers.

  13. Sorry – I don’t quite understand how in example 3 you’re using the disavow links tool, waiting three weeks and then recovering rankings… 9 days after it was released.

    Ditto with example 1. Timelines are wrong, therefore how are these examples accurate?

  14. I have some more questions for you Tim if you don’t mind.

    Did you have beta access to the disavow tool? Or were these recoveries seen this week?

    Also, I’m confused about the site that had the algorithmic penalty lifted. According to John Mueller, you can only recover from Penguin when Penguin refreshes (see As far as we know there was a Penguin refresh Oct 5. Was the recovery that day or did you see recovery on a different day?

  15. Hi Tim

    So your saying you had access to the disavow tool weeks before it was released? I find that incredibly hard to believe and extremely unlikely.

    If you didn’t, the timescales you are given with what happened aren’t necessarily related. However this article would have got a lot of links & social shares if that was the aim of the post? 😉

  16. Marie,

    All I can say is we had some unique insight before the tool was launched, unfortunately I can’t go into it anymore than that.

    In terms of the algorithm, not all algorithmic updates relate to penguin e.g. one of the businesses that came to us were hit in December 2011, however, we recovered them using the exact same technique. As the article says, if it is penguin you have to wait for the refresh, and we did see some recoveries on the 5th.

  17. Aim was definitely to cause a stir, however the recoveries are real, the dates are real and the clients are genuine recoveries. The process is exactly what happened.

    The Beta Disavow Tool? Unfortunately I can’t comment. Interested to know why you think it’s unlikely though? You don’t have to be a hardcore SEO celeb to get unique insight 😉

  18. Awesome, thanks for taking the time to clarify these things Tim. I’ve got a bunch of clients who are begging me to use the disavow tool for them. I want to know as much about it as possible before running it willy nilly, especially because Google has repeatedly said that you should not use it unless you got a manual warning. (And then they put a little confusing caveat there saying that well, maybe you could use it for Penguin too.)

    In one case I have a site that got their manual spam penalty removed via our reconsideration request but after 2 months there is still no improvement in rankings. The site dropped in March (after receiving the manual warning) but did have an additional drop after the April 24 Penguin rollout. Traffic has not increased since then despite getting the manual penalty removed.

    The site doesn’t have an overtly “Penguiny” backlink profile. However, the primary anchor text is their brand name and it’s possible that their brand could be considered a keyword. For example, if I had a website named and I had a bunch of backlinks that were anchored with “buy red shoes” it may be debatable whether those were natural brand links or attempts to manipulate pagerank.

    I’m going to reassess those backlinks and consider disavowing the ones that come from spammy sources. Hopefully when there is another Penguin refresh we will recover as the site truly does have some good backlinks as well.

    Thanks again for publishing this!

  19. Also check against the EMD update at the end of September, it could be a mixture of updates affecting the site. We haven’t recovered an EMD as yet, but are trying.

  20. Nice post,

    It is a pity you contradict yourself – you state “in my experience negative SEO has never really been an issue”, yet further in your post you state “Hit by a link spam penalty at the end of 2011”. The very fact you can cause a ‘link spam penalty’ on one site reinforces the simple fact you can bring another site down.

    While it would be nigh-on possible to bring down a site that has brand reputation, I can guarantee you it is more than possible to bring down sites, you have written it yourself, albeit inadvertently.

    Google have dropped a clanger. As soon as Rand Fishkin got the unnatural link warning something had to change. Matt Cutts and his merry bunch will never admit the disavow tool is in place because of negative SEO, but in my humble opinion that is exactly the reason why it was introduced.

    Fishkin and Cutts know that negative SEO exists and they could not admit too it – so what we are presented with is a PR exercise by Google to cover a major flaw in their search offering.

    Seowizz, more like Google brainwashed seoswizz!

  21. lol great comment.

    My opinion is that links can hurt, but negative SEO is different, in my opinion. Negative SEO is link bombing a competitor in order to remove them from a set of SERPs you’re attacking, you wouldn’t link bomb a site that didn’t rank.

    Maybe negative SEO is possible in small niches, targeting websites with no brand power, and maybe the disavow tool will help to recover this, but I still don’t think this is why Google have brought it out. I think Google can’t control the amount of crap out there, so they allow negative signals to pass in certain instances, disavow tool comes out as a tool for webmasters to clean up the web for Google, that’s my opinion.

    As I said in the post, I’d love to see/read a legitimate negative SEO case study, but as yet I haven’t seen one.

    Swizz, wizz, whatever… We have recovered multiple rankings, revenue and traffic for businesses of all sizes, there just the facts. No need for the trolling really.

    Oh and we have seen multiple sites get the second unnatural links message with zero impact. Negative SEO has to result in lost rankings, not just an automated message in WMT.

  22. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the great article. I have 2 Qs for you if you have a few mins, please:

    1. How are you personally distinguishing between a Penguin issue and another algorithmic issue – is it only the date of recovery matching the Penguin update? I ask because the question came up with @patrickaltoft yesterday of whether you NEED a refresh to recover. If there is no apparent difference in Penguin and ‘algorithmic’ recoveries apart from the date, are you treating them the exact same way prior to that point? IOW you are never calling things Penguin until afterwards or always calling things penguin until it recovers on the wrong date and then, ‘oh, it mustn’t have been’

    2. I know you ‘can’t talk about it’ 🙂 but… Do you believe the quick turnaround between the submit and the results is due to impressing the SEOs and lack of demand at that point? Do you know if you can expect that speed again?


  23. Hi Very nice analysis, thank you for taking the time to go over these results with us.

    It is good to know that the Disavow tool is helping webmaster and not another tool which will turn sites in the wrong direction.

    Also I am curious to know the accuracy of Search Metrics?

    But overall fantastic analysis best post I have seen so far on the Disavow tool.

  24. Tim – I really hope I have results like this. Question do the disavowed links disappear from WMT’s backlink reports? Did you have any sites not recover?

  25. I have done negative SEO, and charged for the privilege. Not attacking the main site, but a national newspaper article about a company. And ranked that bad review alongside a brand name. Kudos the SEO manager had Google alerts on his anchor texts, so got alerts as soon as my negative work started. And tweeted “we are under attack” lol.

    Second, having admitted i am a two-bob SEO’r above, it was necessary for me to submit a disavow request. It worked for the over optimised KW. It now ranks back in #12 v #34

    I did a thorough link audit before submitting. And let’s face it, if you have tanked… then you have very little to lose.

    A classic crowd-sourcing technique by google, and not really to do with Negative SEO .

    Negative SEO is not much more than trolling. IMO

  26. Hi Tim

    Thanks for the great article, and nice to see something positive, and not tin-foiled written about the disavow link tool.

    Did you have access to the beta version for the above mentioned sites? And how long did it take to get the “revoked” reply after submitting the reconsieration request?

  27. #3 is not algorithmic – algo “penalties” don’t give you any notification and you cant do reconsideration request.

    Great to see that the tool can be used successfully (and quickly) against manual penalties, but you need to be careful about the labelling of these issues.

  28. Great Post but I’m confused a bit. If we have had no warnings from Google, but have had a drop in rankings in specific countries ie. .uk .au yet our .com remains fine, would it still be recommended to use the tool? Prior to the 29/9 we ranked No.3 in .au but since then we can’t be found, a similar thing happened with but we returned to near our normal spot within the week. Need to use disavow or not?

  29. Hi Tim, great article and great coverage. Thanks for the time for putting this together, it’s really helpful. Your statement that Google can’t just fight this link spam is the real problem as with Xrumer you can hurt decent sites. This proves non-believers that link equity is still the no1 ranking factor.

  30. Tim –

    New to your blog and found it in a Facebook group where a reader posted the link. I think what the commentator was saying above (and it’s the question that’s on my mind) is that Google released this tool on October 16, but your rankings recovery dates are from September, etc.

    So how did you use the tool before it was released? Did you have an insider at Google give you access to a beta version?

    That’s what I was wondering myself…

  31. Hej Tim, please answer the question j asked: ” I don’t quite understand how in example 3 you’re using the disavow links tool, waiting three weeks and then recovering rankings… 9 days after it was released.”

  32. Hi There,

    In order for it to be confirmed as penguin it has to match the dates, anything outside of this we believe to be a link/anchor text filter, however that depends on how honest Google are being about Penguin refreshes. If a site recovers on the date of a refresh, or loses traffic on an update, we would consider the issues to be penguin related.

    Speed of response is a difficult one to answer, we haven’t had any insider help with these recoveries, however as more people use the tool and understand the process it may be that response rates to manual penalties slow down.

  33. Search metrics is based on rankings, which 90% of the time seem to be accurate, it’s a great tool for analysing trends, but like GA it’s not 100%

  34. Hi Richard,

    I’d have to disagree, we have had responses from Google confirming no manual action, but other algorithmic factors may be at play. All the sites that got message 3, all recovered within weeks.

  35. Hi Marc,

    Your issue sounds a little different to a typical link spam hit, and would need a good amount of investigation. Are you linking the sites up with hreflang + canonical (if they are displaying the same content)?

  36. Something not quite right with your post so.

    You say that #3 got an “Unnatural links message”. That means it is a manual penalty. It cant therefore be algorithmic, as in baked into ranking algo.

    If you get a real algorithmic “penalty” (since Google no longer calls them penalties) then you wont get any help from reconsideration requests. Nor will you get any message in GWT.

    The sites you mention that got the message and recovered within weeks did not recover from algorithmic penalties. Or if they did it was pure coincidental.

  37. Ah,

    The message they got was the second message in July this year, however their rankings had been suffering almost 12 months before this, we have seen people get the message in July and seen no negative impact.

    I don’t think the message = manual penalty. I think that was simply a warning, a lot of sites that got it either had no negative hits, or had one years ago, and in my opinion they are algorithmic.

    Google’s response was automated, I don’t believe it was looked at by anyone in the web spam team. I believe the site recovered simply because the bad links were disavowed, the recon to Google was simply to understand if a manual action was in place.

  38. Hey Tim, I love the way you have explained everything in detail, I have been reading all around the web about Google’s disavow link tool but could not find answer for one of my question, may be you are the right guy to answer that as you have been recovered your client’s website after using disavow tool successfully. After disavowing links, will the number of links shown in GWT will also gets removed? if yes then what portion of links will actually gets removed from it, are all backlinks which we had submitted in disavow tool gets removed or some portion of it? Also if you know that you have been penalized with algorithmic penalty, does it necessary to submit reconsideration request to google or ranking will come back automatically after 2-3 weeks of submitting links for disavowing??

    Jayesh M.

  39. HI Jayesh,

    The links you disavow will stay in WMT, disavowing them is like no following, so there would be no reason to remove them from WMT. If you think you have been hit by an algo penalty I would still send in a recon, just to make sure there are no manual actions against you.

  40. Thanks a lot Tim, I will submit a recon request right now, its been 4 days since I had disavowed links, was thinking of waiting 2-3 weeks more to see the actual aftereffect of the same, because I was ranking #1 for lot of my keywords prior to April 24 (Penguin Black Night), and all of a sudden my homepage which was ranking, got disappread from the SERP, and internal pages were ranking on 2nd-3rd page and main homepage were not appreaing anywhere in SERP, after EMD update my homepage started showing but it seems like it got “minus 950” penalty, its ranking at end of the SERP result for all those keywords for whom it used to rank in top 3.

  41. I do not see there answer to my question 🙂

    You know you are writing that disavow tools works. In example #3 people can understand that tool is working – but these 13 days can be misunderstand.. – you know what I mean?

  42. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the really useful article. You don’t mention any need to attempt to remove the bad links before submitting them to the disavow tool – is that right? I read Matt Cutts said it was important to try get the links removed before using disavow tool, but maybe that’s just a waste of time if the tool is as effective as you suggest?

  43. Hi Barry,

    If the links are really spammy, the chances of you contacting are slim to say the least. I would just add these to the disavow tool. If a site is reasonably good quality I would attempt contact.

    Matt Cutts mentioned that the links look bad on your brand and should be removed anyway, but who really visits spam sites?

  44. Hi Tim and thanks for sharing. I have one question regarding your link audit and the following actions you have to take. If I have some/a lot of number 2 Links (Good site and aggressive anchor). Is it good just to contact the site owner an change the anchor text instead of removing this link? The link alone is good, but the anchor is just to much I guess. Don’t want to loose these links. Thanks for your adivce.

  45. I like seeing the graphs of the three different ways that the rankings responded to the disavow tool. Many of my client have wanted to jump in and start disallowing a bunch of links before doing the correct preparation. That is key to all of this working.

  46. Tim –

    Matt Cutts mentioned that they sent out those warnings when there was a manual review – unless that’s changed again somewhere along the line (it was at SMX earlier this year, wish I had the link, Barry Schwartz reported on it I think).

  47. Thanks, I read up about those, but there’s no duplicate content, it would seem from some playing around that I have done that it’s more related to incoming links from .au and .uk websites.

  48. “All I can say is we had some unique insight before the tool was launched, unfortunately I can’t go into it anymore than that”

    That’s real mysterious. Heh.

    I guess fabricated link bait is somehow more saintly than an XRumer blast.

  49. Hi Tim,

    I’ve been through the mammoth task of removing 175 url’s with 30000 links to my site which had resulted in a manual penalty to Google.

    After coming to a dead end with non replying webmasters and two failed reconsideration requests I was at a loss what to do next.

    Thankfully Google launched their disavow tool.

    I processed my disavow links requests on Tuesday and plan to file a reconsideration requests today.

    For me the disavow links tool corrects a disparity as many sites that have been penalised have had their business affected by poor quality link building from poor quality SEO agencies. This surely allows then to correct that wrong and only give the organic listings & Google itself more credibility.

  50. Hi Tim,

    I submitted my dissavow on friday after running my 14,000 (G list) backlinks through and 1 day later my 2 main kws that were penalised have vanished (they were page 2/3), is this normal?, I was cautious and only removed the real bad stuff which was 1000 links

    my secondary positions are un affected still page1


  51. Quote “All I can say is we had some unique insight before the tool was launched, unfortunately I can’t go into it anymore than that.”

    Either put up or shut up, otherwise this piece is nothing more than wannabe link bait.

  52. And as I say if you cannot back up your claims with something a bit more substantial then your post/claims are a very clever piece of linkbait!

  53. Great post! Did you disavow the “Good site, aggressive anchor text” links or did you just contact the site owners?

  54. and btw, would you categorize dofollow blog comments on real blogs as potential links to disavow? Got a couple of those maybe around 20. The sites look ok, but there are quite many comments of each post.

  55. Tim, this is the most helpful article regarding the Disavow tool thus far, so Thanks!

    We’ve been disavowing for about a week and a half, but are still discovering new links (still going through Webmaster Tools backlinks extensively).

    Would you recommend disavowing article directory submissions that contain aggressive anchor text links?

    We’re disavowing all aggressive anchor text links from low-quality directories, as Google now explicitly says are a “link scheme” ( But since they’ve changed the Webmaster Link Scheme page, they do not mention low-quality articles, like Free Article Submission sites of any kind. All they mention is “articles with little coherence” and their example is sort of like the links you see in spun articles on spam blogs, etc.

    What are you thoughts?


  56. Hi Markus,

    Yes definitely contact the site first, if you’re happy that the content/linking page is of good quality and not toxic, then switching to a brand anchor text is recommended. However, if you suspect the site has been flagged for selling links, then best to just remove.

  57. Hey James,

    I know that’s what he said, however the second batch of unnatural messages came in July, and the messages in July had to be sent twice due to Google wanting to reword them. SEOmoz got one of these messages, so if there is a manual penalty after every message, they have one. Everything we have seen suggests the second batch of messages did not result in a manual penalty.

  58. Hey Martin,

    I think you have to remember, disavowing links does not always mean they weren’t helping, it could be some of these links were still helping rankings, however they’re almost guaranteed not to in the future.

    I’d suggest you need to start building really good quality links into the site now, as long as you are sure you have all the rubbish in the disavow.

  59. Thanks for your input Joel.

    I guess at the end of the day I can write what I want, if you don’t believe it test it.

    If you believe it to be just a bit of link bait then give me a little credit, because it got me a link from 89 domains and counting, including Google.

  60. Thanks Clint.

    Definitely disavow article directories, anything that was automated through a tool is almost certainly hurting rankings.

    Even if you were manually submitting these articles, I would consider taking them down if you have been hitting the same anchor text over and over again.

  61. Branded3 were part of the Beta testing of the disavow tool.

    Hopefully that will stop some of the whingers here. And since it’s not coming from Branded3 that shouldn’t impact their NDA.

    @Tim – I realise you cant deny/confirm anything, but are you allowed to give an indication as to how long it took from submission to seeing results? I understand if you cant discuss that, but I cant see how that info would be sensitive.

  62. lol, hey Richard

    After we disavowed we sent a recon within 3 days, if it was a manual penalty, it took anything from 7 – 10 days, if it was algo based it was anything from 2 – 3 weeks, one site nearly a month.

  63. Thanks for that Tim.

    Can you give us any idea of the scale of the links you removed from some of these sites Tim? As in could you give the proportion of total links you had to disavow in order to see a result? It would be interesting to get some idea of the magnitude, which might help avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  64. We did the following for the manual recovery:

    – 80% links removed from a sample of 1300 domains
    – Disavowed the remaining 20%

    I must stress, recons were continually rejected when we were removing links, 50%, 60%, 70% all got rejected, even when we got to 80%. We only got a positive response after removing the remainder and attaching it in a Google doc in a new recon.

  65. Hi Tim,

    Great article, lots of food for thought. One question for you though.

    If I had a site that took a nosedive when Penguin hit, yet didn’t get any unusual link pattern message from Google, but when a reconsideration request was submitted got the:

    “We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the webspam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google. There’s no need to file a reconsideration request for your site, because any ranking issues you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the webspam team.”

    type message, would you say that the site definitely has an algo penalty, or is that message going to go out to sites that submit a reconsideration request but are not under any kind of algo penalty?

  66. Question.

    You mention ranks recovering within 10 days of receiving notice from Google that the manual penalty was lifted. How long did you wait AFTER disavowing and requesting reconsideration did you wait before you heard back from Google?

    Just trying to get an idea.

    And thanks a ton for this post.

  67. Hello Tim,¡ Thanks to share your experience. I have a doubt about the examples: when you said: – Multiple reconsideration rejections or reconsideration rejected, what exactly means? I understood that you sent a reconsideration file in “many ocassions”. I supposed that all it was before disavow tool was launched. Can you explain a little?. Because now i understand you recommend: 1st disavow, second reconsideration.
    Thanks in advance.

  68. In both circumstances I would try to contact websites, unless they were clearly spam, and it was there was no one in the background.

  69. Hi,

    I think this message will go out to anyone who hasn’t got a manual penalty, and yes issues seem to be more of a filter relating to an algo update. This usually relates directly to link quality and anchor text stuffing, you may have to pull down any poor links in your profile and begin from scratch. At least you know it’s not a manual penalty holding you back.

  70. Hey Drew,

    At first we waited 3-4 days to file a recon, but have started doing it the same day and are still seeing results.

  71. Originally we said 3 – 4 days, however have seen success by doing the same day also. I don’t think it really matters, do it as soon as things are disavowed.

  72. I think you may have misread my question, i’ll try again 🙂

    Could a site that has no manual and no algorithmic issues be sent that message if they submitted a reconsideration request?

  73. I never received a warning about un-natural links but my site dropped to the very bottom of our target phrase, that made me presume it was algorithmic, however 7 months on after removing all the links the site hasn’t recovered. The site used to receive 600 visitors a day and now receives around the 150-200 mark (after the first penguin update). However, the site still is bringing in a good income.

    I would say my situation is like example 3. My general concern has been that submitting a reconsideration request may bring the previous dodgy backlinks to googles attention and actually have a negative impact. It would be good to know the exact dates you submitted each reconsideration request to see if your sites traffic was affected in your graphs.

    I believe this is a common concern for alot of webmasters either that or i’m just mega-paranoid.

  74. Hi Matt,

    I appreciate your concerns, however, after seeing multiple reconsiderations sent on all types of site, I have never seen a negative affect.

    The ‘dodgy’ backlinks you had will have been supporting your rankings, Google then devalued them, so removing them will not positively influence rankings. I would say you now need to rebuild the profile with links that will stand the test of time and slowly rebuild your rankings.

    I honestly can’t see the harm in requesting reconsideration, if the links are not live, they aren’t an issue. At least it will confirm whether or not the penalty is manual, however from what you’re saying it definitely suggests an algo up date and a devaluation of links.

  75. Sorry,

    Yes, I think that message could go out to anyone that is not suffering from a penalty, Google would never confirm an algo based penalty so if you have lost rankings or traffic I would imagine this is a pretty standard response.

    The reconsideration request is to make sure there are no manual penalties in place, as no amount of clean up, building great links etc… is going to help if you have a manual penalty.

  76. Hi TIM! Complimens for this complete article… i have a simple question.

    The penalty due to unnatural or low quality backlinks can exist though no message sent by Google in WMT?

  77. Hi Tim,

    After getting knocked back from Google twice before having removed 50% of backlinks I have used the disavow tool, waited for 1 week then sent in another reconsideration request and not heard back for 10 days.

    Have you noticed the time its taking for Google to reconsider sites increase since the launch of the disavow tool? Also could it be a good sign its taking longer?

    Thanks in advance.

  78. Hi Tim
    I think there is a filter on my site for the keyword I was going for as it is now the last result in the SERPS (and I do mean last!)

    It used to be number 1.

    I have made a huge effort in removing all the links and webmaster tools went from showing around 900,000+ links to around 12,000. Alot of links were sitewide links. I deserved the penalty / algo hit, but i’m hoping that google will see that i’ve removed all the bad links now. Even after removing those links after penguin updates I saw no changes.

  79. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the great articles & case studies.

    Regardless of the outcome, the effort that you put into writing this article is worth more than any so called “SEO recovery services” out there in the market at the moment.

    Anyhow, I just got a couple of quick questions:
    1) Have you recovered any sites without submitting the reconsideration after submitting the disavow list?

    2) Do you have a list of criteria to group those links to be disavowed?

    3) Just to clarify that getting the unnatural links message in WMT doesn’t mean it’s a manual penalty, correct?

    Keep up the good work!


  80. Hi,

    Great article. I think the best article on penguin/algo updates I have seen. My site dropped on April 24th. Now I have been removing links over the last months. had some poor links. I managed to get rid of around 60 I think and disavowed the others. Though I find new links and some links are only shown in Majestic or Ahrefs or Webmaster Central. Also some links are not indexed by either of these tools. How do I know I have done enough before sending a reconsideration request. Is Webmaster Tools leading ? Id it is only penguin that is harming your site;s rankings, Google will tell that in their reqaction the reconsideration request or not? Then I will just need to wait till another updat right?

    Thanks a lot!

  81. Hi Jaap,

    If its penguin then you will get a response from WMT advising that there are no manual penalties affecting the site. You then need to disavow/remove as many of the bad links as possible and wait for the update.

    We use OSE, WMT and Majestic to collect links, however there still maybe links not being reported, that Google still no about. So keep a close eye on these tools every time they update.

  82. Hi Zen,

    1) yes we have seen sites recovering after bad links have been removed and the algo has updated, however I would suggest sending a recon anyway, simply to ensure there are no manual actions

    2) Links to disavow are any that appear unnatural or paid, forum signatures, article directories, blog networks, link farms. If there is no reason for the link being there it needs removing. Even with good sites, you should scrutinise anchor text that is aggressively targeted.

    3) If you had the first message in Feb/Mar, then the chances are that it is a manual penalty. If you had one in July, then probably not.

  83. Yes definitely, we usually saw a response within 10 days, however we have been waiting 3 weeks for one of the more recent requests.

  84. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the reply.

    1) What do you normally say in the reconsideration request?

    2) My main website was affected except for a particular subpage which is optimised for a branded keyword rather than a generic one. Have you recovered sites like this before?

    3) My first message was back in 19th April. So I’m positively sure that it’s manual penalty.

  85. We’re very honest in the reconsideration requests, run through the links that you believe caused the problem and how you have gone about removing/disavowing etc… We have seen recovery on all kinds of sites from lead generation to e commmerce.

  86. After doing a reconsideration request a few days AFTER the disavow tool become public, and make use of it – finally got “Reconsideration request for Manual spam action revoked” message!!

    Been months and months of hard work, removing links etc and documenting it…finally!
    Already noticed some ranking improvements, but long ways to go.

  87. So here is my situation got hit with what I believe was penguin according to analytics my traffic fell off a cliff on april 24th,I never received a any messages in WMT pertaining to bad quality links or spam prior or afterthe update.After our traffic fell 60% we started removing bad quality links on the site as we checked each one manually.Since we removed about 2oo bad links we sent in a reconsideration request and got this message (We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the webspam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google. There’s no need to file a reconsideration request for your site, because any ranking issues you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the webspam team.) blah blah blahhhh so in a nut shell we have now used the disavow tool and send another request rite?….it has been 7 months of hell now and traffic has came bock to about 50% but no where near any recovery…..any other suggestions Tim …I will not give up until it comes back!

  88. great article. I just want to say that after receiving our un natural links penalty in april, we did a lot of link removals ourselves, turned down 8 times. Thinking back, we deserved it, but i wish they gone about it in a different way. We have learn our lesson and have totally changed the way we do seo. and links? huh, who the hell wants links anymore eh?!!!

    then did the google disavow recently, sent a very honest email to google and 2 days ago i finally had “Manual spam action revoked” notice! Best thing i have heard all year.

    Disavow works. How do i know? Check your links on the ahrefs site and select external only and you will see that most of the links shown in a pie chart will now be NO FOLLOW.

    So yes it does work but must be used carefully. I will be reviewing the list again to see if i put any good links by mistake, just to be sure.

    Now, i have to wait for the site to recover so any idea how long this will take?

  89. Sorry to hear about your situation, so you know it’s definitely not a manual action, which means your ranking drops definitely relate to an algo change (penguin). This means a lot of the bad links in your profile will have been devalued and potentially counting against you. I would continue to remove bad links and disavow any you are unable to contact, however your rankings were most likely being supported by poor links, therefore you will have to replace these with solid new link sources, this will take time and investment.

    Rankings won’t come back unless there are high quality links in place to support them, be very strict in terms of your classification of bad links, we find a lot of people leave unnatural links in place, as they feel ‘they are not that bad’, if there is no genuine reason for a link being on a page, then it’s an unnatural links and will be or will in the future harm your rankings.

  90. Hi Alex of Wall Coatings UK,

    I’m curious, how long after the reconsideration request did you get the Manual Spam Action revoked message.

    I sent my 4th one in 3 weeks ago and not heard anything back yet?

    Kind Regards,


  91. Thanks for a detailed article, useful to see disavow in action, the web seems awash with people howling about Google destroying them even though they never did anything wrong and how disavow doesn’t work, suspect 90% of them have been spamming and are just angry at themselves! At least I have somewhere to direct people to is they complain about disavow now!

  92. Thanks Tim. We were hit by Penguin a week or two before the Unnatural Links Penalty message appeared in WMT (early May). Since then we had been hard at work cleaning our backlinks for the Unnatural Links penalty. We had this Unnatural Links penalty about 6.5 months until we got it Revoked late last week. So, while we had the Unnatural Links penalty Penguin algo refreshed a couple of times (late May and early October).

    Do you think we could have recovered from Penguin WHILE we had the Unnatural Links penalty? Certainly by early October most of our links removals, and anchor text clean-ups were completed (we managed to clean up 90% of them without the need for the Disavow tool). Or do you think you need to get rid of the manual penalty before you can recover from such an algo penalty at the next refresh, post-penalty being revoked?

    I hope that makes sense.

  93. Congrats Alex. We too have had a similar success.

    > Disavow works. How do i know? Check your links on the ahrefs site and select
    > external only and you will see that most of the links shown in a pie chart will now be
    > NO FOLLOW.
    Not sure I understand that statement though. Ahrefs are not privy to your link disavowing! So they will not be marking links you disavowed as NO FOLLOWed.

    But I am not saying disavowing links doesn’t work either. 🙂

  94. Hi Mike,

    We have found that if you had the unnatural links messages (the first one) then chances are that you have a manual penalty, you can still see small improvement through link removal, but would definitely need it removing before seeing a full recovery.

  95. Hi, ok heres the deal and this is being VERY honest, with a bunch of people i dont know (!)

    1. Yes it (disavow) DOES work but I base that on my OWN experience and as you probably know, google uses a whole lot of signals to rank and rate sites.
    2. what i meant was, when you analyse your backlinks in a good program or on a good site like opensiteexplorer etc etc, if you select whatever tool it is that shows you the ratio of backlinks FOLLOW OR NO FOLLOW, if your google disavow req

  96. ah this just posted, guess there is a word limit? I was trying to say that if when you checked your links BEFORE disavow sent, and say 60% of them were spammy do-follow, AND you have since submitted a disavow request AND a site reconsideration request, AND have made real efforts to get bad links removed, YOU WILL see many of the links that WERE dofollow, will now be NOFOLLOW. which means that i have discovered that google will not delete the links, it WILL nofollow them. Ok.

  97. Hi TIm,

    Thanks for your replies and for the article again. Have you or anyone else an idea on when the next penguin update will be? It has been over half a year now which is pretty long. Could it be before christmas???? That would be great.

  98. Hey Tim,
    Great post. You have been a great help to me in the past regards my automotive sites and hope you can help me again now.
    I was ranking number 1 for my main keyword then the beginning of May i got hit, Internal pages are still ranking page 3 for main keyword but homepage has dropped outside the top 100.
    I removed the bad links and send a reconsideration and got the “Algorithmic Issue” response back from Google. There were not that many bad links into the site and the first place and these have been definitely removed.
    It looks like i have a Panda Penalty so what is the best process to overcome this?

  99. Hi James,

    Fire me an email with a little more detail about the site and the keywords involved, I can’t see much on searchmetrics as the site has only gained real visibility in the last 3 months. It could just be a case of bad links being devalued, in which case it will mean rebuilding.

  100. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the insightful post. It’s appreciated and a major breath of fresh air when everyone else is either crapping themselves, saying SEO is dead, or something along those lines.
    I have two affiliate sites that were doing fine, even through all the updates the past few years. Beginning of this year traffic was declining because of a lack of effort and I decided to get serious. Right before Penguin was released I signed up with The Hoth and was burned alive when Penguin came along. Right away I checked and removed all the links from The Hoth that I could: they were all junk. It didn’t help much, so I’m not sure if the recent EMD update affected the sites negatively as they really sucked already. They presently make a whopping $100/month.

    Anyway, I went through all my links for the two sites, uploaded the spam to the disavow tool around the 14th of this month, and submitted a reconsideration request on the 20th. Of course the obligatory message came back about no manual action. Interestingly, on the older site (2002) the link count in WMT decreased by 411, but increased by 24 on the newer site (2008). Thus far they have shown no improvement yet and I’m wondering what to make of the link counts. They both definitely have some good links, and the older site was all over the place for both big and small keywords. Do you think I can expect recovery, and do you have any insight on how much an effect the EMD update has had?

  101. Hi Tim,

    Great post, thanks for the breath of fresh air. Our site has been struggling with a penalty due to work a previous SEO did on it. I’ve run our site through OSE, MajesticSEO’s fresh index, and ahrefs, as well as aggregating all that link data together with the links webmaster tools shows. I individually audited all of our links, did multiple waves of outreach removal, then eventually filed a disavow file for the remaining bad links. Our submission returned as denied.

    Right now I’m going through MajesticSEO’s historic index. I figure that OSE, Majestic, and ahrefs have missed a chunk of our links in their crawls of the web, and that the historical index has a better shot at having everything.

    I’m wondering if you think filing another disavow file will hurt us (we did one disavow shortly after it was released, then another two weeks later because we had missed some links in it). My boss thinks filing multiple disavows does hurt us, since it takes weeks-a few months for it to be fully implemented, and that filing another disavow just pushes back cleaning up our profile.

  102. Hi Tim,

    Obviously I’ve come across many forums like this before, especially earlier this year when my site got hit very badly in SERPS. I must say though I do like what you say and it’s probably the most straight forward and easy to understand article on Google penalties I’ve read. Being a novice webmaster I like things to be explained in a nice simple way like you have here!

    However, I must disagree with you about so-called “Negative Link Sabotage” as I call it now. I know this is a very real threat to millions of small/medium businesses around the world. Both myself and 2 competitors of mine (who I’m friendly with) have been targetted by the same PORN sites ending mainly in .CX and .INFO.

    Strangley though I didn’t get the spam links email, I got the WMT message like 1000s of others on 24/3/12 telling us of “Big Traffic Change on top URL. Traffic has decreased significantly”. From what I’ve read everybody worldwide got the exact same message ID 593F1ceb2d67. To this date I’ve found no explanation on any Google Forum exactly what it means.

    Bizarrely there was NO big drop in traffic at all, that was until 25/4 when we lost about 80% of our traffic and could be found nowhere for our most important keywords, to which we were Page 1 mainly top 4 positions on every one.

    This was the point I discovered over 3000 links to porn sites in WMT, which didn’t show up anywhere else on link check sites etc. They weren’t “real links” as we know them (can’t be seen on a page) and are described in WMT as “intermediate links”. When I first spotted these I wasn’t unduly concerned as I (naively) thought at the time if they weren’t reciprocated they couldn’t do any harm. WRONG.

    These porn links mushroomed to over 4500 in September and then the Disavow link announcement came. I truly believe Google knew this was a really big problem that was getting way out of control and took action. Of course they’re not going to publicly admit this as it could have a huge negative affect on their business. They stated that people could “clean up their act” and get rid of all the dodgy link building they’d been doing in the past. Fair enough it will help these people too. But I had NEVER done any link building at all in the past 7 years of the site’s start date. People linked to us and we only had a small handful of outbound links (less than 10).

    The site had done fantastically well without any link building at all for 6 years, so why fix something that ain’t broken? For our particular niche UK industry I just concentrated on building a very basic site with good content that gave the searchers exactly what they wanted. Google loved it and we were rewarded with amazing SERP positions.

    That is the reason I believe we were targetted, who’s gonna bother targetting a site that doesn’t rank well? The lengths that somebody has gone to cover their tracks in doing this is amazing. Christmas Island domain .cx, registered PO Box addresses in Belgium, Holland, Canada and US.

    THE most important point I’m making here is that these particular websites could target you and your business whether you’re a plumber, baker or candlestick maker! It doesn’t matter what business you run, a porn site negative SEO attack is going to have dire consequences on your ranking positions in Google.

    Finally, I am convinced now that these sites are being used to damage the rankings of 1000s of sites worldwide by a very unscrupulous person(s) who is probably advertising or emailing something like “How to Destroy Your Competitors Ranking For $??”. I reckon this could be as low as $25 or about £15 and done 1000s of times is a nice little earner for the culprit!

    I hope and prey the Disavow Link Tool works and I’m holding my breath for any signs of ranking recovery, which I know could take a few months. So sorry for the very long comment but I needed to get it off my chest!!


  103. Hi Tim

    Thanks for the great posting, I got hit with penguin after employing justsearch to do my SEO, I purchased Remove em software, had about 96 suspect links down now to about 36, most of these guys are looking for me to pay them to remove links, submitted disavow 10 days ago, do you know how long I should wait before sending in a reconsideration request, I have mainly been hit for keywords sunroom and sunrooms, others seem to have come back over time. Any help would be appreciated

  104. Hey Tim –
    After revoking manual action penalty, how long do you expect we should start seeing traffic / SERP’s ranking? Please do let us know!

    Thanks 🙂

  105. 10 – 14 days is when you START to see traffic/rankings return, or full recovery has taken place?

    …. how many cases have you witnessed that you are so sure it’s exactly “10-14 days”

  106. Thanks for the article. I went through the process you detailed and after just over a month got this response

    Dear site owner or webmaster of,
    We received a request from a site owner to reconsider for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
    We’ve reviewed your site and we still see links to your site that violate our quality guidelines.

  107. Hi Tim,

    Thanks a lot for this article and for all your responses to the many comments, makes this a very complete reference.

    A question:
    You mention removing links from blog networks. When I publish content on the site, I’ve used Posterous to publish quotes of the material with links back to the original on a series of accounts I had on Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress, Youtube, Flickr and some independent wordpress managed sites. Should I eliminate those blog sites/accounts I created?

    Personal experience: 4 recons have been rejected for unnatural link profile. Working on my third iteration of link removals, a bit burnt out, will work with ahrefs, OSE and MajesticSEO this time around, hope to get better results. Wish me luck ;-).

    Thanks again Tim.

  108. Hi Tim!

    If we are still not in the SERP’s after 14 days of “manual spam action revoked” message, do you think we have algorithm penalty or should we continue to wait?

    Do you have any recommendations? We revoked penalty about 14 days ago….


  109. I have only heard only bad from disavow tool.
    I’ve known people to upload poor spammy links and their sites dropped!
    Use with caution – its only for negative seo. ie a mum and pups sites, that has blatant mass of penis or Viagra or obvious url’s or anchors designed to harm you.

    If you have done link building from a load of spammy sites, and these are no longer indexed and killed by Google – don’t use this tool. Get links removed; even offer a $10 payment, whois etc. or contact hosts if it comes to it!

  110. Hi Clint,

    For those who have had a manual penalty revoked it was typically 10 – 14 days before we saw recovery. However, we are seeing longer periods now, with one site waiting nearly 4 weeks. We have seen 10 – 12 full recoveries within these time-scales so far.

  111. This means there are still links remaining that have not been removed or disavowed. Be very strict with the type of links you remove/disavow, anything with a commercial anchor text should be heavily scrutinised, I would suggest removing anything with a commercial anchor text, especially if you aren’t ranking any more.

  112. It’s a frustrating process. There must be some links you don’t have in the disavow tool or have removed. I would advise being very strict with your links, anything with commercial anchor text should go, especially if you don’t rank for it.

  113. If you’re still struggling then I’d suggest 1 of 2 things:

    a) You have an algorithm penalty and should remove/disavow commercial anchor text

    b) The links you have removed no longer support your rankings and you should put together a natural link building campaign.

    Often those who have lost their rankings, never get them back, as they were being supported by bad links historically. So the ‘action revoked’ simply gives you a clean sheet and an ability to rebuild.

  114. I’d have to disagree Jason, we have used it on 20 + websites, ranging from big brands to small businesses and have successfully removed manual penalties and recovered rankings.

    With regards to links being indexed, we have had email back from Google, confirming some of the links causing an issue, and you can’t find these links in any link tool, including an info: search on Google.

    I would personally stick all spam links in it and try and remove as many as possible, of course if you were relying on these bad links for rankings before then don’t expect to get your rankings back by removing them.

  115. we were told on google forums to wait up to 3 months! Its been 5 weeks now and we have seen good recovery on a few keywords but traffic still low.

  116. Hi Mark,

    Sorry to hear about your issues.

    The reason I am dubious of negative SEO is because we have had clients come under link bomb attacks, some resulting in 100,000 + links from lots of nasty sites, this had zero impact on rankings or traffic.

    I guess if you have a very small link profile and somebody attacks it, then this could do damage, however I am yet to see a legitimate case.

  117. Hi Tim,

    I finally got a response back from Google and it was a rejection, even after using the Disavow Tool. After further investigation I originally used Majestic SEO for the link profile and went through the procedure of removing the links by request then when all options has been exhausted i used the disavow tool.

    Now after looking in Webmaster tools it is still reporting 550 URL’s linking to the site of which about 250 are dodgy. Is that too many to use with the Disavow Tool? Should I start the process of asking for site owners to be removed again?

    Thanks in advance, Heath

  118. yes we are going to start some link building, but the site is the BEST it has ever been. Strongest content, all weak stuff gone, disavowed the spammy links, verified author stats etc, no errors, site much faster, we’ve done EVERYTHING google wanted. Beforehand we were just another site, but now surely we are a “google approved” site (for want of a better word) as someone from google physically looked at the site and revoked our penalty? The hits in webmaster tools has stayed the same, in fact the past week they have got worse. A couple of high level posters on the forums said wait 2 to 3 months, are you honestly saying you saw definite improvement with real sites after only 2 weeks?

  119. But Tim wouldn’t that completely destroy your valuable ranking? You get back into the serp but at a terrible position. In that case it would be better to start over, because then you can at least have some commercial exact match anchors.

  120. Hi, Tim. Thanks for great post!
    I have a question about case, when we have a Good site with aggressive anchor text.
    “Manually remove aggressive anchor text” – can we change anchor text to more natural, like website name or the whole link should be deleted?


  121. Hi tim my site is also go down for google but here is no bad links just we were doing work fast and then we see this issue ….. what u will advice for me ??

    Thanks …………

  122. If your site has been hit it will either be your links or content. If you are 100% your links are OK, I would suggest checking for duplicate content on the site.

  123. If you’re happy that the links are good, on good sites etc… then I think changing the anchor text is a good starting point, remembering that Google will need to recrawl and classify the links before any improvement will be seen. If it is penguin related then you won’t see the improvement until after it updates.

  124. Yes, where sites had great links and were being held back by a spam action, we saw rankings return to their best levels after 10 – 14 days.

  125. Hi Heath,

    We have struggled with some of the sites we’re consulting with, and sometimes it means refreshing the link data from OSE, Majestic and WMT every few weeks, constantly updating the disavow file and making a continued effort to remove. The best advice I can give is to keep refreshing and updating.

  126. Well, it’s been 3 weeks since our manual penalty revoked email, and no improvements. For the site you say took 4 weeks to recover, did rankings/traffic change all of a sudden… or was it gradual recovery?

    I appreciate all the help Tim.

  127. The sites we have seen manual penalties revoked saw rankings return dramatically overnight. However, we are currently dealing with a few sites that have yet to see a recovery in rankings since the beginning of December, a couple I feel may also be suffering with an algorithmic penalty, others I’m not sure. It feels as though Google is waiting to make a massive update.

  128. Hey JW.

    Sorry for the delay, this post has had a ton of comments and I missed this one.

    We have just had an EMD manual spam action revoked, this was after 6 reconsiderations. I would pull all your links each month adding poor ones to the disavow tool. I would also pull/change any anchor text that may be commercial in nature (we did this with the EMD), I think they are harder to recover, but if the site and content are genuine. and you’ve made a real effort, you will get there eventually.

  129. Our penalty was lifted on 15 Nov. Seen positive increases in some important keywords we vanished for previously, but serps position fluctuates from day to day &traffic not much better than it was, altho it is our quiet time anyway, around Christmas so that would skew the result. Checked our links and many are now registered as no anchor text & nofollow. we Started also appearing in google images, previously lost during penalty, but all images are original or bought from photo agencies. All our videos are also original as is every single post and page (about 800) as i wrote almost all of them myself! Site is more secure than before, loads much faster, more stable, easier menus, much weak content removed, tags and cats no index, so no duplicate meta content errors in webmaster tools, in fact no errors at all, for prob the 1st time ever! A week ago, after 5 weeks of not much happening i submitted another recon request, just in case. They said no manual action on site, however they MAY BE algorithmic issues with site. Any suggestions welcome. The site is the BEST it has ever been, but somethings still not right or it would have recovered far more dramatically now. Anyone want to take a look and comment? (but pls dont re-paste my url on your reply)

  130. Interesting post Tim. I have been hit with a manual penalty in March 2012. Been trying to remove bad links since then. Filed a few reconsideration requests without much success so far. I have been quite strict on my link profile too. Disavowed any questionable link I could find. I have filed hundreds of DMCA complaints to get links removed over the last year as well. Not sure what to do at this point.

    After all that effort I have noticed some dodgy links being built to my blog again from a few foreign sites. I think that is it for me cause I cannot control scraper sites or who links to me. I am just going to update the file with links to disavow because that’s the only thing I can do at this point.

    I can’t keep up with this anymore and quite frankly don’t want to spend any more money, time, and resources on chasing site owners in 2013. Still waiting on Google’s response to my last reconsideration request but it seems like the chance of getting the penalty lifted is very small.

  131. Google WMT reports my site has 828,000 links pointing to it. Of this number, 794,000 are from a totally spammy site (which also uses my main key word phrase in their domain name. There are about 30,000 other links from two other spammy sites. Ironically, I have never received an email from Google warning me about unnatural links. I used the Disavow tool to notify Google of these links. Do you think I did the right thing? Should I file a reconsideration request? I also should mention I’ve lost nearly 90% of my traffic since Feb 2011. Thanks.

  132. It can be very tough and we are still working with some sites, refreshing link data every 2 weeks and updating the disavow file accordingly. Keep refreshing and classifying links, updating the disavow file and submitting a recon, it does seem to be the only way to solve the issue.

  133. Can I ask you if you added the most of the links the site had to the disavow list? I just received the Manual action revoked message in WMT. I had tried with the disavow list for some time and was denied. This last time I added almost every link the site had. Do you think I will still have some kind of recovery in 7-10 days. I realize I will not come back to my original position in the serps.

    Also do you know if you can remove links from the disavow list and get them back?

  134. Hey, my website went from pr 5 to pr 4 during the time the penguin update came out. how do i know if its because of bad links…. i didnt get a message or anything from google! plz help

  135. Great post, im glad to see something working for penalties. Just a quick one, do you put any comments in your disavow file? I have noticed on the Google examples that they pretty much suggest you should explain the background to every link you want disavowed. what do you think?

  136. Depends on the competitiveness of the terms, all recoveries we have seen have seen some increases, however if you disavowed most of your links I wouldn’t expect first page rankings.

  137. took 6 weeks for our site to show signs of recovery and 2 weeks later (now) our site is showing stats to back up the assertion it has recovered. So site recovery can take 2 months. And to answer a question on this thread, yes, list all links in a google doc, with privacy settings to let people see the doc when they have the link (which is what you send google) and you have go thru EVERY SINGLE LINK MANUALLY and add a comment on what you think of the link. (Scraped, spam, legit comment, recommendation, paid link) etc. It took me 6 weeks to do it.

  138. We tried the disavow tool for one site in November, plus removed alot of links manually. The result? Reconsideration denied AND the site lost alot of positions. The site lost ranking mainly on two important keywords back in april 2012.

    So this tool is quite dangerous too, it’s hard to know which links to delete. We concentrated mostly on keyword anchors.

  139. Hi Tim
    Look at my case
    – My site has been hit by penguin on 24th april 2012
    – on july I received the manual links penalty message
    – On august After removing maybe 60% of spam links, and fill reconsid, – They revoked penalty
    – HOWEVER, no recovery so far, Until today.
    – What could it be the reason?

    There is no duplicate content NOR keyword stuffng on site

  140. This article is great. Thank you so much for it. But I have one question. I never got a warning of unnatural link profile. However, I do think my blog got hit because I was basically making backlinks on same sites. But that was not even the main thing. Some unknown sports crazy blogger added my url to his blogroll for which I was getting too many backlinks from him for all my posts and that is also within minutes of publishing them. Tried contacting him. He never responded. I am going to add his domain to the text to get it disavowed. But when I was checking my link profile I noticed that many sites which used my links as reference and for other purposes have closed down. Should I add them to the notepad too? I am not sure if they are harmful to my blog.

  141. What time will be recovered If I used disavow tool. Already I did in October but no any messages from Google.

  142. Thanks for your post.
    This helps me to understand more how disavow tool works and also helps me to recover some of my sites that have bad links.
    I will try this tools and i hope i will see good results.

  143. Well, got the manual penalties revoked for both my sites, one on the first try (that’s unusual I think), the second one, the one I’ve been working most on, the oldest and with 120K links took some 9 tries and over 12 months of work, much of it blind as there were no examples to guide me at the time and the disavow tool was not available.

    In my case the biggest issue was link exchange with sites we once built or managed, it’s good to obtain a list of old clients and review all links on your site to see if they are reciprocated and then remove, nofollow and disavow.

    Haven’t seen important changes in traffic (well, at least they don’t continue falling), but rankings are creeping back on Google, after not appearing anywhere for most our basic KWs, so things are looking up.

    Thanks Tim for your help and article, it gave me hope when I was really starting to despair.

  144. Thanks Tim. Great stuff!

    I’ve been wondering about something. I have a client whose site appears to have been algorithmically penalized early last year. No WMT messages at all, but ranking dropped dramatically and have never recovered (and we’re talking about a semi-competitive local service market here).

    I like to think I know what I’m doing, but this one has consistently eluded me. Any thoughts on going through the disavow process without ever having received a from Google?

  145. Great article Tim.

    We were working on a Google unnatural links penalty for some friends since October 2012, and all aged about 20 years! The penalty was revoked a couple of weeks back but still no sign of recovery yet. Getting concerned because most people said 7-10 days but Alex is giving us some hope here, maybe it is now taking 6-8 weeks. Apparently there are new algorithm updates (large ones) this weekend which throws another variable into the mix.

    By the way we documented our efforts here:
    – it follows much of the advice on this page and includes some email templates to use etc. Hopefully helps others in the same position.

    Thanks for all the thoughtful insight, tough times!


  146. Question for you regarding negative SEO?

    In 2010 some company linked to myself and my two leading competitors for the search term “round widgets” (please contact me if you’d like the real term). At that time I was and had been the #1 google result for 6 years.

    They used anchor text and round widgets. so for 5000 image comment posts on over 100+ websites they had the exact same 6 links.

    I’ve never purchased links, or used an SEO company, and certainly no SEO in their right mind would link the top 3 results for a keyword unless their intentions were malicious.

    In October of this year I got the Manual Penalty email from google. Is it your contention that these 1000’s of identical links in 100’s of websites were both non malicious and had nothing to do with my penalty?

  147. Hi Tim,

    I’m in an interesting situation where I have submitted a large list of links to disavow because I never asked for them and believe I was the victim of an SEO attack (including 1,100 links from the same domain within a 2-week period). Even though the links were nofollow according to the webmaster, it seems that Google still recognised them as incoming links in Webmaster Tools. Shortly after this happened the site got a manual penalty.

    I have disavowed these links plus a select number of other ‘bad’ links, but I have done this continuously (and submitted a reconsideration request afterwards) for about six weeks now. Three times my reconsideration requests have been turned down and the incoming links section of Webmaster Tools still shows that those links are incoming, thus casting some doubt as to how effective this tool has been for me.

    Would you be able to offer any insight? I would love to get a second opinion from someone who has had some experience with this tool.

    All the best

  148. I have noticed my site traffic going down starting in May 2011. Could someone take a quick look at my site and see if I have some problems I did not know about? Then I could start working on fixing them.

    Please let me know.


  149. I’ve had sites hit only by Penguin where I cleaned up links then disavowed the other poor quality links I couldn’t clean. I also corrected my anchor text distribution. Then submitted a reconsideration request and was told there was no manual action. I’ve seen no ranking recovery whatsoever. And it was definitely a Penguin algo penalty.

    I also have a site that received an unnatural link penalty. I’ve cleaned up nearly 3000 poor quality links, disavowed the ones I just couldn’t get removed and have submitted several reconsideration requests over the past 6 months. They continue to be denied and each time I’m being told that they still see unnatural links and they want me to provide a good faith effort in removing them.

    “Good Faith Effort”? I’ve removed 3000 out of 15K total links. I’ve documented everything I’ve done in spreadsheets and been completely transparent about my link building practices. I don’t know what else they want from me to be honest. So in my experience, disavow has been a totally worthless tool.

  150. Tim
    Are you still having success with the link deletes and disavows, especially for sites that have been penalised algorithmically and not manually?

    The reason I ask is that I notice that your ‘success story graphs’ all happened at around Sept/Oct last year, when Google rolled out a Penguin update. So could you maybe have caught the Penguin update at that point which is why your sites recovered all at that point?

    I seem to get the feeling that the delete/disavow process does not work that well for other people, with no recoveries yet – could it be that they have to wait for another Penguin update?

  151. I’ve successfully had a manual penalty revoked 4 weeks ago. I’m not from an SEO company, we now run all our SEO in house as the manual penalty happened because of using SEO companies who were lazy in link building.

    I though I might give a few pointers as to why we were successful.

    1) It took 4 attempts to have it revoked.
    2) I spent most of my time contacting webmasters requesting removal of the links. Any that did not reply were added to the disavow list.
    3) I used a tool called Link Detox which categorises the links into toxic & suspicious. I tried to remove all of them in those categories and again any that were not removed were added to the disavow tool.
    4) Webmaster Tools and most other sites claiming to give you all your links are inaccurate. Link detox showed me many that were not even on Webmaster Tools.
    5) I created a dedicated link removal email account in Gmail so Google could log in and see the effort I had gone to. They will not open an attached file so dont bother.
    6) Record every detail
    7) Just using the disavow tool is lazy and will not result in the penalty being revoked.
    8) I removed 20000 links from 350 URL’s. It’s hard work.

    Just a few thoughts from my experience.

  152. Hi,

    i forgot to mention in a comment i made,
    I used the disavow to remove some inlinks.

    Tks Tim and everyone.

  153. i’m still in the process of reviewing my backlinks..i dont know yet if I’ll need to use this disavow tool or not but my page rank havent moved during the past few months so I guess I’ll just wait and see for now.

  154. HUGE hit, from 1500/day to 400 and then 250/day unique visitors. Lost tonnes of traffic and looks like due to bad links posted by some cheap SEO compannies that telemerketed me into submission. I do not know which one over the last 15 yrs did that, perhaps multiple ones. Now, Penguin 2.0 is expected in 2 weeks, is there time for me to work on this disavow thing, nearly shutting my business down, have to do another job to keep it going, from 40k/month to 2.5k/month 🙁 stuck with tonnes of inventory too!

  155. Hi, we used the tool and got out of our penalty last year (i commented a couple of months ago). However 2 weeks ago our stats dropped sharply, not long after i discovered a few more poor links where people had scraped our content or were using our images. We updated the list and re submitted. Our stats dropped sharply soon after. Has anyone else seen this? We are back to the same sort of traffic we had under penalty. Once you update the list is it reset to zero again and then takes more time to come back or is there a a problem with google?

  156. Hey Tim, at first I would like to thank you for letting me know about Google Disavow Tool, I’ve never used it before, second, could you help me a bit here:

    I’ve never got any Unnatural links message from Google but I believe some of my websites are affected by Google Penguin due to the drop down in traffic and my sites got a lot of (thousands) of link from unwanted websites, so, in this case, should I use Disavow Tool? I don’t want my sites get negative effects here, because some of them are PR 4 and above.

    Many thanks!!!

  157. Hi,

    I am new to the whole Penguin thing, having avoided any penalties until the May 2013 update.

    In Feb/Mar this year around 12000 links appeared to my site, all coming from the same domain (they added a sitewide blogroll type link, and also had some advertising on the site too, and I think they may have been hacked too!).

    But, I did also submit to about 700 directories in March 2012, so maybe those links are now a Penguin factor.

    Anyway, I disavowed the domain that linked to me in Feb this year. Will see what happens. If I recover, then that could be proof that negative SEO works, and that disavowing it also works. If not … then I guess it is directory link clean up time!

  158. hey,

    How long does it take for the Disavow tool to work, we have been victim of a link attack and had a whole list of huge links from sex, to pharmacy sites. I have requested disavow 4 weeks ago and still links exist on our site? Can u tell me how long it normally takes to have the links removed or even considered?

    thanks elissa 🙂

  159. I think they will exist forever, UNLESS you get in touch with the webmaster who did it
    The disavow tool will just NOFOLLOW them

  160. Hi

    I must say I am a bit of confused, as Matt Cutts once said they don’t send notifications about algorithmic penalties. On the other hand, John Muller was asked about the notifications as well , but his answer was a bit different : he replied that people who haven’t received any messages, shouldn’t use the tool.

    All I can make of it : Google once used to send messages about automatic penalties, but they don’t do it anymore as people just kept sending reconsideration requests in vein. What do you Think?

  161. After 6 reconsideration requests we finally got message, that manual spam action revoked! Tim, thank you very much for your information, it was very helpful.

  162. My feeling on this is that although a disavow file removes any penalty it actually doesn’t stop you getting hit by the penguin algo. The only way to recover is to get the links physically removed. Of course this is guess work but Matt Cutts has said himself that don’t just rely on the disavow tool to recover from any ranking problems. Manual removal is much preferred. I think the disavow tool is way of writing a note to google to say”sorry i was naughty and added lots of links, please remove my penalty and i’ll work on getting them removed!” Obviously if you have been the target of negative seo or just happen to have had lots of links because something went viral, i feel for you and this is where google’s penguin algo gets it wrong.

  163. Hey,

    I have used this tool and removed many links. After a week google webmaster says theres no information about links for this website in question. Its like when you have a new website and theres no information yet or if the website hasnt any backlink ( i didnt disavowed them all).

    Someone has experienced that?

Comments are closed.