Google SEO & Search Engine Marketing Services

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.

Line Break

Author: Tim (296 Articles)

is the owner and editor of SEO wizz and has been involved in the search engine marketing industry for over 9 years. He has worked with multiple businesses across many verticals, creating and implementing search marketing strategies for companies in the UK, US and across Europe. Tim is also the Director of Search at Branded3, a Digital Marketing & SEO Agency based in the UK.


{ 202 comments… read them below or add one }

Frederik Trovatten October 25, 2012 at 8:42 am

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.


Jerry October 25, 2012 at 9:08 am

Interesting take on all this link removal certainly


Matt Dimock October 25, 2012 at 9:14 am

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.


Tim October 25, 2012 at 9:20 am

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.


Joakim October 25, 2012 at 9:29 am

But who built all the ‘bad links’? Previous agencies, right? ;)


Tim October 25, 2012 at 11:22 am

Absolutely, never won so much business on the back of bad links.


Harris Schachter October 25, 2012 at 9:39 am

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.



Tim October 25, 2012 at 11:24 am

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.


Marie Haynes October 25, 2012 at 10:22 am

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.


Tim October 25, 2012 at 11:30 am

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.


Jon October 25, 2012 at 10:35 am

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?


Tim October 25, 2012 at 11:33 am

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 ;)


Jon October 25, 2012 at 1:45 pm

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? ;)


Tim October 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm

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 ;)


James Hussey October 25, 2012 at 11:03 pm

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…

Brian Crouch October 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

Awesome! Thanks for this post. Each of the charts in those examples tells a very convincing story. Undeniable causation, not just correlation.


veezy October 25, 2012 at 11:03 am

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


Tim October 25, 2012 at 11:36 am

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.


Micah Castro October 25, 2012 at 11:47 am

Thanks for the write up Tim! It’s good to hear something positive about this tool and actually see some numbers/graphs behind it.


veezy October 25, 2012 at 11:51 am

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.


Tim October 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

Yes we had one algo recovery on that day.


J October 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

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?


craig October 25, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I agree. The tool only came out 9 days ago!! something doesn’t add up here.


Michael October 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I too am a bit skeptical on the timelines used on both of those examples. Look forward to clarification.


Marie Haynes October 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm

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?


Tim October 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm


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.


Marie Haynes October 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm

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!


Tim October 25, 2012 at 2:38 pm

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.


Uh, Yeah October 26, 2012 at 10:18 pm

“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.


Tim October 30, 2012 at 7:25 am

Read into it what you choose, treat this like any other SEO article and go out and give it a try.


Grant Hitchcock October 25, 2012 at 2:52 pm

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!


Tim October 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm

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.


SEOblurt October 25, 2012 at 3:24 pm

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?



Tim October 26, 2012 at 12:42 am

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.


Jamie October 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm

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.


Tim October 26, 2012 at 12:43 am

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%


Brendon October 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm

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?


Tim October 26, 2012 at 12:45 am

The links are still within WMT, however Google claims to treat disavowed links as no follow.


JWC October 25, 2012 at 6:13 pm

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


Tim October 26, 2012 at 12:46 am

Thanks for your comment and insight, really useful


Martin October 25, 2012 at 6:22 pm

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?


Tim October 26, 2012 at 12:47 am

Revoked reply took around 10 days. I can’t really discuss early access etc… but some agencies clearly did have access


Richard Hearne October 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm

#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.


Tim October 26, 2012 at 12:50 am

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.


Richard Hearne October 26, 2012 at 12:58 am

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.


Tim October 26, 2012 at 1:03 am


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.


Richard Hearne October 26, 2012 at 1:09 am

Thanks for the additional info. That makes more sense.

James Hussey October 26, 2012 at 2:48 pm

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).

James Hussey October 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Here’s the interview transcript from SMX advanced, I can’t find the other articles on this subject re: manual reviews and their connection to getting the link warning, but if it’s an algorithmic detection, there is no email sent:

Marc October 25, 2012 at 9:39 pm

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?


Tim October 26, 2012 at 12:51 am

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)?


Marc October 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm

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.


Chande October 25, 2012 at 10:22 pm

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.


Sebastian October 25, 2012 at 11:30 pm

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.”


Tim October 26, 2012 at 12:52 am

see answer to SEO blurt


Sebastian October 26, 2012 at 3:38 am

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?


Jayesh October 26, 2012 at 2:56 am

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.


Tim October 26, 2012 at 2:59 am

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.


Jayesh October 26, 2012 at 3:13 am

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.


Barry October 26, 2012 at 6:36 am

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?


Tim October 26, 2012 at 6:54 am

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?


Markus October 26, 2012 at 10:50 am

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.


Tim October 30, 2012 at 7:20 am

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.


Albert Mitchell October 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm

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.


Heath Showman October 27, 2012 at 2:03 am

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.


Martin October 27, 2012 at 4:22 pm

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



Tim October 30, 2012 at 7:27 am

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.


Joel October 29, 2012 at 11:28 am

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.


Tim October 30, 2012 at 7:29 am

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.


Joel October 30, 2012 at 3:10 am

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!


Per October 30, 2012 at 4:45 am

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


Tim October 30, 2012 at 7:32 am

No, good sites should be contacted first. More info here –


Marie Haynes October 30, 2012 at 9:50 am

Would you still try to contact sites if you were using the tool to try and escape Penguin? Or just for the manually affected sites?


Tim November 5, 2012 at 2:41 am

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


Per October 30, 2012 at 4:49 am

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.


Tim October 30, 2012 at 7:33 am

I wouldn’t worry if they are on real blogs, unless you think the anchor text is too aggressive.


Clint October 30, 2012 at 7:16 am

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?



Tim October 30, 2012 at 7:35 am

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.


Richard Hearne October 30, 2012 at 7:56 am

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.


Tim October 30, 2012 at 8:01 am

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.


Richard Hearne October 30, 2012 at 8:27 am

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.


Tim October 30, 2012 at 8:31 am

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.


PG November 1, 2012 at 7:44 am

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?


Tim November 5, 2012 at 2:45 am


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.


PG November 5, 2012 at 7:54 am

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?


Tim November 8, 2012 at 3:06 am


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.


Drew Allen November 1, 2012 at 7:47 am


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.


Tim November 5, 2012 at 2:46 am

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.


Kathia November 3, 2012 at 11:59 am

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.


Tim November 5, 2012 at 2:56 am

Hi Kathia,

It simply means, Google came back advising that there were still unnatural links in the profile.


Adam Cox November 5, 2012 at 1:55 am

Hi Tim, Can you please answer, How many days should I wait for filing reconsideration request after using Disavow tool?


Tim November 5, 2012 at 2:56 am

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.


Matt November 6, 2012 at 10:02 am

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.


Tim November 8, 2012 at 3:03 am

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.


Matt November 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm

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.


Tim November 12, 2012 at 3:41 am

Send in a recon to ensure there are no manual actions, also disavow any remaining bad links.


Geifox November 8, 2012 at 3:16 am

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?


Tim November 12, 2012 at 4:02 am

Yes, Google have been penalising low quality link profiles for the last 18 month, and a message is not always sent.


Heath Showman November 8, 2012 at 3:17 am

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.


Tim November 12, 2012 at 4:01 am

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


Zen November 9, 2012 at 4:52 am

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!



Tim November 12, 2012 at 3:40 am

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.


Zen November 13, 2012 at 4:31 am

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.


Tim November 14, 2012 at 9:52 am

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.


Jaap November 9, 2012 at 10:34 am


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!


Tim November 12, 2012 at 3:36 am

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.


Mike November 15, 2012 at 4:33 pm

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.


Tim November 19, 2012 at 5:51 am


Typically rankings come back within 2 – 3 weeks.


Mike November 19, 2012 at 6:38 pm

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.


Tim November 20, 2012 at 9:08 am

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.


wayner November 16, 2012 at 1:59 am

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!


Tim November 19, 2012 at 5:56 am

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.


Alex of Wall Coatings UK November 18, 2012 at 5:52 am

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?


Tim November 19, 2012 at 5:57 am

2 – 3 weeks, well done.


Alex of Wall Coatings UK November 19, 2012 at 6:10 am

thanks tim. :)

Its ironic i run a paint website as waiting for the next 2 weeks will actually be as boring as watching paint dry LOL!


Mike November 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm

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
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. :)


Heath Showman November 19, 2012 at 6:11 am

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,



Alex November 20, 2012 at 11:17 am

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


Alex again! November 20, 2012 at 11:21 am

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.


SDGSteve November 19, 2012 at 8:24 am

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!


jaap November 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm

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.


Tim November 22, 2012 at 6:56 am

Watch out this weekend ;) It’s looking like something will hit.


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