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 }

James Greenaway November 24, 2012 at 3:09 am

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?


Tim November 26, 2012 at 6:39 am

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.


JW November 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm

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?


Tim December 29, 2012 at 7:04 am

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.


Trevor Nelson November 28, 2012 at 6:56 am

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.


Mark November 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm

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!!



Tim December 13, 2012 at 6:36 am

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.


Peter Clarke December 3, 2012 at 10:52 am

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


Mike December 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Hey Tim, once the penalty has been revoked how do you tell when you have fully recovered?


Tim December 6, 2012 at 9:02 am

10 – 14 days


Terri December 6, 2012 at 8:02 am

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 :)


Tim December 6, 2012 at 9:01 am

Between 10 – 14 days.


Clint December 6, 2012 at 11:23 am

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”


Tim December 13, 2012 at 6:19 am

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.


Clint December 13, 2012 at 8:54 am

So there is still hope!

It has been 8 days for us since we received our Manual Spam Penalty Revoked email.

Clint December 27, 2012 at 11:19 am

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.

Jeff Sliger December 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm

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.


Tim December 13, 2012 at 6:21 am

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.


Per December 14, 2012 at 1:17 am

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.


Mogens December 7, 2012 at 3:58 am

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.


Tim December 13, 2012 at 6:24 am

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.


Bradley December 11, 2012 at 9:42 am

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….



Tim December 13, 2012 at 6:27 am

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.


Jason December 12, 2012 at 11:30 am

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!


Tim December 13, 2012 at 6:31 am

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.


Alex December 13, 2012 at 6:35 am

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.


Tim December 13, 2012 at 6:38 am

Do you need to start link building again? 3 months sounds like an algorithmic penalty, the longest we have seen is 4 weeks.


Alex December 13, 2012 at 7:02 am

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?


Tim December 27, 2012 at 10:35 am

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.


Heath Showman December 13, 2012 at 6:39 am

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


Tim December 27, 2012 at 10:37 am

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.


Stanislav December 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm

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?



Tim December 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

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.


shail December 24, 2012 at 12:54 am

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 …………


Tim December 27, 2012 at 10:30 am

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.


Alex December 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

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)


Pawel Reszka December 30, 2012 at 9:34 am

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.


Tim January 3, 2013 at 3:51 am

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.


Dan January 2, 2013 at 8:07 pm

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.


Chris January 4, 2013 at 9:48 am

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?


Tim January 14, 2013 at 2:52 am

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.


Dave January 8, 2013 at 10:54 pm

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


Matt Cooper January 11, 2013 at 3:58 am

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?


Tim January 14, 2013 at 2:47 am

I would add a summary of events and the disavow file via a google doc. However, I’m not convinced it is read.


Samurai January 13, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Hi, Tim. Thanks for great post. I have a question, how long does it take to change affected the issue of Google?


Tim January 14, 2013 at 2:16 am

After the penalty has been revoked, it takes about 4 weeks.


Alex January 14, 2013 at 3:26 am

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.


Tim January 14, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Thanks for the input Alex. I have published some more insights here


Andy March 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm

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!



Per January 15, 2013 at 3:55 am

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.


Luis January 26, 2013 at 8:22 am

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


Ania January 26, 2013 at 7:27 pm

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.


Jhon Trade February 4, 2013 at 8:07 am

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


Jaap February 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Still waiting for a Google Update for Penguin. 4,5 months is long…


Adarsh February 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm

how can i send a manual reconsideration request?


Ravi Adepu February 25, 2013 at 2:57 am

How I will get back my back links again…If I have already used disavow tool for my website ?



gus February 25, 2013 at 5:22 am

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.


Mogens March 7, 2013 at 11:34 am

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.


nick March 13, 2013 at 2:43 pm

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?


Casey Whitcher April 3, 2013 at 4:26 pm

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?


John April 6, 2013 at 10:31 am

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


Audio Bible April 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm

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.



Chris April 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm

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.


Christine April 23, 2013 at 11:58 pm

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?


Heath Showman April 25, 2013 at 4:10 am

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.


Luis April 25, 2013 at 6:07 am


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

Tks Tim and everyone.


Murdo Guy April 28, 2013 at 10:50 am

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.


anup pandey May 17, 2013 at 6:58 pm

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!


alex May 21, 2013 at 4:16 am

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?


Jenni May 26, 2013 at 6:56 am

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!!!


Jon May 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm


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!


elissa June 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm


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 :)


Luis June 4, 2013 at 4:48 pm

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


Itay Brenner June 14, 2013 at 9:44 am


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?


Stanislav June 17, 2013 at 11:58 pm

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.


Matt June 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm

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.


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