Google SEO & Search Engine Marketing Services

Google Disavow Tool: 10 Insights from 4 months of Testing

We have been testing the disavow tool for nearly 4 months, we have always been an advocate of it after achieving some quick wins immediately after it was launched. However, after months of testing we have found out a lot more about how the tool works, what kind of results are possible and what risks are involved.

In the last year we have worked with over 20 sites to diagnose and remedy link penalties, out of all the sites we have worked with there are only a couple we have not yet managed to lift a penalty for, and we expect these to recover very soon.

Working with these sites has given us some solid insight into the disavow tool and link penalties, I posted on some of these back in October last year, the post did pretty well generating over 100 comments, plus around 50 follow up emails! Because of the interest in link penalties and particularly the disavow tool, I thought it would be helpful to post a follow up, addressing some of the issues people are having with the process of recovery.

So below are my 10 insights, I’ve tried to address most of the questions I have been asked since my last post, however I’m sure there will be more so please leave them in the comments.

Being Honest About Your Links!

So many people have approached me over the past few months, unable to understand why their penalties have not been revoked. It only takes 2 mins in OSE to see links that haven’t been removed/disavowed, when I ask why the site owner will often use the following excuses:

“That’s a high PR site”

“I rank OK for that keyword”

“The site is very relevant”

The fact is if your link is not editorial then its advertising, and as much as we may love a link, if it’s advertising Google doesn’t want to count it. If you have had the unnatural links message, then it means Google knows about your bad links. There is no point making excuses for obvious bought or manipulated links, just get them down, the chances are they aren’t helping you anyway.

If you got the message and have since been hit, be absolutely brutal with your disavows/removals.

Refresh Your Data

If you have been doing ‘SEO’ type link building for the last few years then you have a lot of work to do, there will be a lot of links that you won’t find in WMT, OSE or Majestic (Despite what Google say). This means you will have to refresh your data each month, adding new links to the disavow tool and/or removing them. You may have to run through a refresh/disavow/recon request 5 or 6 times before you have cleaned up enough links, but you will get there.

Anchor Text

If you have been struggling to get a penalty revoked and there are obvious keywords you no longer rank for, remove or disavow every single link with that anchor text, it will not be helping you. Who links with commercial anchor text anyway?


Typically you will get a response after a reconsideration within 2 weeks, if you are successful and have a penalty revoked you may have up to 4 weeks to wait before any rankings come back. However, I have noticed things are taking a little longer than they did last year, I am guessing this is due to an increase in reconsideration requests.

Link Profile Valuation

When you submit a reconsideration request after submitting a disavow file, Google will almost immediately crawl all your links according to any removals and disavows you have made, totally re-evaluating your link profile and making a decision as to whether you have done enough to recover. You can see this clearly if you check your crawl stats in WMT:

Recon Request Spikes

This follows suit with every reconsideration request we have ever worked on.

A Word of Warning

If you haven’t had an unnatural links message, you need to be very careful when using the disavow and reconsideration process. If you haven’t had the warning it likely means Google haven’t found your bad links and are still counting them, disavowing and sending in a reconsideration request will cause a full valuation of your profile and you may have added links that still count into the disavow tool.

Of course you will need to remove all bad links eventually, but maybe replace them first.

Negative Signals

There seems to be a genuine fear of using this tool around the SEO community, however if you have had the unnatural links message you really shouldn’t worry, I have yet to see even one negative consequence when using the tool to remedy an unnatural links message. Likewise, I have yet to see any negative results through the submission of multiple reconsideration requests. If you have had a manual penalty you simply need to go through with this process, don’t worry about another penalty hitting through being transparent.

Site wide Links

We have found consistently that the removal of site wide links along with a thorough disavow file works really well, especially if the site wide links have commercial anchor text.

Reconsideration Requests

Even though I would still recommend sending in a detailed reconsideration, I am 95% sure Google are not reading them, or delving into any Google docs sent. However, I would continue to write a good reconsideration request and send all data, just to show willing.

Start Again?

I know there have been various posts published over the last month or so suggesting there is a time to just give up and start again, and even though I understand the frustration in dealing with these penalties, I’ve yet to come across a hopeless case. We have had sites where we have had to remove over 5000 linking domains and still managed to secure a positive result.

I really believe recovering from this penalty is a numbers game, and unless you have enough links removed or disavowed you’re not going to recover. It’s almost like Google have a blacklist of domains, you’re profile is run against this list and unless you tip the threshold, you simply fail the reconsideration request.

Keep refreshing your link data, keep your disavow file updated and don’t be afraid to submit multiple reconsideration requests, you will get there.

We really have learnt a lot over the past 4 months, and I really can’t take any credit, we have a fantastic team at Branded3, collecting data and optimising the recovery process. In my opinion they are the best in the business when it comes to penalty diagnosis and recovery. Hopefully they will get involved in any questions in the comments.

I’ll be down at Brighton SEO running the penalty recovery workshop, hopefully I will see some of you there.

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Author: Tim (257 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.



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