Should you use Google’s updated Disavow Links tool?


30-second summary:

  • In early November, Google made a UI update to its Disavow Links tool.
  • The core functionality hasn’t changed, meaning that some SEO practitioners will continue to use it incorrectly.
  • Disavow continues to have no impact on fixing negative SEO and often won’t make your website do better in search.
  • However, it can reduce the chances of being served with manual actions as a result of your backlink profile.

Once upon a time, Google’s Disavow Links tool seemed like a godsend to SEO practitioners everywhere. Hailed on its launch in 2012 — not long after the Penguin algorithm update — as the search engine’s “best spam reporting tool yet”, disavow links allowed webmasters to instruct Google to ignore all links from certain domains.

Flash forward eight years and the feature, which has seen its fair share of controversy, has been incorporated into Google’s updated Search Console. In the words of Google analyst John Mueller,

“the core functionality has not changed…it’s a UI update.”

However, the revised Disavow tool does include some new features, such as the ability to download your disavowed links as a .txt file, as well as improved support.

The response from SEO practitioners has been somewhat tepid, whether because it won’t change the way the tool has been misused to this point, or simply because there are other, more pressing matters Google could have attended to first. Here, we’ll go through the pros and cons of Google’s Disavow Links tool, and whether these new changes that have been made are worth it.

How webmasters were using the Disavow Links tool wrong

Coming as it did in the wake of the Penguin update, many people saw disavowal as an easy way to remove spammy backlinks from their site’s profile, encouraging the revised algorithm to look more kindly upon their sites. That said, there were still some inherent issues with the way that many site owners tended to use it. The disavow tool was only meant to be used in exceptional circumstances when all other avenues of removing low-quality links had been exhausted.

Google itself pointed out in its Help Center at the time that “most sites will not need to use this tool”, but that didn’t stop many from wantonly adding all manner of backlinks to their lists for disavowal. Yet, the tool acts more like a signpost for the algorithm, rather than a way to formally avoid any backlink penalties or combat any perceived negative SEO.

What has changed about Disavow Links?

The main differences between the updated and the old version of Disavow are in its location, now that it sits within Search Console. There are also a few new basic functions, such as the ability to download your complete list of disavowed links in .txt format and an unlimited number of files you can see when you request an error report.

That ultimately means that little has changed for SEO practitioners, other than further encouragement against using it to improve their sites’ rankings outright. In fact, this might explain the Twitter response from the public who, as outlined by Search Engine Journal, seem more interested in an update to the Request Indexing tool, which was discontinued in October 2020. Indeed, without the request indexing tool, site owners who have requested to have some of their backlinks discontinued will have to wait until the next time their site is crawled for the changes to take effect, rather than be able to flag them with Google immediately.

Is the new Disavow Links tool worth using?

Put simply, the changes that Google has made to Disavow Links shouldn’t make a significant enough impact on the majority of webmasters to warrant using it any differently. However, it might be the revision that discourages more people from using the tool incorrectly, especially since one of its other new features makes it easier to get rid of your list of disavowed links altogether and start again.

When it comes to improving your site’s performance, there are arguably far more important things to focus on before you start disavowing links. Considering how little it will actually help those who think it’s a reliable way to boost their chances with the algorithm — which doesn’t even take disavowals into account — the best course of action would be to use the tool exactly as you were before the update. That means sparingly, and only when absolutely necessary, with no misconceived notions that it could improve your negative SEO, or your rankings altogether.



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