In 2012, Google launched the Disavow Tool that was added into Webmaster Tools. There was a lot of buzz in the SEO community about the tool and the intentions that were behind it. In the wake of newly discovered negative SEO and other link created penalties, the Disavow Tool was going to be a webmaster’s saving grace to help disavow toxic backlinks and help keep sites far away from incurring any penalties.

At first site owners were pleased that Google has finally offered a tool that allows us to decide which links should “count” for our site and help either combat unnatural links or any negative SEO that was suspected. However, this opened up a lot of questions as to what links should be disavowed and should not count. When you think about it, Google is using webmasters to help crowdsource their spam efforts and to help clean up search results. Google warns us that this is an advanced feature and can be risky if you don’t know what you are doing. Also, this step should only be performed after you have done your best to remove backlinks first.

“If you’ve done as much work as you can to remove spammy or low-quality links from the web, and are unable to make further progress on getting the links taken down, you can disavow the remaining links. In other words, you can ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site.”- Google Webmaster Tools Disavow Links Help

In other words, Google wants to make sure that webmasters are doing the best that they can to show an effort to have the links removed prior to submitting a disavow. Skipping the link removal part and just doing a disavow for all of the links tells Google that you are taking the lazy approach and that you haven’t put in the effort to want to have the penalty revoked. If you have completed all of the steps to remove your links either manually or by using a removal company to do it for you, you are ready to begin the disavow process. Some of the companies will actually help you prepare the disavow file for you, but if they don’t or you did it manually, you are going to want to follow these steps closely.

Before you begin, please remember that this is an advanced feature in Webmaster tools and you should only use this tool if you are completely confident in the links that you are going to remove. Google even warns that if you are not sure about what you are doing, you can actually have a negative impact on your site and harm your site’s performance in the organic search results. It is recommended that you only disavow links if you are certain that the links are spammy or low quality links that you or an SEO built. If you are confident in your links that you want to remove, you are ready to begin the disavow process.

Disavow links process:

The process is broken up into to main parts. For the first step, you will need to get a full list of the links to your site. The second part you will need to create a file that tells Google which ones you want to disavow. This is the actual file that you will upload in your webmaster tools account.

Download links to your site
  1. Go to your webmaster tools page and click on the site you want to work on.
  2. On the Dashboard, click Search Traffic, and then click Links to Your Site.
  3. Under Who links the most, click More.
  4. Click Download more sample links. If you click Download latest links, you’ll see dates as well.

Webmasters Links To Your Site

Download Latest Links

Here is an example of the format that should go into your file. The lines that are notes are denoted by the pound symbol (#):

# removed most of the links I requested, but they missed these

# Contacted owner of on 3/12/2013 to
# ask for link removal but got no response

Download a link disavow example text file (.zip with .txt file inside)

Tip: you can disavow all the links from the entire domain by adding the line domain:

Final step, upload your disavow file
  1. Go to the disavow links tool page.
  2. Select your website.
  3. Click Disavow links.
  4. Click Choose file.

Note: If you upload a new file, it will replace the previously uploaded files from the past uploads.

It will take some time for Google to analyze the links. be patient and let them do their process before panicking and uploading more files. Once Google has analyzed your disavow file, it will then include it in its future index as they crawl the web. This can take weeks, so be patient and also remember that the links will most likely still be showing in your webmaster tools account under links.

If you think you need to submit a Google Reconsideration Request after following the steps above, you will want to visit this page to find out if you need to and how to do it.