Determining good from bad links is something experienced SEOs understand. However, when a webmaster gets a traffic hit after a Penguin run, the first step for recovery is evaluating backlinks. With so many scraper sites and spammers, it’s difficult to determine which ones you need to remove. If you are unsure and want to remove spammy backlinks, Google provides you with a disavow tool.

What is the Disavow Tool?

The disavow tool was introduced after several SEOs and webmasters complained about competitors generating low quality backlinks in an effort to lower the target site’s search engine rank. The process is known as “negative SEO.” To alleviate the issue, Google added a disavow option in Webmaster Tools. This option lets the webmaster say “Google, we don’t vouch for these links. Please disregard them.”

The disavow tool does not remove the links from the Internet. The disavow tool places an implicit “nofollow” on the links. When a link is nofollowed, it does not pass PageRank. When you disavow a link, you tell Google not to pass PageRank from the spam site to your site, so it’s essentially a way for webmasters to add nofollow to a link without contacting the spam site’s webmaster.

One caveat to the disavow tool is that it will not automatically remove a penalty if you were caught buying links. To be successful at removing a penalty, you must make an effort to remove links and use the disavow tool with sites that won’t answer your inquiry for link removal.

Another issue to remember is that the disavow tool is only good for working with Google. It does not affect any standing with other search engines such as Bing or Yahoo.

Filing a Disavow List with Google

The first step is to download your links from Webmaster Tools. Click “Search Traffic” in the left navigation panel, and then click “Links to Your Site.” Click “More” in the “Who links the most” section. In this window, you can download the latest links pointing to your site.

The next part takes a bit of knowledge and understanding of what is considered a spam link and what you should keep. If any links are low quality, you should add them to the disavow file. These links include low quality press releases used for backlinks, articles on backlinking sites such as, links from guest posts on low quality blogs, and any scraper sites or directories used to gain PageRank.

Most webmasters disavow by page, but it’s better to disavow the entire domain if you don’t want any links from a spammy website. To disavow the entire domain, use the following syntax:

Use one domain or web page per line, and store your file as a text file. After you’ve listed all domains, upload the file in Webmaster Tools. If you do not get a confirmation after uploading the file, you probably have a syntax error in the file. With no confirmation, your disavow file won’t be processed, so make sure you create a correctly formatted text file.

It’s important to note that uploading a new file overwrites the existing disavow file. This means you need to append additional domains to your file when you want to add more links to a current disavow list.

After you’ve completed the process, it can take several months to recover from a Penguin issue. Continue to work on the quality of your site and be patient while Google recrawls and evaluates your backlinks.

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