When to Disavow Links

To Disavow or Not to Disavow – That is the Question

Whether to disavow linksWe’ve all heard about those infamous circumstances where big brands were penalized for unnatural backlinks, and perhaps you’ve also read about some of the more isolated events of users being penalized for having just one or two suspicious guest blogs on their site.

This has led to quite a few webmasters becoming a bit nervous, and possibly feeling guilty, about some of the links pointing to their site. Regardless of why or what you’ve heard, you’ve begun considering the idea – or have already taken action – to disavow those harmful backlinks and should take a moment to consider the benefits – or consequences – of doing so.

To determine whether you should disavow links to your site consider the following:

  • Has your site been penalized by Google?
    • What type of penalty is it (e.g. site wide, page, manual/automated, ect…)?
  • Have you done a backlink analysis?
    • Did you notice a lot of low quality or unnatural-looking links to your site?
  • Have you worked with an SEO agency who performed link building for you in the past or still does?
    • Did/do they build a large number of links for a very low cost?

If none of the above questions apply to you, great! You probably should consider doing a backlink analysis to determine if you have a large number of low quality backlinks, but you will likely want to avoid using the disavow tool altogether.

Next, I want to address the sites which have not been penalized but may have a lot of poor quality links.

Whether to Disavow Links if You Haven’t Been Penalized

I’ve spoken with a number of webmasters who know that they have a lot of low quality backlinks and, while they haven’t yet been penalized, they’re worried that the low quality links are hurting their rankings or, at some point, could lead to a penalty.

First of all, it is very unlikely that any links, good or bad, are negatively affecting your site if you haven’t received a penalty. While this is debatable, most SEO experts will agree that Google only removes or lowers the value of those low quality links rather than giving a negative value. After all, you can’t control whether someone links to your site.

So what if you just want to protect yourself from potentially being penalized in the future, why not disavow the bad links at least? Well here are some pros and cons to consider when disavowing links without a penalty:


  • Increase odds of not being penalized
  • Have better control of anchor text percentages (a high percentage of commercial anchor text could lead to a penalty)


  • Risk losing rankings due to lost link value (any link you disavow could potentially cause your ranking to drop since you lose the value of that link)

Conclusion: In most cases it isn’t necessary to disavow links if your site has not received a penalty from Google. However, if you have a very large number (>1000) of backlinks which appear to be spam or if you have a high percentage (>70%) of commercial anchor text (using exact match business terms in the anchor text), then you may want to consider selectively disavowing the worst of the worst. Disavow too many links and  you could lose a lot of rankings.

Whether to Disavow Links if You Have Been Penalized

If you’ve received a notice from Google via Webmaster Tools that your site is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and have received a manual penalty against your site due to improper use of links, then you’ll likely want to consider a disavow. To get the penalty removed you will need to submit a reconsideration request but not until you have resolved any issues with your links.

Unfortunately, Google won’t tell you which links are in violation, but may give you a few examples. You then will need to analyze all of your backlinks to determine which ones could be causing the penalty. Once you know which links are likely causing the penalty, you can then disavow the links and then submit a reconsideration request.

If you’ve received a noticed from Google stating that they’ve devalued links – which doesn’t mean your site has been penalized, just that you aren’t getting the same value from all of your backlinks – then you may want to hold off on disavowing any links as they may actually be helping your site.

Another consideration: Even if you disavow your low quality links and are able to get the penalty removed via the reconsideration request, your rankings may or may not improve. Typically, only about 15 to 30% of users who do a disavow actually benefit of higher rankings.

The disavow tool is not the answer to rankings – it is a solution for fixing a penalty but not necessarily for improving your rankings.

Luckily, once the penalty has been removed, you’re much more likely to start improving your rankings over time, rather than remaining stagnant or declining due to an outstanding penalty.

If you have any doubts about whether you should disavow links, contact an experienced SEO consultant or, if you haven’t already, perform a backlink analysis to determine whether you have any unnatural or low quality links.

About Nate Wheeler

Quickly adapting to the constantly changing world of online marketing, Nate Wheeler has taken to blogging in order to share his knowledge on SEO and online marketing while continuously expanding upon that knowledge. Nate has over 10 years experience within the industry, working with hosting, web design, PPC management, SEO, and content marketing. While he enjoys nothing more than snowboarding and watching football with an ice cold beer, his second favorite thing is learning and discussing online marketing tactics, strategies, and trends.
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