To Disavow Or Not To Disavow

05 Dec 2017

You clearly won’t be following the madness surrounding disavow at the moment and that, of course, means you rightly have far far better things to do. Like cleaning the bathroom or doing that DIY you’ve been putting off for three years.

For SEO folk though, it has become a real pain to deal with and something that continues to cause confusion. Do you give it resource or trust Penguin to do its job? or use it for some other vague reason we aren’t that sure about?

Bit of background

Disavow is a tool Google provides to allow website owners to distance themselves from dodgy links. Usually, these have been generated via crappy agency work or in some cases negative SEO attacks. It happens.

Disavow was used throughout the Penguin update era and was a bit of an olive branch to get site owners away from algorithmic penalty’s they either had or fear they may get. Usually, they had employed a very bad SEO firm.

Disavow, by many pros was also seen as tacit acknowledgement from Google that negative SEO was possible and may actually work. 

The theory was simple. If you could spend a tenth of the time knocking competitors out of the game – why bother playing by the rules? 

Like spilt milk, negative SEO was a smell that just wouldn’t go away.

Enter Penguin 4.0.

Now I wrote about that earlier in the year and you can read that here.

The key difference between previous rollouts of Penguin and 4.0 was massive – Penguin no longer demoted and instead just ignored spam. It was also not site wide, so if some idiot was attempting to spam you, Penguin could now ignore that crap altogether and the world was safe again. 

When disavow came up, the general advice was - yeh keep using it.


But disavow confusion wouldn’t go away

Do we really need to keep using it or not? the reason being - it's a real pain and a resource drain. 

On top of that, if you went for an automated toxic link service, it was really expensive and post-Penguin 4.0, these guys had still not really changed their position i.e. they still talked about Penguin demotions rather than manual actions. 

That is pretty much still true now. I recently downloaded a whitepaper from one of these vendors and it was dominated by 2014/5 examples. So what is going on here please?

Fast forward to Brighton SEO 2017 and it gets worse. Illyes, the same guy telling us it was safer to use disavow, appears to have done a U-turn, or maybe he was just being sarcastic….

When asked about whether we should still Disavow (yep SEO's were still asking him), Gary replied ‘if it makes you feel better’.


So we appear to have no entered no man's land with this now. 

Can Negative SEO Still Actually Work?

I have recently seen a negative SEO attack first hand and that coincided with a key term being dropped from the index. Coincidence?

Possibly because it also happened around the time of a site migration to https. But it remains a possibility that someone threw enough mud at the domain – and some of it stuck.

I may write more about that issue but for now, I will leave you with these musings:

  • Google is telling us on one hand that disavow is worth doing to prevent manual penalty’s, but on the other implying we are wasting our time on a general day to day basis. 

  • In theory, someone would now have to have a real concerted effort to trigger a manual penalty. That probably isn’t worth the time and effort. 

  • Penguin 4.0 shifted the ‘effortometer’ towards actually building your own profile and not trying to damage someone else’s. But can we fully trust it?

  • Manual actions have apparently increased post-Penguin 4.0 as people think they are ok to have a go at Google again. I kind of get that, but really hope they are genuine cases and Google hasn't inadvertently created a new problem.

  • If you don’t disavow, what is the potential fall out and who’s fault is that against this backdrop? If we use SEO budget for better things, are we risking a manual action? Is that really likely?

  • Disavow is a drain on SEO time and it would be better if we could get a definitive answer. But I doubt we will.

My view and the position we have taken is that we are pretty much ignoring disavow. That was until however, the spam attack I saw recently possibly work.

So that made me stop and consider what else is out there that could damage clients. 

So confusion reigns. For the moment we will work on the basis that as long as a client has a healthy link profile and we are working on that, then low-quality spam won't impact us. Even if it did trigger a review, you would expect Google to see it for what it is. 

My recent negative SEO case is intriguing though. Watch this space. 

The article was written by Jon Colegate. Connect with Jon:

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