The great disavow debate

Of late there has been a lot of debate and argument on the topic of whether just using a disavow file is enough to solve link problems. The general suggestion being that people claim there is enough evidence to say that a disavow is all you need when sorting out a link issue.

Well its really not that simple.

What makes me qualified to wade in on one side or the other? (not that being unqualified has ever stopped anyone in an SEO debate before!). As a co-founder of LinkRisk and a director here at Marketing Signals I have probably seen more link problems via LinkRisk and a lot of organic success and problems solved via Marketing Signals than most. At LinkRisk we believe we have the largest disavow database outside of Google and have analysed 25,000+ link profiles, rescuing hundreds of sites from penalty.

What has that taught me about this debate?

You can recover from just a disavow.

Its true, I have seen it happen. You can submit a disavow and that is enough.

  • Is that advisable? No (see below)
  • Is it reliable? No (see below)

It is better to get the links removed.

The best success and the best long term outcome almost always comes from getting as many of the links removed from the internet as possible. I always advise people that getting the link removed is the best possible outcome, no chance of Google messing things up or the disavow file being changed at a later date and the problem coming back.

People have also suggested that you can just leave a bad link profile because attrition in the link graph means it will sort itself to below the problem threshold in time. This is dangerous advice and frankly completely incorrect. Bad links generally don’t just fall off the web, they last for a long long time. You would also be reliant on Google crawling those lost links to get them to acknowledge the fact that they were now removed from existence… Google don’t crawl the bad links that often.

Finally it has also been suggested that you can overturn link issues (specifically Penguin) by earning good links to offset the bad. This theory assumes you know what a good link and a bad link is in Google’s eyes (thats not a black and white choice at all). It also assumes that Penguin is purely based on a threshold and that the link graph you see in the data you have is the same dataset that Google are using to make their decision for the Penguin filter. The link graph you see or can see is always only a partial picture of what Google is aware of.

Therefore our advice has not changed in the debate at all.

  • If you have a link issue, those links you have that were made for SEO… They have to go…
  • Try to get the bad links removed by outreach
  • Disavow those you cannot get removed
  • Also disavow any links that are of such poor quality Google is unlikely to crawl them frequently
  • Always disavow at domain level ( – its less than 1% where you’d need to think about disavow at URL level in my opinion

The disavow is hugely powerful and is needed in almost every case. Removals are also an important factor.



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