How To Use Google’s Disavow Tool


Everyone knows that Google uses its own proprietary algorithm to rank pages in the search results. Codenamed "Penguin", the algorithm is a complex process that takes several things into account when ranking your website, which can either increase your ranking or decrease it.

If you're a seasoned SEO, you might already be accustomed to potential damage that can accompany unnatural (paid links, excessive article marketing, link exchanges etc.) links. Regardless of how you acquired said links, they will hurt your rankings. If your website has been targeted by such pests, you'll receive a message on the Manual Actions tab. Taking care of this issue should be a priority.

If you have discovered these links to your website, there are several options available.

Firstly, you should contact the owner of the website responsible for the links. Whether you ask them to a) take down the links down, or b) redirect them through a URL that doesn't pass through the page-rank algorithm, is your choice.

However, if for some reason you can't or don't want to contact the owner of the links, you can use Google's Disavow Tool.

Since 2013, the disavow tool allows webmasters to create audits on unnatural links, asking Google to exclude them from their page-rank count. However, in order to reduce abuse, there are certain guidelines and limitations. If used incorrectly or abused, the ranking of your website will take a hit and as such decrease.

How To Create an Audit Spreadsheet

Gather the Links

Before you use the disavow tool, you're going to need the complete list of links that are linked to your website. You can either do this manually, or use an external resource. Whichever path you choose, you're going to need to place them in a spreadsheet. If you're taking the easy way, which involves the use of an external source, we recommend using one of the following:


Each of these tools have their own pros and cons, but in the end, they're going to deliver very similar results.

Truth be told, if you want to be very thorough with your spreadsheet, you might end up using all 3. On the other hand, if you don't care for fancy 3rd party help, here's how you can create the link spreadsheet manually. 

  • In your website's Webmaster Tools, find "Search Traffic"
  • Once you've clicked on this, find "Links to your site" and click "More"
  • This will give you a list of the first 1000 domains that have links to your website
  • You'll be given 3 buttons. Click both the "Download more sample links" and "Download latest links" buttons.

Keep in mind that if you have more than 1000 domains linking to your website, you should click "Download more sample links" every day for a few days. This will give you even more links to add to the final audit spreadsheet.

Combine The Links In a New Spreadsheet

By now, each process should have provided you with a long list of links. Once you've gathered all of your links, it's time to put them into one final spreadsheet. Google Docs should be your best and easiest to use option here.

  • The first step is to paste all of the URLs in a new column
  • Create a second column with the following formula =left(B1,find("/",B1,9)-1)
  • Highlight the first column and press Ctrl+D
  • The next step is to convert the formula data into values. This will later allow you to copy-paste data into the column. To do this, select the column, press Ctrl+C, and select "Edit" -> "Paste Special" -> "Paste Values Only"
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    To remove some of the clutter and break the links into subdomains, you'll need the "Find & Replace" tool. Select the column and press Ctrl+H. You're going to do this three times. Each time, the "Replace" box will be empty. You'll want to replace: "http://", "https://", and "www."

Remove Duplicate Links

If you've used more than one tool to gather the links, you should have a lot of duplicates.

  • To find and remove the duplicate links, use the formula =if(B1=B2,"duplicate","unique") in a new column
  • Copy this all the way down, and manually remove each duplicate link

Audit the Links in the Spreadsheet

Now that the easy part is out of the way, meaning you've gathered the links and sorted them into a's time for the actual audit.

  • You'll have to manually check each link and decide if you want to keep it or disavow it
  • Create a new column, and while you progress through each link sort them by "keep" or "disavow"

After assessing each link, it's time to separate the "keep" from the "disavow". Since we've created a separate column that uses these exact terms, we can filter the spreadsheet so that only the links marked as "disavow" appear.

Create the Disavow File

  • Create a new sheet and copy-paste all of the links that were marked as "disavow". 
  • Once you have the new column, add "domain:" to each link. Instead of doing it manually, especially if you have a few hundred links, use ="domain:"&A1 and copy it throughout the column
  • Once you've finished the previous step, you need to create a text file. In order for it to be accepted by Google's Disavow Tool, it has to be plain text, in either 7-bit ASCII or UTF-8 format. Google Docs allows you to easily do this by clicking "Download As" and selecting "Plain Text"

File the Disavow

The final step of the process is to actually use Google's tool.

  • Go to the tool's website and you'll see a message about disavowing and a drop-down menu
  • Select your website from the drop-down menu and click on "Disavow Links". 
  • You'll have to choose the text file you've just created in order to upload it to the tool. The tool will read the text file and create a short report about the number of domains and links that are contained in the file.
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    There is also the possibility that the tool will give an error. This usually happens if you haven't removed "http://", "https://", and "www." from the links. Luckily, the tool also provides you with a detailed report of the line which has the error. Simply, correct the errors and upload the file again.

According to Google, disavowing happens immediately and on a continuous basis. Each time the algorithm crawls your website, it adds a "nofollow" tag to the unnatural links, thus removing them from your ranking calculations.

How to Modify the Disavow File

There are multiple reasons for modifying a disavow file.​

You could want to add more domains to it, or remove some of the existing domains. In both cases, the process is very similar. Unfortunately, you can't automatically add or remove the domains. Any file you upload to the tool will overwrite the previous one. So in order to modify it, you will have to download it.

  • For some weird reason, when you download it, Google will give you the file in a .csv format, rather than the .txt format you initially uploaded
  • Open it with Google Docs and repeat the initial process.
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    Add or remove the links that you want, download the file as .txt and re-upload it to the Disavow Tool
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    There is also the possibility that the tool will give an error. This usually happens if you haven't removed "http://", "https://", and "www." from the links. Luckily, the tool also provides you with a detailed report of the line which has the error. Simply, correct the errors and upload the file again.

Disavowing Versus Manually Removing Links

There's not much room for debate here, because it comes down to how easy it is to manually remove the link. If you either own it or are in good terms with the owner, manually removing the link can spare you a lot of trouble. However, if the manual removal process is going to be lengthy, you're better off using Google's Disavow Tool.

The only case in which you need to manually remove links before using the tool is when Google sends you a Manual Action notice.

In the end, this tool was intended to be used by anyone who owns a website. Once you understand how the tool works, you should be using it on a monthly basis to protect your domain authority and get rid of all those unwanted, unnatural links.

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