BrightHaus Digital Marketing Agency

Disavowing One Day at a Time

September 13, 2013

Disavow. After almost a year, it remains to be the hot topic in the SEO world, and continues to be the subject of many group discussions/headbangings here at SEOhaus. Jori and Brian have shared their thoughts with the blog world along with many other SEO professionals, but questions seem to remain the same: how does it work and more importantly does it really help?

There have been many theories and even a few have experimented to see what the disavow tool does, if anything at all. Cyrus Shepard shared his experience on The Moz Blog a few months ago after disavowing all 35,000 of his links stating he did not see a dramatic change in traffic or rankings for two months. A few days later Penguin 2.0 hits and he somewhat retracts his statements, that maybe, it caused some rankings to drop after all. Fast forward to today, and Cyrus is now shaking his head at traffic that now looks like this:


While I feel like we all thank Cyrus for being the sacrificial SEO lamb I also feel like I’m not alone in feeling like I am not one step closer to unveiling the mystery that is the disavow tool. Truth be told, what Cyrus did was dramatic and hopefully not common practice for those using it. And when it comes down to it, isn’t this what we would have predicted months ago had we been asked what the outcome would be? We just might have predicted that it would happen a little more quickly than it actually did. So what have we learned?

Disavow Lesson #1: don’t disavow all your links at once, it probably won’t pan out too well.

So how many links can you disavow? How much is too much? Do you have to submit a reconsideration request to have it be effective or nervously wait for an update to see what effect it will take? A lot of questions still remain. At this point I have done my fair share of disavowing and overall have seen it do more good than harm as well as some general patterns that tend follow a submission. For starters, I have only been targeting the spammiest of spam links and definitely use caution when deciding what to disavow. If I’m absolutely sure that sites are not helping in any way, they are placed on the list. Once the appropriate steps have been taken and the submit button is clicked, the ranking roller coaster begins. Shortly after disavowing rankings seem to go up for a few days and then tend drop. Not severely but one to two pages does not appear to be uncommon, similar to the drops you see when making on page changes to your site. And when you think about it, this correlation makes sense. You are essentially making changes to your site, while not cosmetic, the overall presence of your site has changed. And just like you have to wait for Google to register your on page changes as positive, you will have to wait for your link removal to be seen as a positive as well. The time you have to wait varies with the amount of links you have removed but after a month or so, I’ve been happy with the progression rankings seem to be making.

I recently did some disavowing for a new client that got hit by Penguin 2.0 and their link profile needed some serious help. While still fairly earlier in the game, their traffic is a great illustration of what I have been seeing with other clients:


At the end of the day, Google just wants to you be responsible for the quality of your site and the disavow tool can be considered a magic eraser of sorts to help you clean up a mess when all other efforts fail. It is not a quick fix and as said many times before, should be used with caution as be overzealous may cause you to lose links you can’t get back.

Elisa Houghtelin is one of the Account Managers at SEOhaus. If you would like to stay up-to-date on all of the latest SEO industry news and tips, you can subscribe to our blog here. Thanks for reading the SEOhaus blog!