Matt Cutts: Here’s What You’re Doing Wrong With ‘Disavow Links’ Tool

    June 10, 2013
    Chris Crum

Google’s Matt Cutts recently talked about Google’s Disavow Links tool in the comments of a blog post, in which he suggested using it more like a machete than like a fine-toothed comb.

Today, Google released a new Webmaster Help video discussing the mistakes that people most often make when using the tool.

Cutts says, “The file that you upload is just supposed to be a regular text file, so expect either a comment on its own line, a domain that starts with ‘domain:url’. Anything else is weird syntax, and in theory, could cause the parser to reject the file. What we see is people sometimes uploading Word files, so .doc, Excel spreadsheets, you know, and that’s the sort of thing where our parser is not built to handle. It’s expecting just a text file. So if you upload something really strange, that can cause the parser to throw that file out, and then the reconsideration request would not go through.”

Once again, Cutts advises machete-like use of the tool.

He says, “The other thing that we see is, a lot of the times, the first attempt at a reconsideration request, you see people really trying to take a scalpel, and pick out really individual bad links in a very granular way, and for better or worse, sometimes when you’ve got a really bad link profile, rather than a scalpel, you might be thinking more of a machete sort of thing. You need to go a little bit deeper in terms of getting rid of the really bad links.”

“So, for example, if you’ve got links from some very spammy forum or something like that, rather than trying to identify the individual pages, that might be the opportunity to do a ‘domain:’,” he adds. “So if you’ve got a lot of links that you think are bad from a particular site, just go ahead and do ‘domain:’ and the name of that domain. Don’t maybe try to pick out the individual links because you might be missing a lot more links.”

“The other thing that we see is, the ‘domain:’ needs to have the right syntax,” he says. “So, ‘domain:’ and then a domain name. Don’t do, ‘domain:’ and then ‘http’ or ‘www.’ or something like that. An actual domain like ‘’ or ‘’ is what we’re looking for there.”

It’s a little surprising that Google’ system can’t tell when somebody’s talking about a domain when they use “http” or “www,” but it is what it is. Good to know.

Cutts continues, “A bunch of people, we sometimes see them putting context, or the story, or the documentation for the reconsideration request in the Disavow Links text file that they try to upload. That’s really not the right place for it. The right place to give us the context, or to describe what’s going on is in the reconsideration request, not in the Disavow Links text file….You probably don’t need a lot of comments. If they’re there, I’d keep ’em short. I wouldn’t make a lot of multiple lines and all that sort of stuff because it increases the likelihood that you might make a copy-and-paste error, and then we would not trust that particular file.”

“The other thing that we see is that some people think that Disavow is be all end all..the panacea that’s going to cure all their ills, and yet we do want, if you’ve been doing some bad SEO and you’re trying to cure it, in an ideal world, you would actually clean up as many links as you can off the actual web,” says Cutts. “That’s just a really helpful way for us to see, when you’re doing a reconsideration request, that you’re putting in the effort to try and make sure things have been corrected and cleaned up, and it’s not going to happen again.”


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.