Why Google Disavow Is Bad News For SEO

Why Google Disavow Is Bad News For SEO

Google has officially released the new Disavow Links Tools to webmasters around the world.

It was first mentioned at SMX in July and Matt Cutts has now officially announced the tool at PubCon.

What Is Google Disavow?

Essentially you upload a list of backlinks and tell Google to ignore them when it is ranking your site.

Google disavow tool

Here is the official explanation-

“If you believe your site’s ranking is being harmed by low-quality links you do not control, you can ask Google not to take them into account when assessing your site.”

If you read that and think that is the holy grail solution to fix all of your current ranking issues – stop right now and think about this properly.

Fixing A Problem Google Created

First of all the only reason we need the Disavow tool is solve a problem that Google created.

Historically Google just used to ignore what the algorithm considered to be a low quality link. In fact in 2009 Google even went as far to say not to worry about low quality links.

Since then they have changed their mind on low quality links and instead of ignoring them like they used to, they now use them as negative votes against a sites ranking.

Negative SEO Is Born

This shift in the algorithm is what has allowed negative SEO to be so successful and easy to do.

Negative SEO has caused Google a huge problem as they gave SEO’s the ability to destroy competitors businesses.

In less than 10 minutes and a few clicks of a mouse an experienced SEO can cause lasting wide reaching damage to practically any site they choose.

This is what led Google to create the Disavow tool.

Crowd Sourced Web Spam Team

Essentially the Google Disavow tool is nothing more than a glorified crowd sourcing project.

Why try to identify low quality links via algorithmic signals when you can get an army of millions of webmasters around the world to do it for you?

And what better way to motivate that army than by telling them if they do all this work it will help them?

Why It Is Bad For SEO

This is nothing more than a bulk snitching tool dressed up as a solution to a problem it doesn’t actually solve.

Google will be using the data it collects from this tool to clean up the web, discount bad links and hand out penalties left, right & centre.

The problem is there are so many SEO’s that don’t really know what they are doing. They are not really sure what is wrong or why they have being penalised.

It’s these kind of webmasters that will flock to the Disavow tool in the thousands reporting every link they ever bought or built to Google even when it’s not a low quality link.

It could be they are facing an onsite penalty such as Panda or the recent low quality EMD update – but they actually end up reporting a bunch of links that are actually helping them.

Google will suddenly have huge volumes of data on what real people consider to be low quality links – it would be naive to think they wouldn’t take action with that amount of data in hand.

A Real Example

Let’s say you used a link building service that delivered great results – you diversified the anchor text well and saw positive movement in the SERPS, fantastic.

Another customer of that service did the same thing but didn’t diversify anchor text correctly and then got a Penguin based penalty.

That customer will then go and report all of the links they got from the service provider as low quality links and to ignore them.

But you also have the same ‘low quality’ links pointing at your site…

See the problem here?

It’s also likely that they would report links they have built/ordered from other services during that period as well in an attempt to undo the damage putting even more webmasters at risk.

Grass En Masse

The data Google collects from this tool only serves to hurt SEO’s.

stop snitching

You might find some of your most valuable backlinks have being discounted because someone else has incorrectly reported them as low quality.

You only have to spend 5 minutes on DigitalPoint to realise how scary giving other people that kind of power actually is.

Didn’t Google learn anything from the negative SEO mess they created?

Does It Solve The Problem?

The whole point of the Disavow tool is to help protect against negative SEO attacks etc

But does it actually solve the problem?

No is the answer

Legitimate websites owners now have the added responsibility of monitoring and cleaning up their link profile – something that used to be done at the algorithm level.

The Disavow tool won’t protect people against penalties – most webmasters don’t anticipate a penalty and are only aware of problems when they are penalised.

By that point it’s too late, the site has already tanked out of the rankings and the damage is done.

You then have to spend the next few months cleaning things up, often due to no fault of your own.

So does the tool protect against negative SEO attacks? Not even a little bit – all it does is help in cleaning up the aftermath of an attack.

Food For Thought

I can create millions of low quality link per day at the click of a button – Do you think a webmaster with the Disavow tool could keep up with that volume?

I doubt it.

They would have to spend all day every day going through the links and by the time they’ve done that…. I’ve built a million more while I was asleep.

So what is the point?

Reading Between The Lines

What all of this actually tells me is that Google are having a hard time keeping up with modern day link spam.

It has got to the point now where some link building tactics are so advanced that Google just cannot identify the spam via an algorithm anymore and need to crowd source the discovery and identification of link spam.

It’s ironic because Google put a lot of effort into fear mongering and claiming their algorithms are more sophisticated than they actually are.

Then in the next breath they drop their pants & wave the white flag by releasing the Disavow tool.

head desk meme

Credit Where It Is Due

Google created this tool to solve a problem they created that they cannot solve algorithmically.

They clearly lack the ability to identify and discount ‘low quality’ links at the algorithm level so have dressed up the disavow tool in a way that enslaves an army of unknowing grasses.

Credit where it is due! That is a superb piece of marketing right there, there is one problem though…

The New Age of Negative SEO

What provides additional comical value is that you can use Disavow tool – you know the one to protect against negative SEO attacks, to launch negative SEO attacks against your competitors.

What happens if a site gets multiple reports against it via the Disavow tool? Does Google downgrade that sites authority? What’s stopping me from logging multiple complaints against the same site?

It wouldn’t be that difficult to do.

You could use trackback spam to get your link onto the competitor’s site and then report it as a low quality link.

Do that 100 times with 100 different webmaster tool accounts & sites and you’re laughing! Heck I could even automate the entire process end to end with a series of web 2.0 sites, Scrapebox and Webmaster Tools accounts.

Not that the Disavow tool even protects against the initial attack anyway, you can still take a site out with negative SEO just as easily now as you could before.

Now we just have another tool in the negative SEO arsenal, thanks Google!

Welcome to the new age of Negative SEO.

Don’t Be A Mong

So in summary, don’t be a mong by using the Disavow tool.

Leave the monging to Google, they are doing a fantastic job at that on their own.

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64 Responses

10.17.2012

Thanks Matthew. Hopefully some other experienced SEOs pick up on your article and promote it. Welldone.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

I doubt they will – every one I have read so far is drinking the Google juice like its going out of fashion. Would be nice to be picked up though.

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Charles Floate Reply:

I totally agree, it’s so stupid how white hat SEO “pros” like the Critchlows and Fishkin lick Google’s a-hole more than a gay porno star.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Hahahaha ^^ no comment :P

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10.17.2012

This is actually a fantastic article Matthew. Google just cannot keep up and wants to force scared people to help them. They did it when they sent out "Unnatural Links" messages in April and they do it again with the disavow tool. The only problem is that a lot of people are actually falling for that trick.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Yes it is essentially just a reverse process of the link message notices, I see they have got better at fear and deception since then :P

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Jacob King
10.17.2012

First I gotta say you're a beast Matthew.

Man Google has some SEOs jumping around like marionettes. Srambling to disavow links that put our own sites in the gutter and send them more data, lmao. I was tempted to jump on it when the news broke with a couple sites. But it just doesn't make any sense.

Penalties from Google send a message and it's pretty simple, don't fuck with us. So I really can't see them giving us a nice new disavow tool to get back in their good graces. Stop snitching is right! G ain't your friend people, they would piss on your site and you too if it meant moving their stock price.01.

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Sunita Biddu Reply:

I was on same though Jacob.. as if we confirmed, yes we did something bad…

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Jon Blankenberg Reply:

Admiral Akbar says its a trap.

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Jon Blankenberg Reply:

And I agree.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Thanks Jacob :)

This tool allows them to shake off the negative press around the negative SEO issues while collecting masses of new data.

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Calin Puscas Reply:

God Damned you're so right… G pissing on us for a cent or two… ::))

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10.17.2012

I'm with you Matt. I don't think it will help put our site back in G's good graces. And I'm in no mood to give G more data then they already have.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Exactly :) Why make it harder for ourselves in the long run.

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10.17.2012

Matthew is a smart SEO guy and now he is showing his true quality. Thanks Matthew. It's a good read. Something to think about :)

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Thanks for your kind words – Don't blindly drink the Google juice my friend!

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10.17.2012

Another great article Matt, very thought provoking. What was wrong with the previous algorithm where the link was discredited? The fact is as you say, SEOs are getting more advanced and they are struggling to identify those links that have been manufactured over links that are genuine. I've been playing with SENukeXCr, and I have wrote a few scripts from sites that will never be discredited. Google can not easily distinguish between automated links and human links now, so this tool is going to be a way for them to complile a list of sites that are spam. Crowdsourcing is a great analogy for this like you mention.

The problem is, what happens to the genuine sites that get submitted by novices? Do they run another test to check whether its been reported before, and when its hit a certain number of reportings, then discredit it? Seems a stupid tool imo, because it will be abused by beginners and mom & pops who are wondering why their site isn't ranking, and they'll report all sorts of genuine links that have nothing to do with their rankings. Well done Google.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Yeah the old algorithm was much better in how it dealt with link spam, granted it did allow SEO's to push the boat as far as they could but I think the SERPS were more relevant – you can guarantee if someone has put time and money into a link building campaign the content is top notch.

Unfortunately this tool means that no site is protected from discreditation if enough people report is as a low quality link.

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Tomyches Martínez
10.17.2012

Great article Matthew, thanks for share :)

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

No worrys glad you enjoyed it :)

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10.17.2012

Matt,

We saw a 98% drop on one site, most of it from Penguin. Nothing I have tried, including using your methods, has helped. We know there are spammy links that we did not buy pointing to our site. Why in the world would I not try to get back some of that income lost? Just to make a point that Google is creating a mess? Obviously I will try the tool with nothing to lose and a lot to gain. If it helps on that site we will move on to try it on other sites that dropped more than 50% on April 24 (Penguin). Google may be creating more of a mess, but that's true whether or not I personally use the tool to recover lost traffic and income.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

All I have done to penguin penalised site is drip feed a couple thousand bookmarks inline with current link velocity and pushed some authority web 2.0s with generic terms.

I would only recommend this is you are 110% sure links are to blame and you can correctly identifty which links. No good removing links if thats not the problem or if they are helping you. I have never removed a single link to recover a site though, just built more to address the overall look of the profile.

I would love to learn about your experience with this though – perhaps you could be the first guest poster to announce your results?

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Steve Gillman Reply:

I'll let you know, but from what Cutts said in his video it could take a few weeks. I just disavowed more than 1,000 links for one site (too damaged to worry about negative consequences), an I will try disavowing just a few dozen on another, in case high-volume requests are treated differently.

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Radu Balas Reply:

I think its a mistake to use google services in the first place… how can you build 1000+ links and use google analytics and webmaster tools?

one just not builds unatural links or "natural looking" to a site while have google code on the site telling google everything that you are doing.

there are plenty of trackers out there, forget about google if you are doing any seo.

Google already has a lot of info about your site why would you put his code on your site?

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Steve Gillman Reply:

Google AdSense has made many times more money for us than any jobs my wife or I have ever had. As for the links, we didn't buy them. I distributed articles and have had the sites around long enough to have directory links from back when they were okay (and free). One of our sites has 50,000 links from one spammy site (an obvious negative SEO attack), and the disavowal tool might be the only way to have them disregarded.

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Jason Nevin
10.17.2012

Matt

With regard to the negative disavowing you mention; surely not possible. That site has to have a link pointing to me before I disavow it. I can't disavow my competitors because they don't links to my site!

Never though I'd use the word disavow 3 times in a single paragraph.

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Ann Mullard Reply:

That sounds positively biblical – thou shall disavow me thrice before cockcrow!

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Stuart Horner Reply:

Can they do that? Make a grammar school educated businessman lose his command of English? (quote: they don't links to my site). Shocking!

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

You can usually get a link from most sites – if its WordPress based I'll trackback spam you but each site will have its place to drop a link.

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Dennis Byhankou
10.17.2012

Thanks for being there and saying this. I had similar thoughts on this: http://textislife.com/seo-tips/disavow-links-but-dont-do-it-google-shows-webmasters-how-to-disconnect-from-internet/. It is an obscure witch hunt for in-the-box thinkers. The webspam people roll out any senseless feature just to keep people wallowing in Google's mythology rather than look for other traffic sources.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

No worrys – someone had to :)

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10.18.2012

Google keep telling us don't use it unless you don't have a choice. As matt said this may be google's new tool to identify spam websites which they can't identify using their recent panda or penguin algorithms. Most people will use it anyways when they see a drop in site rankings without even checking which algorithm hit them.

Matt- "It could be they are facing an onsite penalty such as Panda or the recent low quality EMD update – but they actually end up reporting a bunch of links that are actually helping them."
Me- No I didn't remove good authority backlinks, I just tried to get good ratio of anchor texts.

- Google don't want us to use this new tool casually.
- Disavow links (linked to be deindexed) may take a month or the next algorithmic update.
- Google said they may take a look at the submitted links before disavowing it, don't have a clue if its done manually or automatically.
- Google says use this tool only if you cant remove the links pointing back to your website by any possible means. Remove as many bad links manually before using the tool.

Why SEO's fear this?

As matt mentioned, people may report all links pointing back to their site done by recent SEO company in a bad way. Most domains used by many SEO's will end up in the google's not so great links and don't pass any value.

Use this tool against another SEO company.

Ah.. An example I will take SE Slingshot. Once I use their services my website may rank well so I have to buy a gig from fiverr and blast my site with all spam directly. Once the rank is down or my site is deindexed I will make a list of all backlinks ponting to my site and disavow it. If the disavow tool does this automatically then SE slingshot will be done for. Just my stupid opinion though.

Should we fear this tool? Maybe. And it depends.

If Google wanted to find link building practices used by many it is actually very simple. Just find some softwares(senuke , xrumer, gsa etc) and see where the links are built from and devalue links pointing back from that sites. JUST DEVALUE THEM, no need to penalize the authority sites as they have no idea who are making articles to their sites. No need to waste time to find a pattern of how modern SEO do link building.
Private SEO company's like SE slingshot will be safe by the way.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Yes they have said that – the only problem is a lot of people wont listen to that and will use the disavow tool as a shortcut to fixing their problems instead of actually understanding the problem itself.

All of your points are perfectly valid which is why this is much more far reaching than people may first realise.

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Well written and well observed – someone with their finger on the REAL pulse. Brought about memories of the NSEO campaign/experiment waged on SEOMoz early this Summer – 'disavow' seems like such an appropriately chosen word.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Thanks :) Yeah the SEOMoz was interesting, notice how quiet it all went though :P

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DDWM Vancouver Website Design Marketing Reply:

MatthewWoodward.co.uk Seems we're not alone – the market has spoken as well – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/google-results-disappoint-ad-revenue-weakens/article4620716/

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Who needs Google =D

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10.18.2012

"You could use trackback spam to get your link onto the competitor’s site and then report it as a low quality link.

Do that 100 times with 100 different webmaster tool accounts & sites and you’re laughing! Heck I could even automate the entire process end to end with a series of web 2.0 sites, Scrapebox and Webmaster Tools accounts".

So True! Will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Be interesting to see if anyone actually gives that a shot

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Matthew Prestwich
10.19.2012

This seems like another reason why you would want to control your own links in your first tier like you've been talking about in your tired linking videos. If you have a first tier that consists of decent quality Web 2.0 sites then you should be insulated from anybody using the disavow tool because Goolge is not going to deindex a Top Level Domain from a major Web 2.0 site.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Exactly :) Thats why I also say the future is actually owning your tier 1 link profile or the vast majority of it.

I only use web 2.0 sites that give you subdomains so that should also help protect against the disavow to some extent.

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10.19.2012

No way in hell I would use this tool; I'd check for any possibilities of penguin or panda, and go from there. If my site were too bad off, I'd reevaluate my link building and move on to a new site. Google doesn't need anymore information than what SEOs have already given them. Hell, most people aren't even SEOs, they just read a few articles and go to town pushing buttons, blasting links all over the damn web.

Good article, Matt!

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

I certainly think a good way to use it would to only disavow links coming from deindexed domains as that only offers positives for SEO's while telling Google something it already knows.

One of the big drawbacks to disavow is now people will use it as a shortcut to try and get out of penalty's isntead of actually taking the time to dissect, understand and fix penaltys which is an invaluable experience for any SEO.

You just cheat yourself.

Those that have read a few articles and go to town pushing buttons are the ones that will flock to this tool in the masses unfortunately.

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Malcolm Simmonds
10.22.2012

Love the meme lol.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

It would have being rude not to! I have similar feelings browsing digital point forums as well ^^

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10.25.2012

This is a battle of Matt vs Matt :) Thoughtful and provoking as always. Thanks Matt, I'll be thinking of it now.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Haha I wouldn't go that far (please dont deindex me if your reading this Matt :P ) or do – fancy a challenge.

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11.6.2012

Lots of fun reading this on a very not funny topic. Thanks Matt for speaking your guarded healthy paranoid mind.

Negative SEO is nasty.

not related to this regular website/ link building topic but to negative seo w/ google places… I had a gplaces listing for my house music dj service with lots of reviews and it got removed because a NegSeo co.

they made 30+ edits on my listing over a period of mths (and to a bunch of other listings too), and did stuff like say the reviews were fake, or that bus had moved or closed, etc. I still see it in my backend dashboard but nowhere to be found. thanks google for allowing this kind of thing on a owner verified business listing. Cheers, dattrax

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Negative SEO is just a cost of doing business now and business models need to adapt to accept that. I'm working with a Casino client and negative SEO is king in that niche – you would be amazed at what goes on!

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Dat Trax Reply:

Matt, I am glad I found your work from my boss' blog post about this new disavow post. Love the google alerts guest post you did, took the advice into practice yesterday. Have a great week and thank you again for putting forth a refreshing perspective on the almighty google

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Kathy Reply:

Very thought provoking and crazy mess. I just disavowed 200 some links for my customer, and thought to myself — There is no way I/we have the time to contact all these spammy domains. It seems to me, if possible, a solution could be that all search engines ignore/no follow/no index all outbound links, except those referrals explicitly verified by the website owner. I have no idea *how* that could work… but maybe through webmaster tools.. and I think where there’s a will there is a way. Google could figure out a way to do this. This way, the power to link and be linked is of mutual consent, as it should be. that’s fair. There would be no incentive for negative SEO, and no incentive to game anything w/ low-quality spam links.. Google doesn’t need people telling them which sites participate in unnatural links, they already know/knew and sent out emails as proof.
How could this work? Thoughts?

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Google could just go back to the old system when it found a dodgy link it ignored it, rather than how it is now – a dodgy link counts as a negative vote.

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Oliver Sherrington
6.25.2013

Interesting read Matt. How else would you go about cleaning up a spammy link profile (ie one that was built by an agency), when the link webmasters either do no respond or don’t have any method whatsoever of contacting them?

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

DMCA to them & the host

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12.30.2013

This Disavow tool was highly suspicious from day one. Submitting any of your links there is plain admitting that you’re guilty.

If you’ve built some low quality links to your site for whatever reason then stand by your decision and be quiet about it.

If it’s someone else that’s done this then let Google do their job filtering it out instead of doing it for them.

Great post, by the way.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Thanks Karol!

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4.4.2014

My site deindex just after 2 days after using disavow links, while i never ever used any back link building.

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

What is your site?

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Kumar Reply:

It’s wallpaperswala[.]com

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Its nothing to do with backlinks, the site doesn’t deserve to be in the index. Just pages and pages of duplicate and/or auto generated content that makes little sense supported with lots of duplicate images that can be found on thousands of other sites.

You literally have duplicate content ontop of duplicate content wrapped up in duplicate content.

100% of your problems are with the site – forget backlinks.

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Vaibhav
4.4.2014

Hi Matthew,

I get clients asking to remove spammy links and recover their site from all sort of penalties imposed by Google(Mostly drop in traffic) since the recent updates.

I suggest them to disavow those links. Since I read your article, do you think of any other solution for clients. I mean they really need a help. As a seo guy, what should we do then to help our clients?

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

Remove the bad links

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Vaibhav Reply:

:) Its is almost impossible to contact each every site and request them to remove link so we use Disavow but thanks :)

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Matthew Woodward Reply:

I think we have very different definitions of impossible. I prefer to clean profiles up properly rather than sweep them under the rug.

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