If You Disavow Links Are They Gone Forever? Experiment Update


Did Your Traffic Recover?

If you’ve been following the crazy antics of my disavow experiment, then you know that last spring I disavowed every link to this website found in Google Webmaster Tools. 35,000 links in all.

Nothing happened for several weeks, then both my traffic and rankings dropped exactly on the day when Penguin 2.0 hit in May.

Immediately after, I removed the disavow file from Google Webmaster Tools, then waited for weeks to see if my rankings would return. Because the initial drop happened during a Penguin update, many SEOs theorized that rankings wouldn’t return until the next Penguin update

So I waited. And I waited.

No Disavow Recovery

After months of waiting (Google only updates it’s Penguin algorithm a few times a year it seems), we finally saw an update on October 4, 2013.

Since then, SEOs around the industry have been asking me if the site has recovered. Here’s the answer in the chart below…

Penguin 2.1 No Recovery

Aside from a slight bump from publishing a new post, organic search traffic never recovered after the latest Penguin update.

Some folks have asked if it’s possible if I wasn’t just hit by a Penguin update. While it is entirely possible, I consider it unlikely for the following reasons:

  • The link profile to this site was high quality
  • No known negative SEO
  • No unnatural link notices in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Other agencies have reported similar drops after preemptively using the Disavow Tool

If the site was simply hit by Penguin, it doesn’t answer the question of what the hell happened to all those disavowed links? Why didn’t my rankings drop until Penguin 2.0 when I disavowed all 35,000 links found in Google Webmaster Tools?

I’ve spoken with several other SEOs who submitted then removed disavow files (without ever filing a reconsideration request) only to see their traffic drop and never recover.

Now I don’t want to jump to conclusions. At the end of the day I have no idea what happens when you submit a disavow file. The evidence seems to suggest that once you disavow a link, it stays disavowed forever.

Heed Google’s warning. The Disavow Tool is not a toy.

Proceed with caution.

Disavow Caution

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16 thoughts on “If You Disavow Links Are They Gone Forever? Experiment Update”

  1. I submitted some backlink domains which we didn’t even ask for from some porn sites to the Google’s Disavow Tool. I wonder how or why they got our website URL on their site in the first place. However, the sites are still showing up under Search Traffic > Links to Your Site. Is this normal? How long does it take for the disavow file to take effect?

  2. Why would you want to get these types of backlinks back? Surely the reason for getting rid of them in the first place was because they were negatively affecting your website.

  3. Great article. I am kind of new to the SEO world and I have heard a lot about the disavow. I really enjoy and appreciate being able to gain knowledge from people and experienced professionals from articles like this. Great stuff.

  4. Extremely interesting article. I’m currently working to get a penalty lifted for a new client site that’s link profile is incredibly spammy. I’ve combed through over 9,000 links and submitted 2 unsuccessful reconsideration requests already, each time with Google responding with new examples that weren’t previously in the WMT files. The owner of the company is very adamant about us moving faster on a new disavow and new reconsideration which I feel is the wrong way to go. Organic traffic just took a dip but I assumed it was due to Penguin 2.1 because of the horrible link profile and made for search engine content they churn out.

  5. Many website owners with a ton of bad links are using the disavow tool without being cautious and they end up loosing rankings. Now they wonder how to get them back.

    This is why is so crucial that before you use the disavow tool, you must try to remove as many links as you can. Once you disavow, those backlinks will be gone. I don’t know if they will be gone forever but this experiment shows that it can take a long time to recover.

    Don’t rush on using the disavow tool, think twice!

  6. @Glenn : no, it doesn’t works anymore. Some friend of mine made an experiment with a website hitted by Penguin. He 301’ed to a brand new domain, who behaves normally only one month. His new website seems penalized now.
    @Cyrus : thanks for sharing this

  7. Excellent post and interesting findings.

    I read this post and thought I would see if I could get an answer from someone that works for Google.

    This was my question:

    ‘I wonder if you could answer a question about the disavow tool that the online marketing community are talking about.

    ‘When you have disavowed a link, is there anyway to reverse that action or does it currently stay disavowed forever?’


    ‘Once you remove it from the disavow file, the next time we crawl the URL linking, it’ll be restored. If you’re sure that the link is good and you accidentally disavowed it, then this is definitely fine. ’ – John Mu, Webmaster Trends Analyst @ Google

  8. Ping the links on a tool like pingfarm and see if Google recrawls the links if they reassociate the value. Now that it’s been awhile why not? I would re-create those associations by force-crawling all the links. 🙂

  9. My understanding of the disavow tool is that it is just a ‘suggestion’ to Google to ignore the links. Perhaps they take a closer look at the links to try and figure out if they are spammy or not.

    In your case you apparently disavowed quality links, not spammy links, so it would make sense that Google ignored it initially. What doesn’t make sense is that your traffic dropped immediately after Penguin 2.0, which should be caused by spammy links – which you said you do not have.

    So something is not adding up here – were spammy links to the site that caused it to get hit by Penguin? If not, then why was it hit? Is there some integral relationship between Penguin and the Disavow Tool?

    • If he disavow all his links, then it should be process as requested by the site owner. I doubt if Google’s disavow program added a fail safe to disregard a webmasters request to disavow his or her link.

      Google couldn’t care less what you do with your site.

  10. Tried this on a small scale with only 2 links using unique anchor texts. Took 7 weeks once the disavow was removed before they ranked again for the unique terms. Disavow was live for 4 weeks before removal and pages were not ranking for 1-2 weeks.

    Should really get around to the blog post on it.

  11. I don’t get it. If someone uses disavow, he is doing it to get rid of spammy, low-quality links, which after penguin can harm his site rankings. Why would he try to get those links back? What is the purpose if Google already noticed them as spammy ones?

    • I’m with Szymon. I don’t understand the question nor the premise. If we say “disavow” we are saying “I want nothing to do with those links, even if they provide me a benefit.” So we disavow, and we see a drop in rank and traffic.

      Why would we expect the rank/traffic to return? Whatever benefit we received from the disavowed links is gone forever. We now need to replace that “benefit” with something else, i.e., other “good” links, etc.

      To me this is evidence that the disavow tool works exactly as expected.

      The time lag could be a coincidence.

  12. Although maybe not ideal, would now be a good time to consider how you can recover if we assume the disavowed links will never reverse?

    I’ve heard people suggest a site wide 301 redirect to another domain may bring the links back to life. Worth considering as part of your test?

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