Three mistakes to avoid with disavow files

When Bing and then Google first released the disavow file feature it was a great, very powerful tool. It meant that if you asked a Webmaster to take down a link and they refused, you could tell the search engines that the link was bad and you didn’t want it to appear.

For a while, the directories that had been selling the option to buy links started charging to have the links removed. This still happens and there are people known in the industry who buy penalised domains, add your link and then charge you to take it down.

However while it may seem very easy to use, the disavow feature does cause Webmasters some issues, so I’m going to cover some of the common mistakes I see and hear all the time.

My aim is to pass on these mistakes, so you don’t make them!


  1. Disavowing a full domain and not the URL

Let’s say you bought a link from the Telegraph (I’m not saying they sold links in the past, it’s just an example).

Because it’s a bad link, you know it was paid for and it looks like it too, you disavow the domain. This isn’t a wise move because Google will ignore any future links you get from the Telegraph, whether it’s natural or not. This is a good case for disavowing the URL, but not the domain.

Conversely, if you have a link from (again this is an example), you might want to disavow the entire domain, as it’s not an outreach source for the future.

2. Only adding a new file with new lines

The most common mistake people make is just creating and uploading a new disavow file with the new domains/URLs they want to exclude. Each time you upload a file, it’s seen as your master file and therefore replaces the previous version.

The best thing to do is to keep a master document, which you then update. By saving a fresh copy every time, it means that if something happens you can quickly identify which domains you’ve added or removed and see what impact they’re having. You can then re-add or remove them, if necessary.

3. Auditing your disavow file

Just because a site was bad once, doesn’t mean it hasn’t cleaned up its act just like you’re trying to do. You could be losing great link juice, just because it’s been a while since you audited your disavow file.

Some URLs will remain bad. However, if you’re using a service like Kerboo, it will flag up a site that has potentially become clean and which you should remove from your disavow file.

If you don’t pay for a service like Kerboo (and I would happily recommend these guys!), you can manually check all the links in your disavow file. I recommend doing this at least every quarter, subject to the size of the file and the number of URLs.

Bonus Tip:

The disavow file has a 100,000 URL and 2MB file size limit. While most people know this and you will receive alert messages, it is a critical point to understand.

If you have more than 100,000 URLs or go over 2MB, you really do need to start contacting Webmasters and asking for links to be removed. This is only going to affect the largest of the large sites, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

Also, as a side note, it’s worth pointing out that Google makes it easy for you to upload an actual file, but Bing makes you add each file individually, which can be a pain and time consuming. I rarely update my Bing disavow file because of the time it takes. I really wish they’d just make it easier and allow you to upload a file like you can with Google.

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