Link audit tool

2023 SEO: Is Disavow Still a Relevant Tool in SEO?


I think its fair to say that many SEO's nowadays believe that the need for creating, maintaining and reviewing a Disavow file has reduced. Many SEO's would firmly state that its no longer required or they just dont bother with it at all nowadays.

But are they right? Whats the argument for continuing to produce and maintain a disavow file in 2023?

The case against Disavow

Google have consistently said that they dont believe we really need to create or update a Disavow file nowadays. They state that they believe they now ignore all the links that could cause issues and since SpamBrain replaced Penguin, they feel that they have all of this under complete control.

A lot of marketers take that advice on face value and dont now create or update their Disavow files.

The reality of Disavow and SpamBrain

Professional and experienced SEO's know that proclamations from Google should always be analysed and an experienced opinion created on what action we should take. Google have been saying that Penguin ignored all spammy links for nearly 3 years yet we can clearly see from the impact of the LinkSpam update last December that SpamBrain is ignoring far far more links, many of which we were told Penguin would already have been ignoring.

People have also assumed that the Disavow file no longer really works, we have even seen limited cases of people removing their Disavow file and presenting their experience as a psuedo scientific study.

We see a LOT of link profiles, with all imaginable issues and problems. We also see a HUGE amount of Disavow files, in fact we have hundreds of thousands of files going back to when disavow was introduced.

I can tell you, from direct experience, that disavow still works. It does turn off the ability of domains to pass their value and their risk.

If you remove your disavow file you can see changes in ranking performance but these changes are only felt very slowly and over an extended period. Google typically has to recrawl the links and recalculate, it also seems that the value takes some time to come back.

So we know Disavow still works and we know that we cant really rely on what Google say about their abilities to ignore links.

Negating attacks, protecting brands

We have seen multiple instances where clients have had clear link based attacks and where those attacks have caused reduction in the brands ability to rank for the targetted terms.

As someone in charge of a brands organic performance you need to have systems and processes in place, both to spot when issues arise and also to justify your actions if rankings drop. Its far better to say "Yes we have seen a drop but we already have in place a process to reduce the impact of any third party attacks"

The Disavow file is basically insurance against problematic link issues.

It takes so much time and resource though

It is our advice to keep any disavow lean and minimal, to only use it for protection or the removal of clear patterns.
It is also our advice that you should review legacy disavow files and reduce them to as small as possible.

Creating a Disavow file is not really the point

Its my belief that Disavow files can be a handy tool for negating issues and whilst they still exist we should use them to our advantage.

By far the MOST important reason to create a Disavow file is because to create one you have to audit your links. Auditing your links is one of the most underutilised and powerful things you can do in SEO.

Understand your links, understand where the problems are and where the gaps are that you need to fill.

Look for the opportunities, grow your profile and if that means you get a little txt file of insurance against issues too… Its well worth doing.

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