Disavow: Getting Out of the Mess We Made & Advice for Starting Fresh

And Google said: “Let there be links.”

And the SEM world saw the links and the links were good.

But then, the SEOs partook of the knowledge and understood how to game the system. And they built up a great and terrible web of links through the power of dark forces.

text on sky backdropAnd Google said I will strike them all down with a flood of penalties. Yet I will spare those who are willing to do good and give them a tool to help rebuild and start fresh. The tool will be called Disavow.

Where the story goes from here is up to you and me.

Can the SEO world resist the temptation to turn this tool into the next force for undue manipulation?

Every time Google introduces a powerful tool to the search world, it’s used inappropriately. Pulled into link farms, supporting content mills, unwilling businesses were made victims, their fault a product of their innocence. Their naive trust placed in those who promise a paradise of first-page rankings.

It’s time to put a stop to the SEO dark arts and take back the reputation deserving well-doing SEOs. We have a responsibility to the business community to perform within the standards of ethics and professionalism. And we have a responsibility to ourselves and our peers to show some respect to our profession and our own standards of excellence.

Why Manipulative SEO Hurts

  • It harms your personal long-term success. There is no manipulative practice that the search engines will not eventually try to eradicate. When that time comes, repairing the site’s reputation will require a lot of work and cleanup, if it’s salvageable at all. Expect to lose a lot of money in the meantime.
  • It soils the SEO community’s reputation. As an unfortunate result, SEO shy businesses will miss out on massive marketing opportunities. Consider all the people whose livelihoods would improve by effectively marketing their business to new audiences online and growing a community of loyal customers.

What Can Be Done to Discourage It Within the Industry

  • Speak up and out against manipulation and shady dealings. When you’re part of community discussions, represent ethical SEO interests. It goes without saying, but if you come across as judgmental or goody-goody, you may end up blacklisted from the fun conversations. And that’s no fun for you and no help to the cause. Enjoy the industry discourse from all sides of the debate.
  • More importantly, share stories, both successes and failures. This is how change is affected from the inside, demonstrating wins gained from creative content marketing and diligent SEO.

What Can Be Done to Discourage (Unknowing) Support Outside the Industry

  • Be an educator! Have authoritative educational resources explaining what SEO is and is not. Include it in the info prepared for new and prospective clients. We engage all incoming clients in SEO training.
  • Promote holistic Internet marketing strategies that build brand. If you’re publishing great content on social accounts, a blog, the website and more, your success doesn’t rise and fall on your search traffic. Your strategy should focus on creating purposeful unified orchestration of brand messaging across channels.

The Next Chapter

With Disavow Google has given webmasters a chance at a clean slate. It’s the answer we’ve all been asking for. Don’t ruin it. Don’t game it. For instance, don’t use Disavow to point to competitors as an indicator of a low-quality, uncooperative site, because in that scenario, that would be you. Respect the tools Google has provided and the opportunity to salvage what could have been a burned domain.

With the fresh start, evaluate what’s really important and get to it. Remember this primary commandment of ethical SEO: if the goal of a tactic isn’t “to improve a site’s user experience,” don’t do it.

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (6)
Filed under: SEO
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6 Replies to “Disavow: Getting Out of the Mess We Made & Advice for Starting Fresh”

Website owners need to be careful with this Disavow feature. Google even warned that only webmasters that really know what they are doing should use it. A novice could go in and disavow links that may have actually had some value.

Umm…as others have noted already….just using the tool will identify to Google that you’re “involved” in SEO to some degree….but an SMB owner will be id’d as what they are…

So anyone who is an SEO Practitioner will be id’d by Google as being just that….

Curious, eh?

Guess we’re now going to be involved in helping Google id us serp manipulators…least that’s how it looks to me!


Jim, my feeling is, if you’re being knocked by a Penguin penalty you’ve already been identified as complicit in SEO. When Matt Cutts said this week that you can’t just use disavow but must also show some good effort in removing bad links before you’re considered in the clear. Yeah, you’re going to have to admit to SEO. I take issue with the attitude that this admits a necessarily bad thing.

It’s a nice thought, but there will always be people who will misuse these tools, no matter how much you preach otherwise.

We don’t even know if the disavow tool works as intended anyway yet. Could be just more phishing from Google, as the unnatural links notices resubmission requests could have been.

I really love the Genesis analogy. It is amazing. On the other hand I think you are extremely wrong when it comes to pulling SEO out of the dark arts… First of all that has nothing to do with ‘standards of ethics’ which in itself is a contradiction but morality…. And letting Google decide the lines of morality is just not acceptable – the reason why your introducing analogy was so amazing was that it resembled the belief that Google and God was in the same position… but they are at best certainly not the same or maybe they are just both of them not in a position where they should decide moral…

@Laust, in my analogy I was playing around. A cute way of telling a story and introducing my premise, to use these tools as they were intended because when you don’t you find yourself in a bigger mess than you started. I’ve seen it time and again. Your point, that the SEO community should accept Google’s guidelines as some ethical standard, is totally valid. Brings up the industry-old question: when we rely on Google for our livelihood and thus are bound to its whims, rule changes and lapses in transparency, when do we suck it up and when do we demand more info?

@Jacques, sure people will always abuse a system. I felt it was an opinion worth expressing, whether or not it moves a needle in the overall community mindshare. And I absolutely feel introducing disavow could be Google “phishing” for leads on shady domains. More signal for spam indication, why not? :)


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