Cyrus Shepard

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On April 3, 2013 I disavowed every link to this website I could find through Google Webmaster Tools.

35,000 links. Gone.

It was an experiment, documented on Moz, to better understand how Google’s Disavow Tool worked. For almost the first two months, nothing happened. This site ranked for all types of phrases, even top 10 for competitive keywords like “SEO blog.”

Then, shortly after Google released Penguin 2.0 in late May, my rankings started to drop. They dropped like a rock.

Rankings Drop
The mystery deepened. Why did my rankings not drop until Penguin?

Tim Grice of Branded3 had a theory which he shared through Twitter.

Tim Grice Branded3 Twitter

Other SEOs noticed similar effects after disavowing links, most notably Marie Haynes. The disavow file seemed to have 2 different outcomes, depending on what you did next.

  1. If you filed a reconsideration request, the effect of disavowing your links often seems to take place soon after Google responded to your request.
  2. If you don’t file a reconsideration request, the file seems to update only during a major algorithm change like Penguin.

Immediately after this, I removed the disavow file from Google Webmaster Tools. I wanted to find out if the my rankings would recover with the file no longer in place. Here’s what happened:

No Disavow Recovery

Even after removing the disavow file, my ranking never recovered. Will they ever?

On the outside, it may seem like my site was hit by Penguin, and this has nothing to do with the disavow file. The truth is, my link profile was squeaky clean, my anchor text was diverse, and I’ve never done any manual link building. Additionally, as reported by other SEOs in the industry, mine was not the only site that “preemptively” disavowed links without filing a reconsideration request that saw their rankings plummet.

Unfortunately, information about what is really going on is scant. We’ve only seen one major algorithm update when this seemed to be true, the Penguin 2.0 update. Since we haven’t had a known Penguin update since May, we don’t know if these links will be reinstated, or if they are lost forever.

When you disavow your links, best to heed Google’s advice. Use with caution.

Disavow Link with Caution

One other factor that could play a role in this experiment. I haven’t updated this blog since May, and I would expect traffic to fall as the content and user activity became stale. That said, I would expect at least some uptick in rankings if any of my old links were reinstated.

Will my rankings ever return? Watch this space…