When Google launched the disavow tool, there was lots of discussion about whether people should use the disavow tool even Google hadn't taken a manual action against their sites. There were people making blacklists of what they considered low-quality sites that were linking to many different sites, that they would mass submit to Google to disavow across the entire network of sites.
But there was really no consensus over whether webmasters needed to do anything with the disavow tool if they didn't have manual action, or if they should just leave it until they did have a warning pop up.
Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts discussed the disavow tool, and whether it should be used as a pre-emptive measure, in a recent webmaster help video.
Cutts started by describing when the disavow tool should be used. After a webmaster has gone through the usual routes of trying to get links removed off sites they see as being low-quality, whether it was from poor SEO decisions or a bad SEO company, then that is when you would use the disavow tool, to disavow the links you haven't been able to get removed.
What about if you don't have a warning? Cutts recommended you use the disavow tool if you have identified any suspicious or low-quality backlinks you believe might hurt you.
"If you are at all worried about someone trying to do negative SEO or it looks like there's some weird bot that's building up a bunch of links to your site and you have no idea where it came from, that's the perfect time to use disavow as well," Cutts said. "I wouldn't worry about going ahead and disavowing links even if you don't have a message in your webmaster console."
Clearly, Google is hinting the webmaster should keep a pretty close eye on their backlink profile, and make disavows based on any suspicious changes they see, and not wait for it to be penalized and show up as a message in webmaster tools.
"So if you've done the work to keep an active look on your backlinks and you see something strange going on, you don't have to wait around," Cutts said. "Feel free to just go ahead and pre-emptively say, you know what this is a weird domain, I have nothing to do with it, and no idea what this particular bot is doing in terms of making links, so go ahead and do disavows even on a domain level."
It is worth noting that this is a different stance on the disavow tool than Google has previously taken. From the disavow tool page Google states that the disavow tool should be used only "if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you." However, Cutts is now saying something different, that the disavow tool should be used even if those links aren't yet causing issues.
Cutts also recognized that webmasters tend to get really stressed out about being penalized by Google. There is a significant concern amongst a lot of webmasters that links, something that is often out of their control, could negatively impact them, and if they do get penalized, will suffer the traffic consequences while a disavow is done and the penalty eventually lifted.
"If you're at all stressed, if you're worried, if you're not able to sleep at night because you think Google might have something, or might see it, or we might get a spam report about you, or there might be some misunderstanding or an algorithm might rank your site lower, I would feel free to just go ahead and disavow those links as well," Cutts said.
So definitely keep a close eye on your backlinks, particularly your new ones, if you aren't already, and make a point of disavowing those poor quality or suspicious backlinks before it can have any impact on your site.