Can You Reavow Links You Have Previously Disavowed?

Google’s disavow tool is a mysterious thing. If you are reading this article, you are probably familiar with how it is used. To disavow links, we create a text file that contains either the URLs of the links you want to disavow or the entire domain of each link, upload the file to Google’s disavow tool and trust that next time Google visits this link, they will apply an invisible no-follow tag so the link is no longer used in calculations made by the Pengiun algorithm.

But what happens if you decide that you have made an error and want to make changes to your disavow file? Can you reavow a link? The answer is yes. In this article we will discuss how to reavow a link and why you may want to do so.

How to Reavow a Link

Reavowing a link is as simple as removing the link from your disavow file and then resubmitting the file. For example, let’s say that my disavow file looked like this:

#Unnatural links that we want to disavow
domain:ultra-spammy-directory.com
domain:spammy-directory.com
domain:good-directory.com
domain:another-spammy-directory.com

Now, let’s say that we are re-evaluating our disavow file and we realize that we have accidentally disavowed a good directory link that is probably a valid citation. To ask Google to reavow this link, we would create and submit a new file that looks like this:

#Unnatural links that we want to disavow
domain:ultra-spammy-directory.com
domain:spammy-directory.com
domain:another-spammy-directory.com

When Will the Link Be Reavowed? And Does It Really Count?

When Google first told us that we could reavow links, it was widely believed that the link would start to count again the next time that Google crawled the domain that you had removed from your disavow. However, Matt Cutts has stated that Google has built a lag into the reavow feature of the tool. In a video, Cutts explained that reavowing a link can “take a lot longer,” though no one knows how long that is. Google wants to be really certain that spammers are not going to try to figure out which links are helping or hurting them by doing disavow and reavow experiments.

When you are disavowing links, you can know that a link in your disavow file is considered disavowed once you see that Google has cached the page where the link resides. But when it comes to reavowing, we have no way of knowing when Google is going to start counting that link again or whether it will be given the same weight.

Most people believe that when a link is removed from a disavow file that at some point, Google will eventually start to count the link again as a normal link. But Matt says that the link may not be given the same weight it once had. Again, this is likely a measure to stop people from gaming the system.

Cyrus Shepard’s Experiment

Most people who discuss reavowing links will bring up an excellent and gutsy experiment performed by Cyrus Shepard, who disavowed every single link to his website. When he did so, nothing happened. Then, when Penguin hit, he suffered dramatic drops in rankings. He reavowed all of his links by removing his disavow file, and now, two years after starting his experiment, traffic has not recovered at all. I asked Cyrus recently whether he had seen any improvement yet, and he sent me this image showing that things were still quite abysmal:

cyrus-traffic

However, Cyrus himself admits that there are possibly some problems with his experiment. His site was the victim of a pharma-hacking attack, and it’s hard to say whether this played a part in his ranking troubles. As with any SEO test there are other variables in play. As such, we can’t take Cyrus’ experiment and make bold statements proclaiming that a disavowed link can never be reavowed. Still, this experiment is a good warning not to play around with the disavow tool extensively.

I have been thinking more about when Matt Cutts says that a reavowed link may not be given the same weight as it had previously. I am wondering if perhaps Google has an algorithm in play that says that they will not count reavowed links if it looks like someone is reavowing to try to massively manipulate Google. In other words, perhaps in Cyrus’ case the algorithm can detect that something fishy is going on because he un-disavowed 35,000 links all at once.

Perhaps if he only removed a couple of links from his disavow file, Google would be more willing to count those links again. Who knows…perhaps Google says that the more links you reavow the longer it will take for them to count again. If this is true, perhaps one day Cyrus will see his links start to count again and traffic increase dramatically. But this is just a theory. The point is that you should not be reavowing links without putting great thought into the process. And better yet, you should try not to disavow links that you might eventually want to reavow.

Examples of Links You Might Want to Reavow

Have I scared you off of reavowing links? If your goal is to disavow like crazy to get out of a penalty and then reavow the majority of those links, then hopefully I have dissuaded you from doing this.

I have seen several situations where a link was disavowed by mistake. If you relied solely on an automated link auditing tool to make your disavow file, then there is a good possibility that you have disavowed some links that are not unnatural. An unnatural link is one that you, or an SEO company acting on your behalf, made in order to manipulate Google. I’ve seen automated tools recommend disavowing fantastic links from high authority sites. If you’ve done this, then removing those links from your disavow file is a good idea.

Another example of a mistake that I have seen is a site that disavows itself. Don’t laugh; I’ve almost done it myself. Fortunately I caught my mistake during a final check before disavowing. Alan Bleiweiss asked a Google employee whether this could cause problems. Apparently Google can determine whether you’ve disavowed yourself and can ignore this disavow directive. Still, if I noticed this mistake in a disavow file this is a link I’d be removing from the file!

I’ve also seen links that were disavowed by a well meaning SEO who was doing a manual review and assumed incorrectly that the link was unnatural. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a link is a good one or not. If you see some links in your disavow file that you really do feel are natural, then go ahead and remove them and hopefully Google will start to count them again. I have to give a word of caution here though: I have found that it is very hard to be objective when making reavow decisions. I have seen webmasters who have done what I call “panic reavowing” where they reavow a bunch of borderline links because they have not seen an increase in rankings. This is probably not a good idea.

Another common area where links often need to be reavowed is when it comes to valid directory links. When I first started removing penalties I was probably a little bit overzealous when it came to directory links. I think that some of those links that I disavowed are ones that I wouldn’t disavow if I was doing the same audit today.

What do you think? Have you tried reavowing links? Do you feel that you started to see improvement after that happened?

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