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How to Perform a Disavow File Audit


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How to perform a Disavow File Audit

You May Have Some Great Links in Your Disavow File

Website owners upload Disavow Files to their Google Webmaster Tools account  to remove Google Penalties and keep their sites safe from harmful and unnatural inbound links. During this process the disavow file tends to get overwritten with a larger one each time. This is normal, but what if some of your disavowed links, later become good links? How do you get them back?

This was covered earlier in  6 Reasons why you should check your disavow file again. Here we look at two real life examples where you can find out:

  • Which disavowed links are now good ones in a heavily spammed domain
  • How to find links to undisavow after a manual penalty removal
  • How to get better links which are similar to the ones you undisavow
  • The importance of regular link monitoring

Recovering disavowed links from a heavily spammed domain with a manual penalty

Back in 2012 was a site that was ranking wonderfully in Google. Here is the historical data from March 2012 from SEMRush:


The numbers speak for themselves:

  • The site was ranking in the top 20 for 1,200 keywords
  • The organic traffic provided traffic that was worth $26,900/month
  • It ranked #1 for ‘campervan hire’ with a search volume of 22,000
  • It ranked #2 for ‘motorhome hire’ with a search volume of 14,800

I was responsible for the SEO of this site and I built many links to it, thousands in fact. Like many SEOs at the time I did not believe this could do any harm. Google issued me with a warning on my birthday, April 7th, 2012 – thank you Google! Later that month on April 24th, 2012 I experienced the full Google Penguin 1.0 hell. All Google traffic was gone along with my income.

I tried to get rid of the manual penalty for nearly two years, but eight Reconsideration Requests later the penalty was still there. At the beginning of 2014 I discovered Link Detox and by April 2014 the penalty was revoked. Meanwhile I had decided to start over and build a new site on a new domain without all those crazy links.

During the two year period the disavow file had been uploaded and overwritten many times. But each time more domains and URLs were added to it. What if some of the links that were originally disavowed are now good? Could this domain be used again?
This is what we are about to find out with the Disavow File Audit mode of Link Detox.

Link Detox in Disavow File Audit Mode

The set up for Link Detox in Disavow File Audit Mode is very similar to how it is normally used  for a Link Profile Audit . Although the aim here is to evaluate the links in the disavow file, we do need to know as much information about the existing backlinks too. Link Detox is then able to calculate the DTOXRISK™ for the disavowed links compared with the current links.

For best results you should connect your LinkResearchTools account to your Google Webmaster Tools, this allows Link Detox to get as much data as possible about your backlinks. You should also upload your current disavow file. You can decide if you want to evaluate NoFollow links or not. I always evaluate NoFollow links as I believe it is possible for them to harm your rankings. The only step you need to do differently now is to select the Disavow File Audit mode.

Disavow File Audit

Classifying the Anchor Text for

If this is the first Link Detox you have performed on the domain you will probably have quite a few anchor text keywords to classify. If you have previously run a classic Link Profile Audit, you will generally find that you have already done most of the hard work. In my case I only had a handful of keywords to classify.


After you have finished classifying your anchor text you should reprocess the report as per usual.

How the Disavow File Audit mode works

The Link Detox FAQ says:

Contrary to the normal application behaviour, we calculate DTOXRISK™ scores for these links. Normally we report a DTOXRISK™ value of zero for disavowed links.

Using this method, the user is able to review the quality of the disavow file.
The overall result of such a “Disavow Review” Link Detox® report resembles a fictional situation, in which the disavow file was not uploaded to Google. In this mode, the user can edit the disavow file and rerun the report in classic mode to calculate the risk estimations before deciding to upload the disavow file to Google.

Because this is only a fictional situation where the disavow file is not uploaded, do not be alarmed by a scary Domain DTOXRISK™:

Domain-wide Link Detox Risk

We can now look at the breakdown of Link Audit recommendations. Here it says, “87% (2,868) of your backlinks were reported for Disavow-Review". Surely there must be some good ones in there!

Audit Proiority Recommendation

By clicking ‘Show me these links!’ we can see the links that were previously disavowed. The DTOXRISK column shows the level of risk and the Rules column shows what rules would be triggered if the link was undisavowed:

Disavow Review

A good place to start would be to filter the Very Low Risk and Low Risk links. You could then sort the Power*Trust Column to show the strongest links first. You can use the Link Detox Screener™ to review these links if you wish.

Some of the results surprised me, here are five of them:

This is a nine year old directory with a brand DoFollow link. Although most directories seem to be bad news these days, this one looks OK. The page has a Power*Trust=1 and a Very Low DTOXRISK™.

This is a genuine link posted in a forum in 2007. It is a NoFollow link, but it's certainly very much ‘on topic’ and worth undisavowing.

This is a domain that belongs to a friend, but he hasn’t used the site since 2007. My DoFollow  link is on the home page. The domain is over 11 years old with a Dom Power*Trust=3 and Very Low DTOXRISK™.  It is also listed in DMoz.

Ezilon UK is another directory, which has a Very Low DTOXRISK™. The link is DoFollow with a Power*Trust=4

I think this article may have originated from Back in 2011 I built many links on Blogspot as well as many other Web 2.0 platforms. After Google Penguin 1.0 hit I soon realised that most links on Blogspot were bad news, so I disavowed them all. Three years later it seems this DoFollow link has a Very Low DTOXRISK™ and Power*Trust=1.

In total there are:

  • 42 disavowed links with a Very Low DTOXRISK™
  • 3 disavowed links with a Low DTOXRISK™
  • 56 disavowed links with a Below Average DTOXRISK™

These could all now be considered for undisavowing.

Some thoughts about

John Müller stated here in February 2014,

It's never a decision to make lightly, but there can be situations where a website has built up so many problems, that it may appear easier or faster to start over with a fresh & new website, rather than to try to fix all of those problems individually. This isn't an easy way to get past problems that have been built up over the years, it's a lot of work to create a new website, even if you already know the business area."

I believe my decision to build a new site on a new domain rather than to try and get this one to rank again properly was correct. In my ignorance I had caused so many problems that it would have taken too long to dig myself out of the penalty.  I do feel that it is worth doing something with this domain though. Sure, it will always need to have a large disavow file to protect it from all the spam links, but there are still quite a few good ones. Using the Disavow File Audit I have also potentially regained 101 links with minimal effort. I think if this domain was repurposed to a slightly different aspect of the business, maybe sales rather than rental, it would do well.

For now let’s look at another example of a much healthier site with a bright future.

Recovering Disavowed Links after a successful Manual Penalty Recovery

First of all, thank you to Raymond Stone from for allowing me to share his story here.  Rave Ready is a Los Angeles based business selling rave clothing and accessories; colourful, fun and sexy clubbing gear for men and women. I love this site, but it hasn't been without its problems. I worked on the site in September 2014 after a manual penalty had been removed. When I ran Link Detox originally I remember how much fun it was classifying the anchor text. You have to smile when you have anchor text like, 'fuzzy leg warmers' and 'light up bras'!

I asked Raymond if he would like me to perform a Disavow File Audit on Rave Ready. He said,

It sounds like I am a good candidate. I did a massive disavow before you worked on my disavow file so there is a great chance that there were some 'good' links that I removed.

I asked him more about the site's history and the penalty it received,

It was in mid 2013, I believe it was right around the time Penguin 2.0 hit. It was due to unnatural linking, they were very clear about that. I didn't lose all rankings since it was a partial match but did lose most of my main keywords at the time. It took me two tries with the disavow process, the first time I really didn't know what I was doing and disavowed as little as possible. The second time I was way more thorough and it took me about two weeks to complete. I submitted it in mid-October and by late October 2013 the manual penalty was revoked. The penalty was lifted but I had issues regaining placement. You then came in and did an audit and gave me more to add to my disavow file. We were bouncing around between the 5 and 6 placement for our main keyword in the middle of September when you ran Link Detox Boost. The second week in December we jumped up to the 4th position and have held in there pretty good.

That all sounded pretty good so far, a great success story in itself. The question is, can we get it any better by regaining some of those disavowed links that should not have been disavowed?

Rave Ready Disavow File Audit

I already had the Google Webmaster Tools connection set up with my Link Research Tools account. I also had the Link Detox report from last September still in my account. Performing  the Disavow File Audit is very easy, just rerun the report, change the mode from Link Profile Audit to Disavow File Audit and start the report. It is very important to make sure you have the current disavow file, so I would always recommend downloading it from the Google Disavow Tool:

Raveready disavow

Classifying the Anchor Text for

It was interesting to note that in the last 6 months the amount of URLs in the report had increased substantially. Raymond assured me that no links had been artificially built during this period, so hopefully we are looking at some natural link growth here:

Raveready reports
This increase in the number of URLs became evident when classifying the anchor text as there were now 163 more anchors to classify. Link Detox works correctly when you have 80% of your anchors classified, but I like to get to as near 100% as possible. After classifying your anchor text you should reprocess the report.

The Very Low and Low DETOXRISK™ links of

By filtering the Results Table for Very Low and Low DTOXRISK™ and looking at the disavowed links only, there are 202 links that could be safely undisavowed.

RaveReady Low Risk

It was slightly disappointing that I did not find any particularly powerful links amongst these but there were certainly some very ‘on topic’ links that deserved to be undisavowed. Here are some examples:

The Wikipedia entry for Polyvore says,

Polyvore is a community powered social commerce website. Members curate products into a shared product index and use them to create image collages called "Sets." Active Polyvore communities exist in the areas of fashion, interior design and artistic expression. As of May 2014, Polyvore received 20 million monthly unique visitors.

I’ve seen many fashion based websites with backlinks from Polyvore, so I don’t think there is any reason to disavow them. These links are all NoFollow. The DTOXRISK™ for this link is Very Low.

One of the initial reactions to a manual penalty is to disavow anything that looks like a directory. Many directories are terrible places to have your link. This is not so in this case. This is a 19 year old directory and the DTOXRISK™ is Very Low.

I’ve seen this before where a foreign language Pinterest page may have been disavowed because it was triggering a TOX1 rule. This sometimes happened because the page was new and Google initially only indexed the US version. In this case the Portuguese version probably got indexed later at which point the TOX1 rule would go away. The DTOXRISK™ for this link is Low.

EDM Planet is a website with information on raves, club events, and other nightlife. Although this is just a DoFollow link in a forum signature, it is on topic and the DTOXRISK™ for this link is Very Low.

This is the Rave Ready profile page on INK361. There are several websites that allow you to use Instagram on your computer rather than a mobile device, INK361 is one of them. The DTOXRISK™ for this link is Very Low. The link is NoFollow.

Some tips for undisavowing links

So far we have seen how to find links that have either been accidently disavowed or ones that have changed over time. Now that we know how to easily identify them, here are some ways to make them even better.

Use the Strongest Subpages Tool (SSPT) to get a better link

In the above example I mentioned the Rave Ready link on EDM Planet. The link was fine, but not on a powerful page. The page has a Power*Trust=0, surely we can find a better one. The SSPT is the simplest of the Link Research Tools to use, just enter the domain and hit go. Here are the results which I filtered to show the results with the word ‘forum’ in the URL:

Edmplanet sspt

Rave Ready already have an account here, so they need to make a post on the page that is about ‘Famous People That Play Dungeons and Dragons’. This will get them a Power*Trust=2  link on the most powerful page of the EDM Planet Forum.

Use the Link Juice Recovery Tool (LJR) to make sure the link target exists

One of the dangers of undisavowing links is that the page it was linking to might not exist anymore. If you are only undisavowing a handful you check these manually by showing the ‘To URL’ column in Link Detox. This column is normally hidden by default.

If you are undisavowing a large quantity of links you can check the link targets quickly with the LJR tool. This will find pages that no longer exist on your site which have backlinks. This will also check all your existing links too. You should either get the link changed, recreate the page or create a 301 redirect to the most appropriate page.

Run Link Detox in the Link Profile Audit Mode

Once you have created your disavow file you can then rerun Link Detox as you would do normally to see what the Average Domain-wide DTOXRISK is.

Run Link Detox Boost to make your Disavow File work

You can launch Link Detox Boost from within Link Detox itself, which is the easiest way. You will want to Boost the links that you have undisavowed as well as any new links you have decided to disavow. This way Google will crawl these links and your disavow, and undisavow,  will work faster.


The web changes all the time, good links can become bad links and bad links can become good. Links appear and links disappear. The goal is to keep your link profile looking natural. The Disavow Audit Mode of Link Detox is a wonderful process for finding links that do not need to be neglected.

At the time of writing the word ‘undisavow’ doesn’t exist as far as Google is concerned:


I’m sure that will change soon and when it does, remember, you read it here first.

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Rick Lomas
Rick built his first website in 1997 when the main search engine was Altavista and the word Google didn’t exist. Since then he has learnt SEO from the ground up and has lived through every update Google has thrown at us. Rick now has a great deal of knowledge about healthy link maintenance and link risk assessment. In these days of manual and algorithmic Google Penguin penalties it is more important than ever to monitor your backlink profile very carefully, this is where his expertise is invaluable. Rick is from the UK, but has lived in the French Alps since 2001. Rick is available for SEO Audits, Google Penalty Removal and Back Link Health Monitoring. You can also use Rick to help you find powerful expired domains. Find out more at
Rick Lomas
Rick Lomas


  1. @lnkresearchtool on March 16, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    How to Perform a Disavow File Audit

  2. @LinkDetox on March 16, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    You May Have Some Great Links in Your Disavow File. Get Them Back! #undisavow

  3. @cemper on March 16, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    The web changes all the time, good links can become bad links and bad links can become good.

  4. @tomyches on March 17, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    How to perform a Disavow File Audit vía @LnkResearchTool

  5. @serpolytics on March 18, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    How to perform a Disavow File Audit

  6. @LinkDetox on March 20, 2015 at 11:44 am

    What if some of your disavowed links, later become good links? How can you know?

  7. @cemper on March 20, 2015 at 11:44 am

    How to perform a Disavow File Audit and get some great links back #undisavow

  8. @LinkDetox on March 21, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Case study on why it’s important to check your disavow file.

  9. dreamer on March 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    Interesting article Rick any tips and tricks to speeding up the disavow file while submitting to Google…

    • Rick Lomas on July 3, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Yes, as I said above, use Link Detox Boost, “You will want to Boost the links that you have undisavowed as well as any new links you have decided to disavow. This way Google will crawl these links and your disavow, and undisavow, will work faster”

  10. @lnkresearchtool on March 27, 2015 at 11:03 am

    What if some of your disavowed links, later become good links? How can you know?

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