Google’s disavow tool is a bit like a chainsaw.
It’s great for chopping down forests, clearing out large roadblocks, and chopping down the random dead or troubled tree.
But when you start trying to create fine details with a chainsaw, you’re probably going to run into some issues.
The same goes for the disavow tool.
Google doesn’t tell us which links are helping our site and how much they are helping our site.
Every time you use the disavow tool, you’re running the risk of cutting out links that are actually helping you rank for specific keywords.
But if you can see that you have a whole forest of dead trees, a chainsaw is necessary.
The same is true if you have a plethora of obviously toxic links pointing at your site.
I’ve witnessed many instances where an overzealous SEO professional has actually hurt their rankings by disavowing suspect links that were actually providing value in Google’s eyes.
My educated suspicion is that Google knows more about the links that are pointing at your site than you do, and typically if a link is suspect, they just don’t count it.
But sometimes they do count links, and if you go and disavow them, it’s a bit like cutting the trunk of a healthy tree rather than pruning unhealthy branches.
The Purpose of Disavow
The disavow tool is not something to be used lightly.
The disavow tool should only be used if you know you have sketchy links pointing at your site.
The original purpose of the disavow tool was to fight negative SEO.
I’ll be the first to tell you that negative SEO is real, although true cases of negative SEO are rare.
I’ve had countless prospects approach me with suspicion of negative SEO.
I’ve only found a handful of actual negative SEO, and even fewer cases where attempted negative SEO has actually caused damage to a site.
But it does happen.
And when it happens, the disavow tool is an absolute necessity for recovery.
The disavow tool is also commonly used for sites that have done some sketchy link building in the past and are looking to change their ways.
In fact, in most cases, you must use the disavow tool when you submit a reconsideration request to Google to attempt to get out of a manual penalty.
But the disavow tool is not meant to keep your competitors from ranking for your syndicated content.
There are other tools, such as canonicalization and overall link building that are much more appropriate for outranking your competitors.