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Would you use Disavow if the toxic links were pointing to 404s only?

 5:03 pm on Jul 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

Here's an interesting case: a site was hacked. The hackers installed a Pligg clone, posted thousands of spam stories and then used the site as part of a link wheel - building even crappier links to the spam stories.

The intrusion was spotted too late (the hosting provider ended up paying a compensation but that's a different story) and now the site has tens of thousands toxic links pointing to it.

The only saving grace is that after the cleanup, the toxic links point to 404s.

Luckily there are no toxic links pointing to the homepage or the legitimate content/tools/graphs/whatever.

There's no way anyone can remove the bad links. How would Google view this situation? What would you do?
Relax and carry on or try to disavow the toxic links even though they don't pass any link juice?




 6:38 pm on Jul 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

This google webmaster central forum discussion from last year might help:


Pay particular attention to John Mueller:

In general, if you remove the page that is being linked to (such as a spammy forum thread) and make sure that it returns a 404/410 HTTP response code, we'll ignore the links to those pages.


 6:50 pm on Jul 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

Good catch, jimbeetle.

I would still personally disavow those links too, just in case.

"Luckily there are no toxic links pointing to the homepage or the legitimate content/tools/graphs/whatever."

Unfortunately the response thet JohnMu gives doesn't really cover what WOULD be the best thing to do IF one's home page were being linked to by spammers.


 7:37 pm on Jul 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

I would not waste my time with a disavow file in your case. I believe that Google is occasionally unsure about some links and that they don't always give you the benefit of the doubt. The disavow file probably affects only those links which are 'on the fence' of which yours are definitely not. If Google can figure out they are spam you have no worries. It's when Google thinks you may be a serial spammer that you might have to take action so if you can avoid being hacked again you should be fine.

Your entire event is but a blip on their radar so to speak and it's gone now.


 8:34 pm on Jul 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

What benefit would you get by NOT filing a disavow against those links?

What benefit would you lose if you DO file a disavow against those links?


 8:39 pm on Jul 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

@jimbeetle, thanks a lot.

I would still personally disavow those links too, just in case.

@Planet13, yeah, I know what you mean. It's just there's always that little bit of fear when using the disavow tool. It's like saying "sorry, Google, I've done something wrong" when in fact you haven't...

@JS_Harris, the funny thing is that the site is neither penalised nor affected by any algo update. It ranks where it is supposed to rank considering its legitimate backlink profile.

That, however, is not a good enough measurement. I still see several extremely spammy sites ranking well even after the recent Penguin. Even if this site was not penalised in May, it might get wiped out in the future (if those toxic links are still considered by Google).

I've spoken to many webmasters who've used the disavow tool and just like JS_Harris, they've never seen any tangible results. I bet the conspiracy theorists rejoice because some think that the whole disavow tool is a phishing tactic by Google. I personally wouldn't go that far. Maybe it's a good tool for them to learn more about spam?

Anyway, I feel a little bit apprehensive putting a totally white-hat site on Google's radar... but I also feel tempted to do it just to be on the safe side... decisions, decisions!


 8:53 pm on Jul 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

The disavow tool is, as I understand it, processed by a machine and goes into the algorithim. I believe all it does is tell the algo that those links SHOULD have a nofollow tag on them.

there is (I am guessing) a different algo that looks at the links in your disavow file and tries to guess whether you REALLY want to no follow those links or not.

I don't believe that a person looks at those links in terms of using them as a starting point in determining whether they should audit your site. But then again, who knows?

However, Matt Cutts has said that the biggest problem that people have with the disavow tool is that they either aren't formatting it correctly (as a simple text file), or that webmasters are disavowing single URLs when instead they should disavow the entire domain (because there are actually several links on the site and the webmaster is not getting them all).

Which would pretty strongly infer that SOMEONE is looking at SOME of the disavow files with their eyeballs.

maybe google is only taking a manual link at the disavow tool when it is filed in conjunction with a reconsideration request?


 12:25 am on Jul 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

if you remove the page that is being linked to (such as a spammy forum thread) and make sure that it returns a 404/410 HTTP response code, we'll ignore the links to those pages

As a human, you'd think that if all of site A's links to site B lead to 404s*, this has to make site A look bad. But I don't suppose they'll come out and say so.

* In this case, 404 would work much better than 410. A link to a 410 might just be slightly out of date. A link to a 404 is "Huh? I have no idea what you're talking about."


 9:58 am on Nov 19, 2013 (gmt 0)

Curious if you saw any URLs along the lines of these linking to you:

Pattern being subfolders that are random or attempt to look like system files that should be ignored (hence cart, subsystem, mrt etc), a 2-3 word file name with .html at the end. The actual pages feature spun content and usually a stolen template from a uni or other trusted institution...

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