Disavow File Format: Error in Google’s Swedish Info

Huge Drop in Traffic on Halloween 2018

Update November 9, 2018
John Mueller from Google has confirmed below that the space does not matter. I shall leave this article live for a little while so that people can understand why I came to the wrong conclusion. It turns out that it was just a complete coincidence. Sorry for any confusion caused.

I’ve been in conversation with a Swedish SEO friend of mine over the last few hours. The conversation started: “Hi! I got some bad links pointing to my site, I disavowed them. How long before rankings are back, normally? Some dropped a lot”. There’s no easy answer to this so I said, “hard to say – but roughly a week or so, or never 😞”. He told me that he had no Manual Action too.

After a short pondering about how often Googlebot crawls pages, I asked “Are you sure the dip in traffic was because of bad links? Google’s algorithm has been all over the place this year! He was certain and showed me this chart:

Drastic drop due to adding web 2.0 links

Drastic drop due to adding web 2.0 links

He had added 55 links from web 2.0 properties and his ranking was killed. The disavow file should have fixed this. Maybe Google had not crawled the links in the disavow file yet? As the new links were all from Web 2.0 properties I did not believe that Google would not have crawled these links by now. Google tends to crawl Web 2.0 properties pretty fast. You can, of course, use a tool such as Link Detox Boost to force Googlebot to crawl the links in the disavow quickly. In this case, this tool had not been used, but even so, I would have expected to see some positive movement in the past week.

Is the Disavow File in the correct format?

It suddenly occurred to me that the disavow file might not have been in the correct format. I said;

Disavow File Format Question: Anything Weird?

Disavow File Format Question: Anything Weird?

Do you see anything weird there? – yep, you got it, the example says:
domain: domain1.com
this is incorrect, it should be:
there is no space between the colon and the domain name.

Did Google get their documentation wrong?

My Swedish friend was adamant that Google said that there should be a space. I asked where had he seen this. He showed me this screenshot from Google’s Swedish documentation:

disavow file info sweden

Swedish Google Info – spot the mistake?

Stunned by this, I quickly checked the US version:

There is no space here

There is no space – domain:example.com

It seems that the Google translation of this page is wrong. How important do you think this space is? I hadn’t really encountered this before, but my suspicion is that this is why the disavow file didn’t work. My friend quickly fixed his disavow file and uploaded it on the evening of November 6, 2018.

Awesome Traffic Recovery on November 7, 2018

The following morning I was delighted to see this message on Facebook Messenger:

Back on Page One Message

A wonderful message received on November 7, 2018

Update November 7, 2018 – More Languages Affected

Staffan Ragnö from Firstly.se commented below. He also found by scraping 190 languages that this mistake also exists in Czech, Hebrew, Hungarian, Japanese and Spanish.

It's not just Swedish that is affected

It’s not just Swedish that is affected

It is also worth noting that the Korean and Kanuri languages put quote marks either side, although most webmasters would be savvy enough to not include these in the disavow file:

Don't include the 'quote' marks!

Don’t include the ‘quote’ marks!

You can see Jon Mueller’s comment below, saying that this article is wrong. If there is an error the Disavow Links Tool will tell you.

Meet the Author

Rick Lomas

Rick became 'interested' in Google Penalties when Google Penguin 1.0 almost made him homeless in 2012. Since then he has become an expert in fixing Google Algorithmic Penalties and Manual Actions. Rick has cleared hundreds of Google Manual Actions since 2015. He has saved businesses $millions. He has a 100% success rate in penalty removal.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Staffan Ragno Nov 7, 2018, 1:28 pm

    Hi, Rick.
    As Swedes, needless to say, this finding caught our eyes. We did a quick lookup on multiple other language variations of the article (190 in total) and in total 6 language variatons of the article that also includes the same mistake:
    – Czech
    – Hebrew
    – Hungarian
    – Japanese
    – Spanish
    ..and Swedish. 🙂

    • indexicon Nov 7, 2018, 2:20 pm

      Thank you for your extra work Staffan. I wonder if the Google documentation will ever get changed 😀

  • Marc Nov 8, 2018, 9:56 am

    Hi Rick,

    Thank you for showing us this specific case. I think that this recovery has happened too fast and there has been too much tremor recently (https://www.seroundtable.com/google-halloween-search-algorithm-update-continues-26642.html) so it’s difficult to conclude anything without observing other “affected” websites.

    Let’s see what other people say 🙂

  • Zak Nov 8, 2018, 12:51 pm

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for sharing this. I enjoy watching your Youtube videos as well from time to time. Quick question: is 1-2 weeks really the average until Google adjusts your rankings? My client’s site had links from 3 sites with penalties which I disavowed a couple of weeks ago, but I thought the process usually took at least a month or two for changes to kick in…

    Thanks again,


  • Colin Nov 8, 2018, 12:58 pm

    Very interesting article, but the danger with 2nd hand info, just too little data to go off. My assumption would be the space doesn’t affect anything, though speech marks might.

  • John Mueller (Google) Nov 9, 2018, 10:34 am

    Just to follow up here too — a space there plays no role at all. If a disavow file is invalid or otherwise can’t be processed, you’ll get an error immediately after uploading it, including a line number where the error was found.

    • indexicon Nov 9, 2018, 10:55 am

      Hi John, it is an honor to have you comment here, thank you. I have added some notes to the beginning and end of this article explaining that it is wrong. I’ll leave it like that for a while until the dust settles. Thank you again for the clarification.

  • Staffan Ragno Nov 14, 2018, 7:32 am

    Thanks for the update John and great to hear this is a non-issue. 🙂