Disavow Vs Modified Content Vs 404

Interesting but brief note if you have been hit by the latest algorithm updates. As an SEO agency focussing on improving online rankings we run a lot of experiments at Weboptimizers.

One of my experiment sites was hit recently in the Google algorithm update.I took this opportunity to test how Google treated a removed link vs a 404 page.

This site in question only had only 7 links pointing to it. I had control of all the 7 links.

The Experiment

The experiment was to see how each action impacted the search rankings. I also measured time to fluctuations in rankings.


1) Disavow links. Wait a period of 20 days. Note the fluctuations.

2) Delete the link from spammy sites ( I had control of these spammy sites). Wait a period of 20 days. Note the fluctuations.

3) Delete the spammy page and let it 404. Note the fluctuations.


1) Rankings for 20 primary keywords.

2) Time to first ranking fluctuations.

Step 1 – Disavow

I have never been a big fan of Disavow tool. Nevertheless, the first action I took was disavowing the links.

After 20 days, the results are as follows.

1 long tail keyword improved. 19 keywords either remained the same or declined.

No major fluctuations were observed in ranking.

Step 2 – Delete the link.

I wanted to check the “link memory” effect and see what happened when the link was removed.

More specifically

Unbeknownst to many, even some SEO “pros” who shall go unnamed, past activity on your site is remembered by Google, and what’s more, good ol’ G will call on these “memories” when determining your search engine result positions (SERPs).

The link was deleted but the page was left as it was.

3 primary keywords improved.10 keywords showed slight fluctuations (Up/Down).7 keywords remained unchanged.

Keywords fluctuated within 24 hours but then immediately stabilized.

Step 3- Delete the page and 404.

Since I had control of all the 7 links, I deleted all the three spammy pages the same day.

Rankings started fluctuating and reached the pre-penalty levels within 3 days.

Deleting the pages and returning a 404 status code was the most effective action.

Other notes

  1. All these actions were done in a sequence. The results could have been due to more than one action.
  2. The website under study was only 9 months old.