Matt Cutts Recommends Link Removals!
In the video below, Matt Cutts, the Engineer in charge of google's web search quality regarding spam, is discussing the disavow tool in Google Webmaster Tools, and makes a very clear point that webmasters should seek to remove bad backlinks before attempting to use the disavow tool. Remove'em was built specifically to address the growing challenge in removing spammy backlinks and help business owners comply with Google's recommendation prior to submitting any type of reconsideration requests or disavow file. Remove'em offers a low cost self-serve platform for webmasters who wish to perform backlink removal on their own, and an affordable full-service option for those that want a company to remove bad links on their behalf.
Partial transcript from the videos with emphasis added:
... "As Google has gotten better and better at assessing backlinks, there are some people who more or less want to clean up their backlinks. Maybe you've been doing paid links, or someone on your behalf has. You might have been doing blog spam, comment spam, forum spam, guest book spam, you-name-it link spam. Maybe you paid somebody to write some low-quality articles and syndicate those all over the place with some very keyword rich anchor text. And maybe Google sent you a message that says, 'We have seen unnatural links to your site' or 'We have taken targeted action to some unnatural links to your site.' And as a result, you want to clean up those backlinks.
Well, first and foremost, the main thing that we recommend is getting those links actually removed from the web. If a random person looks up links to your site, you don't want to see a bunch of spammy links. It's good to clean up for other purposes. You don't want them to jump to conclusions. It's also good so that other search engines won't see spammy links to your site as well. We do recommend that you write to people, try to get the link taken down, and basically get as many of those links as possible.
Now, at the same time, we realize that sometimes, it's not possible to get in contact with everybody. So at the point where you have written to as many people as you can multiple times, you've really tried hard to get in touch, and you've only been able to get some certain fraction of those links down, and there's still a small fraction of links left, that's where you can use our new tool, called the disavow links tool"...
... "The other thing that we see is sometimes people think that disavow is the be all end all, the panacea that's going to cure all their ills. Yet we do want, if you've been doing some bad seo and you're trying to cure it, in an ideal world you would actually clean up as many links as you can off the actual web. That's just a really helpful way for us to see, when you're doing a reconsideration request, that you're putting in the effort to try to make sure that things have have been corrected, cleaned up, and not going to happen again"...