Now that the dust has settled down around the launch of Google Disavow Link tool, I thought I’d spend some time thinking about it before writing this post.
The big concern I still have is that how strongly Google have warned website owners about using the tool instead of manually removing the links. Also they have reminded webmasters not to use the Disavow tool for your own internal pages in case they got a penalty in the past.
I think consider the interest in the feature it’s interesting that the Google took so long to launch the feature after Bing beat them to the punch back in June 2012 when they launched their Disavow tool.
The discussion around the tool still appears to be focused on it’s a quick fix for any undesirable or spammy links that you have built to your clients or own website, which I think is dangerous.
How You Can Use the Tool
The big point that is still being ignored is that the first action you should be taking is the hard work of reaching out to webmasters and manually removing the links when possible.
Both the Google and Bing are still using the data submitted via these tools as a signal to ignore these links so you may not get a dramatic improvement in your rankings post submission.
Also to play devil’s advocate you’re flagging with Google that you likely built those links at some point to boost your SEO efforts but now want to distance yourself from them.
So, What Is this Thing Good For?
Typically if you based your previous SEO strategy around using the cheapest or spammiest link building agencies you will probably have a large list of links that you will have to disavow.
Typically most of your links are of low quality, high risk or not something you want Google search quality team reviewing in detail. I feel that the tool is suitable for the following types of link building clean-up:
- Directories or webmasters that charge you to remove the link
- Link Wheels/3 Way Links/Link Pyramids
- Free for All Submission Websites
- Links built with Software/Scripts
- Pre-Sell Pages
- Blog Networks
- If you have a lot of ccTLDs links (no whois email details)
- Expired Domains
- Pingback Spam
- Comment Spam
- Negative SEO
OK. So What Isn’t it Good For?
It doesn’t remove the links so if you are concerned with reputation management the links are still there it may just reduce the potential impact you see with the next algorithm update.
The best practice is to do the hard work and remove the links manually as this is the only guaranteed method to make sure that link no longer impacts your SEO efforts. The Disavow tool is a guide and doesn’t beat good old fashion work reaching out to request they remove the potentially troublesome links.
What Google’s Doing With the Data
Most people in the industry believe that Google’s team are using the exercise post Penguin as a giant crowd sourcing method for gathering data on the grey web that maybe beyond its reach.
It’s likely that some people hit hard by Penguin will disavow every link they can find so if you also have a link from that same website and don’t disavow or remove it. As Google gathers more data on the types of domains people disavow your chances of being hit in the next algorithm update increases exponentially.
Why Include a Comment Section?
Google has allowed for a comments field to be added but they said they are not checking these currently. So why is it there?
It’s likely that Google can easily scan the submission comments with software to understand common statements and gain deeper insights into the links. These are also something which people hit by Penguin may not be using but could be very important for webmaster trying to lift those manually penalties.
How to Decide Which Links to Submit
Google have advised webmasters to start looking for “bad links” in your Google Webmaster Tools but the problem is that often some of the links you want to disavow may not be listed.
My best advice is to gather link data from multiple sources and then add some metrics to discover which links you want to remove or disavow and then rank them by priority.
- Does their domain have PR penalty?
- Does the page with the link have a PR penalty?
- Is the page that has the link still indexed?
- Is the website linking to you relevant?
- Is it an exact match link?
- Are there any toxic links listed on the same page?
- Do you want Google finding those links?
The Big Question: Can It Be Used for Evil?
A big concern around this type of tool is how you could potentially disavow domains because they are benefiting your competitors.
I would be interested to know safe guards are in place to stop someone from either lying about if that site links to them in the submission or disavowing an entire domain instead of just the page contains the link to you.
What might be the impact on the domain if they get a whole bunch of Disavow requests?
Could setup of spam websites for the purpose of Disavowing a competitors backlink profile be the next big thing to hit blackhat SEO?
Features the Tool is Missing
The ability to flag links within Google Webmaster Tools within the “links to your site” section which makes the process much easier.
Within the Disavow area a report on when the links were submitted, how many have been accepted and flag any validation issues with the list uploaded.
I see the feature being similar to XML Sitemaps where Google are able to track what % of your links have been flagged for review/discounted by algorithms or you have disavowed.
The first point is you should be doing an in-depth link audit to understand exactly how many and what types of skeletons you have buried in your backlink portfolio. Once you have an idea you want to prioritise the removal of the links manually and only resort to Disavow tool once you have exhausted all other channels.
This is not a going to save you but it may keep your head above water long enough to change your ways.
Great article David. Good to see an article that thinks outside the box.
It would definitely be interesting to see what % of your links have been disavowed, however, I doubt Google will make that information available to webmasters, but who knows..
Very interesting and very informative information.
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