It’s been an issue that’s plagued the Google webmaster forums for the better part of this year but finally, this month, Matt Cutts (head of webspam at Google) announced that a link disavow tool is now available to all website owners using Google Webmaster Tools, giving users the ability to tell Google to ignore specific backlinks.
It was quite interesting how cavalier Google was about the announcement, stating it quite plainly and ignoring the fact that it’d been an issue that many experiencing the effects of negative SEO and poor historic link building practices had been yelling about for as long as Google began counting poor quality backlinks negatively instead of just discounting them.
Google Late to the Party
What was an even more interesting development (and quite possibly the reason Google had taken so long to release the feature in the first place) was that Bing had released the exact feature almost six months previously. Placing the normally innovative Google unusually far behind.
But even more curious, was that Bing ignores bad quality links, making the release of a link disavow feature quite superfluous, and prompting some to think that they’d done it to show up Google.
In the meantime, the Google Penguin update was making life incredibly hard for those with poor inbound link profiles and offering very little in terms of a resolution, except for asking the offending website nicely to take your link down.
What Disavowing a Link Does
You can find the feature on your Webmaster Tools profile. Essentially, you submit a .txt document of the links to Google, with an the additional option of also submitting reasons for wanting the link disavowed, and the Google algorithm takes note to ignore these links pointing to your site in the(distant) future. It’s greatly benefitted websites that have been victims of negative SEO, which is when a website’s rank it purposely attacked by another webmaster so he can begin to rank well in relation rather than go through the trouble of doing SEO on his site.
Be warned though, Google can take a number of weeks to actually disavow the link and subsequently re-index, so don’t expect your rank to suddenly recover after pushing a button. Google also reserves the right to ignore your request should they find the complaint unfounded or if they think you’re trying to do some negative SEO of your own. In general though, they tend to listen to users.
Best Practices for Link Disavowing
Don’t go crazy disavowing your links though. Internet marketing company Portent have released some helpful dos and don’ts for disavowing links. We’ll touch on some of them below, but for the full picture, take a look at their excellent article.
Go Through the Proper Channels
Google has made it clear they only want people to submit link disavowal requests as a last resort. You should first ask the webmaster of the unwanted link site to take your link down or make it a ‘nofollow’ (an outbound link that Google ignores). Only submit a request to Google if all else fails.
Be Patient and Keep Your Expectations Modest
The fact that you suffered a ranking drop around the last Penguin update may just be an unfortunate coincidence. There may be other factors harming your rank and you might be compounding the issue by cutting your link profile to pieces.
Do Your Homework on Your Link Profile
There’s a difference between a link from a site that’s look like spam to Google and a link from a site that isn’t well designed or managed. Your backlinks help give your website authority. They say people respect your opinion. Don’t just throw that away because you don’t like a domain’s appearance. If the link makes sense and the site is semi-credible, leave it be. If it’s filled with spam and awful barely readable content, give it the boot.
Google Still Has the Final Say
A link disavow doesn’t suddenly cure your bad inbound link profile. Those spam links are still pointing to your website, you’ve just told Google to ignore them. And Google doesn’t even have to listen to you seeing as a link disavowal is just a suggestion. Treat it as a rel=”canonical” (an indication of what your preferred site configuration is) and not a magic cure for bad links.