New Google Tool: Disavow Links
After months and months of SEOs and webmasters asking for the Google Disavow Links tool, it’s finally here. Many SEO’s will be playing the “wait and see” game where they wait for others to use to find out how it all works and ends up increasing rankings or decreases rankings. I am sure they will be 100’s of stories in the next 3 months. Some SEO’s believe this new disavow tool should not be trust (and they have a good point).
What is “Disavow Links” ?
For those small businesses who do not understand what this tool is…. basically, you can ask Google to ignore spammy links that you may believe could be harming your website’s rankings. (Warning: This is an advance tool and only experienced SEO’s should be using this tool).
What are spammy links?
Google uses links as one of their ranking signals and they want them to occur naturally. So paid links, link exchanges, blog networks, link wheels or other types of link manipulation would be considered ‘inorganic’ so like 90% of all links out there ;).
Spammy back links is very subjective, but from my experience thus far doing SEO, I’d have to say Google considers the following as un-natural backlink spam:
Google’s Examples of Un-natural Links:
- Low quality article directories (try to get articles in niche related and trusted article directories, but submitting the same article 100’s of times to low quality article directories is not a good idea).
- Low quality directories – Ditto as article directories
- Paid Links – obvious one, if you pay for banners on sites be sure to ask for them to be set to “no follow”
- Automated link exchanges (not all link exchanges are bad)
- Fake Profiles (However claiming your brand’s profile on all Web 2.0 sites is not spam)
- Blog comment Spam (however, commenting on industry blogs and adding value is not spam, we are talking about using xrumer and scrapebox to spam the crap out of the web)
- Footer Link Spam (SEO’s and web designers should watch for this, be sure to ‘no-follow’ those site wide footer links)
- Artificial Blogrolls (note the “artificial” and not all blogrolls are considered bad… but I am suspect of anything site wide anymore. Just installing a wordpress plugin that rotates links via a network is bad news.)
- Blog Networks (for the sake of the SEO GODS, please stop spinning content into giggly-goop and syndicating across tons of splogs.. it does NOT work anymore… used to, but not anymore and even if does, you are building your links on house made of sticks or straw).
- And the list goes on and on. Forum spam, widget spam, fake software PAD file spam, etc. If the link is super easy to get, it often can be considered spam. The hard links to get are the ones you want to chase and get. Often achieved by creating amazing content, marketing, & being the expert in your industry.
How does one end up with spammy links?
You may have created them or maybe your SEO company did (I know at some points we’ve created links that would be questionable by Google’s current algo in the past for our own sites and clients sites. I say most SEO’s have… which is not to hard to do considering Google sees any link not naturally given as link spam). It’s possible that you could of been a victim of ‘negative SEO‘ and a competitor link bombed your site with shaddy links. SEO’ers and marketers did what worked and we all knew lots of un-natural links on exact anchor text worked for many, many years. In fact, getting backlinks STILL works today!
And I quote Google: “Links are one of the most well-known signals we use to order search results. By looking at the links between pages, we can get a sense of which pages are reputable and important, and thus more likely to be relevant to our users.”
Now backlinks is not the ONLY signal they look at, there are over 200 of them and (no one knows them all). The point is you still need backlinks to rank for any keyword that has commercial intent and search volume. Now you just have to smart about and it. There all kinds of ways to get quality links that are less likely to be seen as a un-natural link by Google. However, this post is not about all the ways to acquire links, it’s about the new disavow tool which is to be used if you think you have been penalized for spammy inbound backlinks.
Below I transcribed Matt Cutt’s video (above) and added in my comments in orange to help explain this new tool more to small businesses. It’s also my 2 cents and my opinion. Nothing is based on facts. Read at your own risk.
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF MATT’S VIDEO:
Hey everybody. We just realized a new tool called The Disavow Links tool, which lets you tell Google which links to your site you would like to ignore. Let me give you a little bit of context, tell you about how it works, and basically fill you in on the background. As Google has gotten better and better at assessing back links, there are some people who want to, more or less, clean up their back links.
So, maybe you’ve been doing paid links, or someone else has on your behalf. You might have been doing blog spam, comment spam, forum spam, guest book spam, or link spam, you name it. 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 then Google sent you a message that says, “We have seen unnatural links to your site,” or, “we’ve taken targeted action on some unnatural links to your site.” So as a result, you want to clean up those back links. I believe this is a good idea as long as you know the difference between a good link and a bad link. Google’s algorithm can’t always tell and if it could then they wouldn’t need to offer this tool because then they could just simply de-value anything they felt was unnatural.
First and foremost, the main thing that we recommend is actually getting those links removed to the web. If a random person looks up links to your site, you don’t want to see a bunch of spammy links. Who looks up a websites links besides SEO’s….? LOL! So 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 want see spamming links to your site, as well. Fair enough. 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. This is probably a good idea and now since recent Google updates it’s a booming business… people charging to take down links from their sites and SEO’s offering as a service. You paid to get them, now you have to pay to get them down. Crazy, right?! Now at the same time, we realize that it’s not always possible to get in contact with everybody. No shit, Sherlock. 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 a fraction of those links taken down but there are still a small fraction of links left, that’s where you can use our new tool, called The Disavow Links tool.
How does it work?
First off you need to figure out which links you should disavow. This is super important, you do not want to go disavowing perfectly great links. Portent did a pretty good post on this you should read. Hopefully you have a pretty good idea but there are a couple of ways that you can go about it. First, you can look at your recent links. Now Google will let you download a list of links sorted by the date that we discovered them. So you can look at the most recent links if you have just gotten a message or warning about unnatural links. I suggest using majesticSEO or ahrefs or lately my favorite tool Link Research Tools. Download your links and then go through them one by one. Could take weeks depending how many you have.
We are working on ways where when we provide links, the unnatural links warning, we’ll actually, in the text of that message, give you maybe 1, maybe 2, possibly 3 examples of the sorts of links that we are talking about. Yeah that’d be nice since previous messages were useless. Now this is not a comprehensive list, we’re saying these are the sorts of links we are trying to ignore or that don’t count, or that we think look low quality or spammy. The message won’t mean to just remove those 2 of 3 links and then do a reconsideration request. It will be to give you a flavor of the types of links,whether it’s a low quality article bank thing that you were syndicating, a paid link, or whatever that we would like to see taken down. Makes sense, but would still be great to get a few examples of what they are seeing as a unnatural link.
So, how do you actually use the tool to disavow links?
It’s actually pretty simple. We want to reiterate that most people do not need to use this tool. I agree with this most folks will not need to use this tool. There has been a little buzz the last few months about people wanting to clean up their back links, but if you’re an average mom-and-pop and you’re doing normal things, you’re not doing anything especially egregious, and you’re not doing aggressive SEO with all kinds of weird link networks, then this is not a tool that you will need to use under sort of normal circumstances.
When you load up the tool you will see a lot of disclaimers that remind you that under normal circumstances you shouldn’t need to use this. You will only need it if you’ve gotten a message or you really think there is an issue with your back links and you really want to clean it up, you’re a power user doing technical things. The first version of the interface that we are launching reflects that. It’s basically the ability to upload a text file of links that you would like to ignore. My site, for example, is mattcutts.com.
Suppose I want to ignore a link from example.com/page.html. I would simply make a text file that says example.com/page.html and upload it. The format is just 1 URL per line, and we tried to make it easy. Suppose you have porn site, pornsite.com, and it links to you and you want to ignore all links from that domain, you could say, “domain:pornsite.com”. You can also have comments, you can have little hash signs, you can document your efforts to try to get links pulled down or provide some more context there, and then you just upload that text file. I’d recommend to make sure you only get rid of links at the page level and not the domain level (unless you are absolutely sure it’s spam) and note you can do sub-domains too without banning all web 2.0 blog:
Q: Can I disavow something.example.com to ignore only links from that subdomain?
A: For the most part, yes. For most well-known freehosts (e.g. wordpress.com, blogspot.com, tumblr.com, and many others), disavowing “domain:something.example.com” will disavow links only from that subdomain. If a freehost is very new or rare, we may interpret this as a request to disavow all links from the entire domain. But if you list a subdomain, most of the time we will be able to ignore links only from that subdomain.
It’s a single text file for a domain. So if you have multiple registered owners, and you want to add, edit, or update a file, we provide a way to download that file and then you would be able to edit it or add another link to ignore or anything along those lines. If you wanted to you could empty that file out and then re-upload it, and we will process it in turn.
How will Google actually treat it when you say, “I’d like Google to ignore this link.”?
We treat it as a very strong suggestion, but we don’t treat it as something that we absolutely have to abide by. Before you get nervous or worried, that’s the exact same methodology that we use for rel=canonical. We have seen some guys who have a website and they say, “oh, I’m going to rel=canonical over here,” and that’s a 404, and they can shoot themselves in the foot. So, we do reserve the right to look at things and say, “we think that this is something the user didn’t intend to do,” but in normal circumstances we will take it as a very strong suggestion. We will basically treat it a lot like No-follow and drop that link out of our processing. This makes sense because webmaster’s make all kinds of mistakes, I’ve seen people set their entire site to no follow, no index. LOL! It happens, so I can see why they only take as strong suggestion. Someone will submit ALL their backlinks I am sure of it.
How long will it take?
We do expect that it will probably take weeks once you upload your list of links to Disavow, for all of them to be disavowed. Because we have to re- crawl, re-index, and re-process those pages in order to attach the attribute that says, “this link we want to treat this with the same amount of links, we want to treat this with zero weight.” It does take a fair amount of time. note “fair amount of time” could be 4-8 weeks. If you’re doing a re-consideration request, you should explicitly mention that you have disavowed links just so that we can go and try to check up on that when the manual web-spam team is investigating. This is good to know, I wonder though if you still need to try to remove spammy links first or just use this form. Would save a lot time and money. Not sure if they are still looking for effort if you were ‘bad’ first before allowing you out of the ‘time out corner’…? To be tested.
We want to emphasis that this is a power user tool. Agreed. Small business owners should not be using this tool on their own. We don’t want people to go overboard with this. Most people shouldn’t need to use this and so only use it if you think that you have good reason to. In particular, someone is sure to ask, “what if I want to un-disavow a link,” and the answer is that will take even longer. Good to know. Don’t go testing which links are bad. Know and don’t submit anything you are not sure about. I would say once you disavow a link, make sure it is a link that you really don’t want to count anymore because it will take a lot longer and we might not treat it with the same weight, if we allow it to be re-avowed. Take a look at the links that we are giving as examples and the links that you truly think are spam. Those are the ones that you want to disavow. Try as much as you can to clean things up before hand and then use the disavow tool afterward, if you feel comfortable. Now this makes me wonder…. Are they saying we want to see you work first before we let you out of ‘time out’ or are they saying you can correct this with link removal of unnatural links because their is no such thing as a penalty and it’s all algorithm driven. Hmmm…..?
The last thing that I want to reiterate, and I really want to get this across. Most people should not need to use this. We build our algorithms and look at our spam processing such that, in most cases, we handle things just fine. A very small number of people are getting these “unnatural links” warnings. So, proportional to the web, most people do not need to be using this tool. It’s an advanced tool, just like rel=canonical. If you rel=canonical to some place that doesn’t exist, it is possible to shoot yourself in the foot.
Be careful. Don’t just go in willy-nilly and submit a ton of files and you’re like “Okay, I’m changing a whole bunch of stuff every single time.” You really want to do an audit of your back links and try to get an idea of the ones that truly look spammy or look like links that shouldn’t count. Those are the links that you might want to think about disavowing. Agree, don’t just start submitting links.
I realize that even after I tell everybody this, there will still be a lot of people that run for the disavow link tool. Again, whenever we are doing re-consideration requests, we are going to look at the set of links that existed before, and then we are going to be doing spot-checks and looking to see if those links are off of the web. So, don’t just immediately think, “disavow is the answer for all my ills,” you’re also going to want to try to remove stuff from the web first. See they are looking for effort. No effort, then they will punish you. Then they will use this tool to identity more spam. Watch for more sites to get de-index now this tool is out. Our we just doing their job for them now….? Some will think this. I am not sure how I feel about it yet. This is a power tool.
It is possible to make mistakes in the process of telling Google to ignore links to your site, to make mistakes. I would approach it with caution. I wouldn’t just jump in. If you are a mom-and-pop, if you haven’t used your own SEO, if you haven’t used random lead networks that you found on SEO forums, this is probably not something you should be using. I just want to reiterate that, and hopefully everybody will remind everybody else of that; if people are talking about it on forums, or at conferences or whatever.
But we are pretty excited to be able to offer this because we do hear from SEOs who try to do clean-up and there is an entire niche for people whose job it is to clean up back links. This is a tool in that arsenal that can be used after you’ve done all the other clean-up that you can do. So we are really happy to be providing this option, to those people who asked for it, thanks for all of the feedback. Let us know what you think of it and we will continue to iterate and look at other ways to improve. Thanks. I think at this point I prefer it’s here and just chose not to use if it’s not necessary. Let’s know your thoughts in the comments about this new disavow tool…?
Submitting for Re-inclusion
You may need to submit for re-inclusion after using the disavow tool. Google does read each submission, however be sure you are being very specific on what links you attempted to remove and when. Note they are looking for specifics. They want to see an effort. If they do not see effort then, they will send back one of those templated generic emails.
We will be doing this on some sites. We’ll be sure to update you all with our experiences. Be sure to post any questions or thoughts you have on this matter in the comment section below.