Google Webmaster Tool disavows links (and perhaps negative SEO)

google webmaster tools disavow links

Google just rolled out the Disavow Links Tool for website owners who are concerned about low-quality links bringing down a website’s page rank (PR) value.  Many interpret Google’s actions as an acknowledgement of the low-down practice of “negative SEO.”

What is negative SEO?

If links from low-quality websites can hurt a websites overall link-quality profile in the eyes of Google, then what’s stopping a morally challenged business from buying a bunch of spammy, low-quality, or even “bad neighborhood” links at pointing it at their competitor(s) websites? This has been the argument of many for awhile to Google: “How can you punish us for bad links when the practice of acquiring them is not totally within our control?”

And then there are the websites that actually pursued what we now called “spammy links” i.e. the low-quality ones that Google is now penalizing websites for. After all, not so long ago, SEO consultants were pushing obtaining links from whomever, by whatever means necessary. For its part, Google state the following in its Webmaster Guidelines: “Any links intended to manipulate website ranking in search results could be considered part of a link scheme.”

Who could forget the whole JC Penney link buying scandal?

The Disavow Link Tool would seem to be an answer to everyone’s prayers, a win-win. However, like many things Google does, the messaging surrounding when (and even if) to use it is somewhat (no, very) confusing.

What Google said:

[quote] This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you disavow backlinks only if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you. In most cases, Google can assess which links to trust without additional guidance, so most normal or typical sites will not need to use this tool.[/quote]

Here is what I don’t understand about the rollout:
  • “Here’s this great new tool … but you might not want to use it.”
  • And just why the eff won’t they tell you what links (in your link profile) are considered spammy?
The answers to these questions are clear as mud, but what can be inferred is that Google doesn’t want you to take the easy route of pushing that red DISAVOW LINKS button in your Google Webmaster Tools account. Why? Google wants you to do the work for yourself in downloading and assessing your own link profile, and perhaps even learn something about what may have gone wrong. It does seem like there is a bit of having to first prove your own innocence.
However, it’s important to note that what Google’s official blog post had to say about when to use this tool.

[quote]If you’ve ever been caught up in linkspam, you may have seen a message in Webmaster Tools about “unnatural links” pointing to your site. We send you this message when we see evidence of paid links, link exchanges, or other link schemes that violate our quality guidelines. If you get this message, we recommend that you remove from the web as many spammy or low-quality links to your site as possible. This is the best approach because it addresses the problem at the root. By removing the bad links directly, you’re helping to prevent Google (and other search engines) from taking action again in the future.If you’ve done as much as you can to remove the problematic links, and there are still some links you just can’t seem to get down, that’s a good time to visit our new Disavow links page.[/quote]

Long story short: no news is good news with the Big G (with regards to your website’s status in Google Webmaster Tool), so if you don’t have any messages about unnatural links in your Webmaster Tools CP, then you probably shouldn’t even consider using it. Let’s face it, there’s probably a slim chance a competitor would undertake such a strategy. If you haven’t engaged in any sort of questionable linkbuilding, then definitely nothing to consider. However, if you are one of the businesses who’s hired an SEO firm to aggressively build up your backlinks, now might be the time to call them and find out what strategies they used.
As with all things Google, the announcements are made, and it’s up to the talking heads of the blogosphere to figure it out. Personally, I like to wait for others to test the results before I take off on a fool’s errand. You definitely don’t want to be impulsively click that DISAVOW LINKS button in the picture above. The website you save may be your own.

And if you don’t have a Google Webmaster Tool account, make sure to sign up for one.

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