Google’s Disavowal Tool Announcement and What It Means

By Michael P. Ehline, Esq. - Many of you know that I was hit with a lot of bogus exact match anchors from mass submission services, and I lost my number one slots for most of my keywords. (Read about negative SEO)  So I am one of those people who has worked hard for a link disavow tool. But since it took forever, I struck at the roots of my bad links, by using DMCA Takedowns. Bing has had a link disavow tool forever. (click here to disavow links on Bing.)  So anyways, this is sort of anti climactic for me.  In any event, the new disavowal tool by Google was announced in Las Vegas on Tuesday at Pubcon by Matt Cutts. It is being reported by some as SEO people that customers are already asking have links removed. This can become a potentially ugly situation quickly, while it can be a good tool, it can also be seriously destructive.

Who is this Tool Meant For?

If you have already read about the disavowal tool, then you already know how it works, and if you haven’t used it, then you need to understand the consequences before going off to use it. Right now there is no data on how effective the tool is and there only a few groups of people that should actually use it, as a general opinion. If you do fall into one of these groups, then using it should be done with caution.

Group 1. You have Received a Bad Link Warning

The bad link warnings from Google were received with a mixed reaction and there has been at least one false alarm in the Google Webmaster Tools, where it is currently the only direct signal from Google that there is a problem with your link profile.

The Google warning will be worded something like this:

It has been detected some of the links, which point at your site are using techniques that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. No trust will be put in the slings are artificial or natural and we recommend removing any unnatural links on your website. We do understand that some of the links are outside of your control and due to this reason; we’re taking very targeted action for the unnatural link instead of considering the entire website. When this issue has been addressed, if you are unable to remove the links please submit a reconsideration request that will include the actions you have taken.

Receiving this warning, normally the webmasters fairly sure which are the suspect links and if you are not able to remove these links, then disavowal tool may be necessary to use.

Group 2. Manually Penalized

If you have been manually penalized, and it is clear you have or you are reasonably certain that the penalty is linked based and you have not been able to remove these links, then the disavowal tool may be for you. According to several sources, Google notifies virtually 100% of sites that are hit with manual penalties. But I have read that Matt Cutts’s spam team will not always notify suspected spammers, and will sometimes not even reduce their visible PageRank Toolbar, so as not to give them help in manipulating the algo.  So you have to decide who you believe on this. (links will be provided when I have time to search this issue again)

Group 3 Hit by Penguin

If you suffered a drop in traffic, immediately after the April 24, 2012 release of the Penguin update by Google, which primarily targeted aggressively building strategies and excessive use of the natural anchor text. The best option is to diversify anchor text and remove bad links, if you are still having problems with this, since the Penguin update then you may find that disavowal tool useful. Remember Penguin update cycle is still unclear, so far there had only been two one May 25, 2012 and the other October 5, 2012. The other thing to remember is in Google’s release statement of the disavowal tool it could take weeks to see results. Be careful not to go back and change old anchor text, as the “jarring and jolting” Penguin update due out soon is designed to screw with your rankings when you do stuff like that.  I have read the patent and it is really weird.  Read it 50 times and you’ll start to understand it. And I am lawyer!

Group 4 Denied Reconsideration

If you have been denied reconsideration, after trying to fix link warnings or a link penalty, without success the disavowal tool is the most logical step to take. In these situations, even filing for reconsideration, Google has not been nice and will not take action unless a majority of bad links have been removed. This has been difficult in some instances and others is not possible, now this tool will give you another option.

Group 5. Negative SEO Victims

This is me.  Mostly on forums with exact match anchors. Apparently there is a way to mass submit thousands of these to your competitors and tank their rankings. If you believe that you have been victim of a land-based attack, which means someone created back links to your website on purpose, and you have not been able to remove the links. This is not uncommon in this type of situation to not be able to remove the links. Negative as SEO is very real, but also very rare, with approximately 90% of people believe they have been a target are usually suffering from other types of SEO problems. Be certain of your problem and if you have been a target, in the new disavowal tool is an option to straighten out the problem.

Bad Links

With article sharing of the past, you may now have a lot of bad links.  Many people used ezines and what not. So lazy webmasters soon started populating Adsense sites with duplicate content with your exact match anchors.  This killed a lot of people.  So first thing I did was delete my ezine accounts.  I dont want to give a license to people to keep sharing and diluting my content. Once you are sure that bad links your problem, then the search begins for which links are bad. There can be a problem with that, most links even if they are in low value links still help your rankings. So, in effect removing them is questionable because you could be getting rid of helpful as SEO.

There’s quite a bit information floating around about how to use Google Webmaster tools links of all that information and techniques are useful the webmaster has to be extremely careful. It is possible disavow links that could be helping you.  Let us take a look first and go over it with you.  Ok?  This is advanced and should be undertaken with extreme caution.

There is some general advice that may help:

  • Risk Level

First, you need to assess your risk level especially if you are concerned with a potential failure penalty and are being proactive in removing links. Do not use a strong armed method to your link profile. This could be doing a lot of damage, fixing a problem that has not occurred yet. Showing Google you are submitting hundreds of links for disavowal, before there is a problem could make them look at your site.

On the bright side of this, if you have suffered either by manual or algorithm penalties and lost most of your traffic, then this cutting of a lot of links is not as drastic. Considering major moves, like moving to a new domain, the disavowal tool should be given a try first.

2. Isolating Bad Links

The more bad links that can be isolated in your link profile, the better and the more effectively you can determine a treatment, without causing damage to the website. It is important to understand the problem, such as getting hit by Penguin. The first step you might want to take is looking at the links that include exact match anchor phrases. On the other hand, if it is due to bad SEO, then you would want to look at links with anchor text that is out of place or suspicious. One of the ways to do this is by loading Open Site Explorer and then click on the “Anchor Text” tab and browse the anchor text for suspected phrases, clicking the + to see what links use that phrase.

When the link cannot be successfully removed that is causing damage, in that section, then disavowing the links might be necessary. In the event it is a nofollow, it might not be doing any real harm.

  • Action or Non-Action

Solving small problems or being proactive, this is not a reason to use the disavowal tool, if possible. When disavowing any links it is best to start with the worst links and then waiting until you can see what happens to the site. If it is not a critical situation, then moving slow, is the better option, or non-action. If you have suffered damage, then you cannot wait and must take action and even risk taking more action than really necessary. You can’t risk staying where you are at.

How Disavowal Tool Works

Disavowing links tool is not available from the Google Webmaster Tools navigation, you will need to be logged in with “Owner” access and then enter the URL to the disavow links page. What will come up is, notice saying if your ranking is being harmed by low quality links, that you do not control, you can ask Gooogle not to take them into account upon accessing your website.

In order to continue, you will need a list of the links that you will want to disavow, and at this point it is a flat file that will be uploaded. The text file will be a combination of links to block, comments, and domains to block. Each separate comment/ link will need a # sign in front.
#  This link is bad.

# Domain with multiple bad links.
The # sign will be helpful later and the full URL’s will need to be on their own line, and the domain followed by the root or sub-domain to block the entire site.

Caution needs to be taken when blocking a domain, since it will block every link from the website, even ones that are potentially good. Google states they will usually honor sub-domains, but if you have bad links from one sub-domain and good links from the domain, then it is crucial to proceed with extreme caution.

Then go back to Google Webmaster Tools and click on the Disavow Links, you will receive a warning, click the button again. This will give you another warning, plus you will have a file upload option. Click on choose file, or browse to the location of the file on your computer and Google does not care what this file is named. Click submit, and the screen changes to show you have uploaded the file. Then the last step will be to click submit and make certain, this is a step you want to take.

Used incorrectly, the tool can harm the websites performance in Google search results. The best way to determine if you need to use this new tool, is if you have a number of spammy, low quality or artificial links pointing at your website and are certain this is causing the issue.

The Google Disavowal Tool is too new to have any data of its successful use, which is another reason why it should be used with caution. Google will be refining the tool as time goes on and this could be a tool that will eventually be abused, against you, or the sites you are flagging. So even though it was anti climactic for me, it may not be for those who didn’t back door this by using DMCA takedowns. In other news, I bet Google gets a lot less DMCA requests! :-)

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