Google’s Disavow Tool is more than just a quick fix for a high-strung website owner. Used properly, it can help a website regain Google’s favour or possibly even avoid falling victim to Google’s link jailor Penguin mascot. (post updated with video from Matt Cutts)
There is a lot of debate about whether or not it is a good idea to disavow backlinks. Some people think it is an admission of “guilt”. Others worry that, in using the disavow tool, people will end up losing valuable links that are not actually causing them any problems.
I will not dispute the validity of either of these views.
What if you know you have a backlinks problem?
Let us assume for a moment that you know you have a backlink problem. Perhaps you have received the infamous “unnatural backlinks” letter from Google. Perhaps your rankings have tanked, and you have ruled out other causes. Let’s assume that you need to clean up your backlink profile, one way or the other.
Basically, you have two choices. The first is to get rid of the backlinks. The second is to leave them up and use Google’s Disavow Tool.
Let’s be clear – Google prefers you to get rid of them. Let’s also be clear – most webmasters ignore requests to remove links. The first benefit of the Disavow Tool is that it lets you deal with the majority of links that you cannot get removed.
Remember, in this case, you will not be losing any valuable links with the disavow tool that you would not be losing if your begging, bribing, threatening and temper tantrums had worked with the website owners linking to you.
Read also: How Google reads your backlinks
There are also those links that you think are actually pretty good, but you are also pretty sure that Google disagrees with you. You probably should get rid of them to get back into Google’s good books…but what if those links are the reason you are still getting traffic from Bing and Yahoo. OR What if those links are sending you real traffic? Sure, Google is better than Bing, but Bing is better than nothing. And nothing is very realistically what you could end up with if you remove a whole bunch of links that Bing likes, and the Penguin still isn’t satisfied.
What if you do not have a backlinks problem…yet?
The Disavow tool is also a great way to take a pre-emptive strike to avoid getting into Google’s bad books. It has been my observation that it is a lot harder to get out of a penalty these days than to stay out. It’s sort of like falling into a well. It’s much easier to avoid being pushed in by a passing Penguin than to try scrambling out once you hit the bottom, so best to just avoid falling in.
Tweet this quote: “It’s much easier to avoid a Penguin penalty than to get out of one.”
I am not suggesting to make a pre-emptive strike for just any links, but I have seen twice how websites have been attacked by what you might call negative SEO. This very blog was used by a black hatter to try (unsuccessfully) to funnel PageRank to some websites through random text and image links pointing to blog comment URLs that did not exist (they left comments on this blog that were never published, but they pointed links at the non-existent URLs anyway). Their attempt was unsuccessful, but there were still hundreds of pure spam links on toxic domains increasing in rapid succession, pointing to this blog, to my domain.
In another case, I worked with a website that was burdened with hundreds of new links pointing to it every day. The links were using pharmaceutical text (it was not a pharmaceutical site) and were in the company of dozens of other links all being placed invisibly in the code of blogs that the black hatters hacked into. The host blog owners never even knew the links were there, pointing to my client’s site or pointing to the many other sites.
In both these cases, spam attacks got the sites into Google’s bad books, but much, much, much more clean-up has been required to fix the link profile than just cleaning up the ones that got them into trouble. A preemptive disavow might have prevented huge headaches and a fortune of lost income for each of these websites.
The disavow tool should not be a crutch to lean on for worried website owners. If you know you have some really bad backlinks, do whatever you can to get them removed. But don’t be afraid to use the Disavow tool if that’s the best tool for your situation.
UPDATE: Google’s Matt Cutts has now confirmed that “If you’re at all worried about, you know, someone trying to do negative SEO or, you know, it looks like there’s some weird bot that’s building up a bunch of links to your site and you have no idea where it came from, that’s the perfect time to use Disavow, as well.”
Here is the video:
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