Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Google's Disavow Link Tool is Not a Reset Button for Your Link Profile

by Nick Stamoulis

You can't control who links to you, no matter how hard you try, so every site is bound to have a few less-than-kosher inbound links you've wanted to get rid of for some time. In the post-Penguin world, sites have been scrambling to salvage their link profile and many are resorting to pretty desperate measures to do so; some sites are even threatening to sue others if they link to them. Other site owners are taking advantage of the link un-building panic and I've heard several stories about sites charging site owners to remove links. These extreme measures aren't helping anyone and they just add fuel to the fire and further damage SEO's reputation. Add to all of this the panic over negative SEO (sites purposely building bad links to their competitor's sites) and it's easy to understand why some companies are a little scared of SEO!

Google recently introduced a new tool to disavow links and many site owners (especially those who were impacted by Penguin) jumped for joy. I have to admit that I am also really excited at the prospect of being able to tell Google "hey, I didn't build/don't want this link, please don't consider it when ranking my site." So the disavow link tool should be godsend to websites of all shapes and sizes, as well as SEO providers, right? Not necessarily.

With great power comes great responsibility and I can see many site owners trying to use the disavow tool as a way to "reset" their link profile and start fresh, especially if they've been dinged in the past (or are just looking for the easy way out of a tight situation). In their blog post announcing the tool Google flat out says, "We don't recommend using this tool unless you are sure that you need to disavow some links to your site and you know exactly what you're doing." The disavow tool is supposed to be as a last attempt, not a first! I worry that many site owners won't treat it as such, or they'll put a lot of pressure on their SEO providers to use it right away.

Also keep in mind that the disavow tool is a suggestion to Google, not a command. Just because you tell Google to ignore links from a certain domain that doesn't mean they will so you don't have as much control as you might initially think. And Google points out that it can take several weeks for your requests to be take effect.

Before you upload your first batch of links to the disavow tool be sure they are actually links you want removed. Is that link actually hurting your SEO? It's easy to get trigger happy and accidentally disavow or remove links that were actually helping your site do better in the search results. Let's say you upload a list of 25 links you want Google to no longer count. 7 of them are actually really bad and you didn't build them, 12 of them are not-so-great links a cheap SEO company placed for you 2 years back and the rest you're just a little unsure of. What if those links you weren't so sure of were actually good links? You just undercut your own link profile. Unless you are 99.9% sure that a link is causing harm (or will somewhere down the road) I would be hesitant to submit it to the disavow tool.

Since the tool is so new, we still aren't sure how using it will impact a site. Those middle-of-the-road links (not bad, but not great) still provide some SEO value to your site. If you remove too many of them what does that do to the overall value of your link profile? Could you actually get your site worse off than it was because you jumped the gun and disavowed the wrong links? Or tried to disavow too many?

I think the disavow tool is great for sites that have exhausted every option to get a few really bad links removed from their portfolio, but it should not be the first trick you turn to. Make sure you are absolutely sure you're not trying to remove a good link or you might actually end up doing more harm than good.

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