This week, Google released a tool called the Disavow tool. Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture.
First Google unleashed the Penguin that was designed to penalize poor quality web content. Webmasters were up in arms accusing Google of hating affiliates. However, from what I have seen over the 10+ years I have been working online is that affiliates tend to be the people who put up poor content.
Next up was Google’s Penguin. This seems to be targeting overly aggressive SEO tactics. Again, webmasters complained that Google were penalizing affiliates. Again though, the people that often pushed SEO to the limits were the affiliate marketers.
Next up came the EMD update that reduced the ranking benefits of owning an exact match domain. For some reason, Google had previously given this type of domain a major ranking advantage. Why? I don’t know why they would except for the fact that the domain is pretty important and it had a keyword phrase in it.
The problem with this is that there are/were a huge numbers of EMDs out that that are pure rubbish. Webmasters (in particular affiliates and those concentrating on Adsense) bought up EMDs for every potentially profitable keyword they could find and built 1-5 page websites targeting that single phrase. Most of the sites were very poor and should never have ranked in the first place.
Now, during this period of changing SEO, Google were up to something a little more sinister. They were changing their policy on inbound links. In that past, Google had always stated that inbound links could not hurt your rankings because otherwise a competitor could wipe you out by building spammy links to your site. However, if you read their current policy on link schemes, it is clear that this document would be a waste of time UNLESS Google were policing this aspect of SEO. In short, at some point, Google started to look at inbound links differently, and penalize websites with poor backlinks.
Now, I am not totally sure when this started, but I know it was more than a couple of years ago from my own testing. Over the last year or two as this news started to leak, a whole new industry grew up called “Negative SEO”. That is where a webmaster would deliberately fire crappy links by the thousand (or tens of thousand) at their competitor website to make their competitor drop out of the Google results. Did it work? Well it did on a test site of mine that I tried it on. I even reversed the penalty by removing the links.
So today we know that bad backlinks can hurt our site.
As this knowledge became generally accepted, webmasters once again claimed foul play by Google. I mean how heartless are they if they change their algorithm to make bad links negatively affect our rankings.
Many of us have no control over the links pointing to our site, and spammers, scrapers and general low-life can get our site penalized with a few clicks of a button in their expensive link generating software AND there is nothing we can do about it. Many webmasters even stated that Bing had a tool that allowed webmasters to remove links from their profile, so why didn’t Google if backlinks were so pivotal to receiving penalties or good rankings.
Fast forward 16th October, 2012 and the release of the Disavow tool.
I had never heard of that word before the 16th October. Now I have dreams about is.
This is what many webmasters wanted, so finally they could list the links that they did not create (or were done by competitors to negatively affect rankings) and get them discounted from their website’s ranking factors.
So everyone is happy, right?
It seems that now webmasters have what they want, they are cautioning everyone from using it as they say it will just help Google penalize more websites.
The truth is, Google cannot win. They give us what we want, but then we are suspicious of their motives.
I don’t doubt that Google will use the data submitted by this tool to help improve their algorithm.
Some of the following are reasons I have seen why people are skeptical of the new “free” gift from Google.
1. They will use the data to identify blog networks?
I would think so, but why is that a bad thing? If people are generating links with push button ease, then those links are not quality and should not be used to help a website rank. Therefore if those poor quality links can be removed from the ranking factors of every site, better sites with better links can float to the top. That has always been Google’s objective.
2. It will create a new form of negative SEO
I have seen it mentioned on a couple of sites now that webmasters may use the Disavow tool for a new kind of negative SEO. The way they think this might work is to find out who your competitor has links from, and build a site that gets links from the same sources. Then report all those links to the Disavow tool and hope that Google punishes those backlink sources and in doing so, punishes your competitor who has links from those punished domains.
Now, my point of view on this is that the only sites that have to worry are the sites with lots of spammy links in the first place, i.e. usually those webmasters that have consistently ignored and been in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines. Think about it. If a competitor is going to replicate your backlinks, they will only be able to do so for backlinks found on websites that give out backlinks easily. To put this another way, a negative SEO would only be able to replicate your spammy links.
If you have concentrated on building up your online presence with high quality links, then spammers would have to work really hard to build links on those same resources, and even then, a disavow would probably be useless.
To take an example, you might have a presence on Quora, where you are helping people out in your niche. You have a number of links back to your website to highlight examples in your answers, or maybe just link to a more complete discussion of the topic. Overall these are great backlinks. If a competitor tried to replicate your backlinks and built out a profile on Quora just to disavow those backlinks, then what are Google going to say when they check out the list of URLs in that Disavow report by manual review? Are they going to go to Quora and see “quality” links and decide to devalue Quora? Nope. If a list of disavow links from a competitor comes in with several of these false reports, I can see the whole report being thrown out.
3. They will identify YOU as a spammer
OK, you submit a list of links to disavow on your site. If it is a long list, maybe into the thousands, then this report may tell Google that you are a spammer who created all these poor quality backlinks even though you knew it was against their webmaster guidelines.
So, what do Google do with this data?
Do they think, “Hmm, at least this webmaster is trying to correct their problem”, or do they say “once a spammer, always a spammer” and bury the site? I know which answer 99% of affiliate marketers would select.
What do I think?
Well, I think that if you have been only creating poor quality backlinks to your site you might be better off moving the site to a new domain and starting afresh with backlinks. Even if you could recover your rankings by disavowing bad links and getting more good links, all of those spammy links are still out there, giving a bad impression about you to anyone that might see them.
If however you have a lot of good backlinks but a number of poor backlinks, then I think it would be worth trying the disavow tool AFTER manually contacting webmasters to try to get poor links removed. In this case you have nothing to lose, and if Google do penalize your site as being created by a “known spammer” (which I personally doubt despite liking a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy), you can always move the site to a new domain and start again.
In his video, Matt Cutts specifically said that only those people with unnatural link warnings need to use the tool, and only then AFTER trying to clean up the links by contacting webmasters. He says that you can use the tool if you have a “small fraction of links left” (that’s spammy links) after trying to clean them up.
Disavow is a last resort for those webmasters who have not been able to clean everything.
I don’t think Google will look favorably on any webmaster who submits huge numbers of links to disavow when it is obvious that the webmaster has NOT tried to manually clean up their link profile.
In other words, I don’t think this is a tool that can “one-click” clean-up your profile and get your site reinstated.
I would also think that any site that has good quality links from authority sites in their niche will be a lot less susceptible to ANY kind of negative SEO campaign.
As far as this tool is concerned, I think we all need to wait a while and see how this pans out. I do not recommend using this tool if your site has mostly poor quality links that you have built. If you have built the links, do your best to clean up your link profile first. Time will tell if Google have released this to further penalize people who have consistently ignored their webmaster guidelines.
My final thought: I personally have a website that I built to test if it was possible to rank a site using Fiverr gigs. Up until the October Penguin update, that site was ranking really well and making me a passive affiliate income of between $150-$280 a month. After the Penguin update, that site was penalized, and rightly so. 100% of the backlinks are spammy. I would not try to disavow those links to the site, because 100% of them are spammy, and I had them built. At the same time, I cannot remove those links as only the fiverr gig author has the logins. I will therefore be looking as a couple of alternatives to get the penalty removed (these alternatives are experimental and results will only be made available to members of my Insider’s group – sorry).
What do you think?
I know that webmasters are very emotional about the changes that Google have been making recently. I would love to hear your opinions on the Google Disavow tool. Do you think Google have an ulterior motive in releasing this tool?