Google Now Allows Webmasters to Disavow Links

Oct 18, 2012   //   by Netword Plus   //   Our Blog  //  No Comments
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Members of the Netword Plus team are at PubCon this week, so we thought  it especially important to share a recent news-worthy PubCon announcement. The head of Google’s web spam team Matt Cutts, spoke at PubCon announcing that Google has launched a new tool that allows you to “disavow” links. The tool is actually a submit button that you click–after significant warnings–when you ready to declare links “disavowed.”

A mere 45 minutes after Cutts spoke, Google formally announced the tool on the Google Webmaster Central blog.

Worth noting but not as widely publicized, Bing also launched its own disavow links tool earlier this year.

How to Disavow Links

While it is indeed a great tool, Cutts was also quick to warn that the tool should be used with discretion. He insists that publishers should first try to remove the links by first working with site owners, hosting sites or with the link purchaser. To remove a bunch of links, you’ll simply list the URLs in a text file, either individually or to exclude all links from a particular site using the format below:

  • domain:google.com
  • domain:yahoo.com
  • domain:facebook.com

Both formats can be mixed into a single file, as shown below in an example from Google’s blog post about the new tool:

Anything that begins with a pound (#) sign, Google ignores as these are considered comments. But the word “domain” indicates to Google that you intend on disavowing a particular link–as shown here, where it reads: spamdomain1.com. Or it can also be done on specific pages like where you see “spamdomain2.com.”

Once the file is complete, then you simply access the disavow link tool through Google Webmaster Central. You’ll select your site at which point there will be warnings as to what you are about to do, then you submit.

Disavowing Links: The Pros and Cons

Cutts warns that the process may not show immediate action.  “It can take weeks for that to go into effect,” he stressed.  He also said that Google reserves the right not to use the submissions if it feels there’s a reason not to trust them. Once submitted, there will be an option to download the file you submitted and resubmit it with changes. Conversely –because there is such a long processing delay– if you make a mistake and want to reinstate a site, it is also likely to take a long time. Understand this before clicking submit for a disavowed link. Cutts explained that the use of this tool is much like using the “no follow” feature, which allows sites to link to other sites without passing ranking credit to a competitor.

Why is Google Allowing Us to Disavow Links?

Now you might say: but who is chomping at the bit to “disavow” a link?  Well it really grew out of a response to those  impacted by Google’s Penguin Update, which penalized web sites that purchased links or gained them through spamming.

SEOs were nervous—justifiably—after the Penguin “cleansing.” Some wanted a way to ensure that they could detect bad links and keep only clean, “real” links. SEOs have always had concerns that competitors might point bad links at their sites in an attempt to harm the competitor. The Penguin update only intensified those fears, so it’s not surprising Google saw fit to give webmasters some kind of recourse.

Google’s own post about disavowing links also offers insight into their motivation:

“In general, Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking. However, if you’re worried that some back links might be affecting your site’s reputation, you can use the Disavow Links tool to indicate to Google that those links should be ignored. Again, we build our algorithms with an eye to preventing negative SEO, so the vast majority of webmasters don’t need to worry about negative SEO at all.”

Matt Cutts on Disavowing Links

If you are considering the issue of back links and how it affects your site, you might want to watch this video prepared by Cutts specifically about the Google Disavow Tool. We enjoyed hearing Cutts speak at PubCon and think he does a nice job explaining the pros and cons of disavowing links.

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