There are many ways a site’s search rankings can go south, including hanging with the wrong crowd by linking to and from irrelevant sources and shady sites. Of course, most people try to steer clear of bad friends, but what if you linked to a site you THOUGHT was a of good nature, but wasn’t? And what about the content scrapers who link to you without your consent, or a black-hat SEO you previously worked with who hooked you up with a link farm? Not good. Add to that, while inbound linking from shady and paid directories were considered NOT great practice years ago, there was some success at times — not anymore. Google’s tightened search standards mean more scrutiny. Google’s Penguin algorithms have clamped down on paid link building, and site owners have frantically been undoing old linkage. This has become so laborious that “link unbuilding” services have started to creep up. For those unfamiliar, while inbound links can be valuable to your site’s rank authority, the wrong kind of linkage from spammy sites, link schemes, irrelevant content, and paid links can negatively impact your search results. To combat this, various webmasters were contacted by Google with “unnatural links” warnings after the Penguin update, which meant these webmasters had to contact the webmasters of every unnatural link source, and request removal. This was a lot of work, but more so, this technique often proved futile as webmasters could take a long time to respond, not respond at all, or charge to unlink.
So what’s one to do if they’re caught with bad linkage and can’t get proper removal? Webmasters asked for it, and Google delivered, with their Disavow Tool — this, after Bing’s Disavow Tool was announced last June. So both Google and Bing’s Disavow Tool saves the day, and all is good, right?
Not So Fast…
Yes, this tool holds a lot of potential for keeping our act clean, but Google’s Matt Cutts warns against using the tool carelessly, or on a whim. Described as a “loaded gun,” the tool can inadvertently or maliciously be used against the good guys, or against your own site(s) by other webmasters, and Cutts explains that Google will exercise their own judgement in disavowing links in some cases. While Cutts says a misfire on your own site shouldn’t really hurt anything, it’s best to use the tool carefully. With unlinking the process still being lengthy, many will be tempted to jump to the Disavow Tool, bypassing the process. Herein lay the danger.
Doing the Disavow Properly
Making the web a better place is the responsibility of everyone, and if this tool holds the power we hope, it must be leveraged well. According to Cutts, the right way to handle this is to look for unnatural link warnings from Google. You should still contact the webmasters of these sites to request link removal. If there is no response within a reasonable time, the Disavow Tool is recommended as a last resort. You can upload a file of links for Google to review with the tool. Of course, you have to be careful not to include good links. That potentially hurts your site and the site you’re reporting. It can take a couple weeks for the disavow process, but it can take much longer to undo a disavow action. While there are several ways to catch undesirable inbound linkage, using the “Links To Your Site” tool below, or constantly researching and dealing with trackbacks on your blog can be exhaustive. While I recommend paying close attention to these tools, following Google’s advice of only acting on their warnings may be all you need. If your site’s been around for awhile, you’re always going to have obscure inbound links, but a warning means you really have a problem, and your SERPs risk being affected. Be careful, and be good to fellow webmasters.
The good news is — SEO in all its algorithms, technique, and glory is more than ever about the user and being transparent, not the gimmicks and numbers. Inbound links are great, but they need to be relevant to users, and of quality and good standing with the community — the way it was always supposed to be. Produce great content, share your content, share other’s content, and people will link to your site naturally. This may not happen immediately, or in the quantity you could buy them, but hopefully, with the quality your viewers should get. Also, keep an eye out for unnatural link warnings from Google, and know your Webmaster Tools options provided by both Google and Bing. How will this affect search and our SERP’s in the long run remain to be seen, but perhaps, it’ll be one step closer to a cleaner web.