This has been coming for a long time and many tech bloggers have been calling for Google to take action like this for some time now. Finally though it’s here – a links disavowing tool that webmasters can use to remove links to their site that they didn’t put there and that they didn’t want. For webmasters that means the ability to fight back against negative SEO and to avoid unfair penalization in the SERPs; but is it a good move by the search giant and something you need to get involved in, or is it more trouble than it’s worth?
How it Works
In case you aren’t up to speed with the current state of SEO, negative SEO is something that’s always been around but has recently been brought to the forefront thanks to Google implementing stricter guidelines for marketing. Basically negative SEO means doing ‘bad’ SEO for a competitor’s website in order to get it penalized by Google (who think the webmasters are condoning the action), and typically this will mean building lots of links on irrelevant and low authority sites.
In other words then, you can be minding your own business, when suddenly a competitor might hit you with hundreds of links that you never asked for and Google penalizes you for spamming. Until now there has been no defence against such a situation, but with the new disavow links tool it will from now on be possible to tell Google when you didn’t ask for a link which in turn will mean that you can remove that black mark against your name.
So Far So Good…
Obviously this means you can now defend yourself against the unscrupulous techniques of some site owners, but unfortunately it’s not all good news and there are some drawbacks and there may be some unexpected implications and repercussions.
One drawback for instance is obviously the simple fact that this could be a lengthy and tiresome process – particularly if an attack is relentless you could find yourself in a situation where you are forced to regularly disavow a large number of links which is just ‘one more thing’ you need to do. And while it might help you to combat aggressive attacks on your site’s health, it’s worth bearing in mind that it will only go so far and that link building is only one way that a competitor can target our websites – this won’t offer you any protection against people hacking your site for instance, or making false DMCA takedown requests. Potentially this could lead to something of an ‘arms’ race and simply force the bad guys to start using more destructive techniques.
At the same time of course it will mean that it’s easier once again for spammers to get to the top of Google using black hat techniques. In other words someone can now just create lots and lots of links on irrelevant sources as they might have done previously, but simply remove any that then cause their site damage. And as some site owners are very likely to do this, that then begs the question of whether it was worth introducing such strict algorithm changes in the first place.
Then there’s the data angle of all this. For webmasters this creates an interesting opportunity to add and remove links using the disavow tool and to then measure the changes almost scientifically – potentially meaning that we could work out much more accurately precisely how much weight Google’s algorithm gives to certain links, and precisely what it considers a ‘bad link’. Where do you draw the line? Soon we may have an answer. And of course Google – who specialise in dealing with qualitative data for their living – aren’t going to turn a blind eye to all this information and are almost certain to use this tool as a way to identify other shady websites and to learn more about grey and black hat SEO techniques.
So… Is this Good News?
Of course this is a complicated matter and it could get a lot more complicated still as both the white hat and black hat SEOers learn more ways to take advantage of this system. Certainly this could entail ‘letting the cat out of the bag’ and it will be interesting to see how it affects the community in the long run. For now though I recommend using the tool to undo any attacks you’ve fallen victim to (this could be a Godsend if you recently went from the top spot to page three), but also keeping your head as low as possible.