Google Launch Disavow Tool

Google continually makes changes to its algorithm, and after each change, there are winners and losers. One of the most controversial changes Google has made in recent years is penalising websites for excessive linking. If links don’t come from relevant or worthwhile sources or don't add value to a user's experience, a website is penalised in the search engine rankings (SERPs). This change has caused many websites that utilised link building as part of their search engine optimisation strategy (SEO) to drop in the rankings, often quite dramatically. Many people thought this was unfair, because while some websites had used excessive link building as part of their SEO strategy, not all had, and some people had no control as to the number of links coming into their website from dubious sources.

To compensate, and ensure websites weren't being unnecessarily penalised, Google recently launched its "Disavow Tool". Google Disavow enables webmasters to disassociate their websites from unnatural or dubious link sources. This would can help websites penalised for excessive link building regain their rankings in the search engines. While websites that continue to use excessive link building as a way to game the system and boost rankings remain penalised. However, not everybody is aware of the Disavow Tool or knows why and when to use it, but it is not that difficult to understand.

Link penalties

Links are what makes the internet what it is. Without links, internet users would be unable to navigate around the web, and neither could search engines. However, in order to ensure their users are getting a good experience, Google wants all links from a website to add value to a visitor's experience. In other words, links need to be relevant and offer some purpose. Google has long regarded lots of inbound links as an indication that a website is popular and adds the most value to a user's experience, but that has not always been the case.

While news articles, popular blogs and big online retailers often have large number of links coming into their website because they are popular sources of information and products, for far too long, people have used link building as a means of boosting search engine rankings, fooling Google into thinking they were popular websites because they had large numbers of inbound links. Often these links came from link farms or were exchanged in a: "you link to me and I'll link to you" agreement with other websites. This meant many websites had huge numbers of inbound links that were not relevant and the search engine rankings became clogged with spam websites that weren't offering value to Google's users. To counter this, Google introduced an algorithm change, colloquially known as Penguin, which penalised such websites.

Why Disavow

Often websites have no control over their inbound links. In addition, many website owners hired SEO companies to help them improve their internet rankings and were unaware of the methods these companies were employing, such as excessive link building. As a result, many websites found themselves unduly penalised by Google's algorithm changes, so Google has offered a lifeline in the form of Google Disavow, allowing webmasters to disassociate themselves from certain link sources. However, Google Disavow is a double edged sword and not all websites should use it.

Google Disavow should only be used by websites that have been penalised in organic search results. However, knowing if this is because of your links can be difficult. Often, Google will send a message to a website's Webmaster Tools account, specifically explaining the website has excessive unnatural links, but this doesn't always occur, and even if it does, how do you know which links are unnatural? Furthermore, if you start disassociating yourself from links without careful examination as to their worth, you could be damaging your website's rankings by removing relevant and authoritative links.

Relevance and authority

The first step in discovering which links are bad is to see which keywords have been affected in the rankings. If you used to rank highly for a particular term, but have now dropped in the rankings, the chances are you have been penalised because of the links using that keyword as anchor text. You can use a range of webmaster tools to identify the inbound links to your website, such as Opensiteexplorer.org or CheckmyLinks Chrome extension, which can help you sort links by their anchor text.

The next step is identify which of these links are relevant and authoritative and which are considered spam by Google and are damaging your rankings. The general rule of thumb is that a link should be editorial in nature and not advertising. In other words, if a blog or website has no relevance to what you do but has links going to your website, without providing any redeeming content, the chances are it is harming your site. These types of links can be found on content farms, link farms, web pages set up purely for providing links, or are links that have been exchanged for products, reciprocated links or money. Many people make the mistake of assuming that PageRank is all-important in assessing a link's worth. However, this is not the case. Many spam sites have been able to manipulate their PR ranking and just because a page has a high PR, doesn't mean the link coming from it is any good.

Using Disavow

If you have had a warning message from Google about your link strategy then the best way of using Google Disavow is to be brutal. If you are unsure of a website's quality and relevance, disavow it, as it is better to be safe than sorry. One way of checking a website's worth is to search the domain in Google itself and see what comes up. If Google deems the website untrustworthy, many of the site's pages won't come up in the listing.

However, if you haven't had a warning message from Google then you need o be very careful when you use Google Disavow. It is far better to get a professional to check your links for you. The good news is that nine out of ten websites remain unaffected by Google's algorithm changes so should never have to use Google Disavow, but if you do find yourself using it, Disavow is a tool designed to help you, not trip you up, so don' be frightened of it.

Once you have finished disavowing links from your website, it never hurts to send a reconsideration request to Google, which should speed up the time it takes to get your page rankings back. Of course, for websites with thousands of inbound links, using Google Disavow will take a long time. Many webmasters who have had their websites penalised heavily by Google and have thousands of inbound links from dubious sources, may consider starting over and rebuilding their website with fresh URLs. This really should be a last resort. It is far better to use Google Disavow and get rid of everything and allow your inbound links to rebuild naturally.