The Google Disavow Links tool is one of the most long-awaited and talked-about features since the Penguin update hit. Before I talk about this addition from the Google webmaster team, let’s do a bit of time-travel.
Back in April (2012) when Google launched the Google Penguin update, a major update following the Panda algorithm change, it stormed the SEO blogosphere and cleaned out link spam from private blog networks. At the same time, this created a new problem, and that is negative SEO.
Since Penguin was created to penalize any site using spam methods to generate backlinks and manipulate search engine rankings, people started to abuse this system by creating spam links for legitimate sites, in an effort to lower their rankings. Some of them succeeded. Many brands were affected by the negative SEO campaign, though others remained unaffected. This all led to the major problem of controlling the backlinks pointing to a site.
Bing understood the problem webmasters faced and launched the Bing Disavow Links tool after the Penguin update. A similar link disavow tool from Google has been highly anticipated, and today Matt Cutts announced the launch of the Google Webmaster Disavow links tool.
What is Google’s Disavow Links tool?
Let me explain this in simple terms: If you understand the concept of negative SEO, you know that negative SEO is the dark side of SEO, especially since Google has made it clear that they will penalize sites involved in any link spam.
Anyone can go to a site like Fiverr and use those bulk link-building services to generate 10,000-20,000 links within one or two-day time period, and can thus negatively affect any site’s search engine ranking. Your site may not necessarily be hurt by such link spam, but a well-planned SEO attack can completely take down a site ranking.
How can a webmaster control this link spam?
In the past there was no direct and easy way to control such link spam apart from emailing the webmaster and asking him to remove the links. However, when such links are created for the purpose of creating spam, in most of the cases you will not be able to reach the webmaster, or your request will not even be considered.
Google Disavow Links tool is an attempt by Google to give power to webmasters to report and submit such links to Google, and if they were hit by negative SEO or any Penguin update, this would help them to quickly get out of it.
Technically, Google spots spam links and spam sites by default, so in most of the cases, such links will not harm your site performance. However, many sites have been affected by spam links, and the number is rising with each Penguin data refresh and update.
This is what Google’s official page for Disavow Links says:
“If you’ve done as much work as you can to remove spammy or low-quality links from the web, and are unable to make further progress in getting the links taken down, you can disavow the remaining links. In other words, you can ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site.”
In short, Google will not value links from any domains which you have reported using Google’s Disavow Links tool.
How to use Google’s Disavow Links feature:
First, this feature is not for everyone to use. If your site is affected by spammy links and the issue is beyond your control, you can use this feature to get rid of the spam links. Particularly for websites that are affected by Penguin updates, you should consider using the Google Disavow Links feature right away.
The hardest part of the process is creating a list of links which you wish to disavow. You can use the Google Webmaster tool to download a list of backlinks pointing to your site. You can also use any 3rd party backlink checker tool, and my favorite is SEMRUSH & Ahrefs which not only monitors old links, but also allows you to see the list of all new links and dead links.
Create a text file and write one link/line which you wish to disavow. If you wish to ignore a complete domain which is sending too many spammy links to your site, you can simply use the domain: example.com in that text file to ignore links coming from the entire domain.
Once your list is ready, simply go to Google Disavow links page here, select your domain from the dropdown, and click on Disavow links.
On the next page, click on Disavow links again, and it will open a pop-up. From here you need to browse and upload the spam links text file you created in the previous step.
Click on upload and submit, and that’s it. You have successfully reported all spam links to Google! You will also get a confirmation email once the file is uploaded:
Here is a detailed video by Matt Cutts, in which he talks about Google’s new Disavow Links feature. Prior to using this feature, I highly recommend that you watch this video.
When you want to add new links to your Disavow link text file, Google gives you an option to download and add or remove links from the existing file. To see the effect of the uploaded file, it may take up to 1-2 weeks, as Google will reindex and recrawl those pages. As Matt Cutts mentioned in the video displayed above, this is only the initial phase of this tool, and we can expect a better version of this tool in the near future.
My suggestion is to use this feature only when you know what you are doing – and know how to use it properly. Otherwise, you would do well to let your SEO person do it for you. Getting the wrong links disavowed could lead to a drop in ranking for your site. Also, if you are among those who have received a spam link warning in Webmaster tool, you can now offer a rebirth to those of your dead sites which were penalized by the existence of link spam.
You can read a FAQ regarding the Disavow tool here.
- Recommended reading: How to File DMCA Using the Google Webmaster Tool
Google should consider adding this tool in a more visual form, as it will not only help them to find more spam sites but will also give rapid access to this tool. Currently the whole process of finding links and creating a text file with links you wish to disavow, is a lot of work. Nonetheless, this feature is something every webmaster has been waiting for — and it’s finally here.
What has been your experience using Google Disavow links?
Have you used any other tools to find the spammy links pointing to your site?