Yesterday at Pubcon Vegas, a search, social media and affiliate marketing conference, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team announced a new tool for webmasters – the disavow links tool.
This tool, giving webmasters the ability to disassociate themselves from link spam, has built up much anticipation since Bing released their disavow links tool nearly three months ago, and could be seen as a savior to the many sites that were directly afflicted by Penguin. And while Bing’s tool may look more user friendly, Google’s formatting is much easier once you understand the process.
*Note: if this tool confuses you, DON’T use it. Hire someone who knows what they are doing.
What Link Should I Remove?
In a perfect world, Google would like every link you acquire to be accrued naturally, not through paying for links, exchanging links, blog networks, footer links, widgets, automated link directories, blogrolls or through spamming other sites. These types of link schemes are considered unnatural and can hurt your SEO efforts.
However, while these are considered unnatural, it is natural to have a ratio of these in your link profile. I know, crazy, right? While it sounds crazy, think about it and will make sense. Take these two link profiles for example, and tell me which one looks more natural to you:
When to Use the Disavow Links Tool
This isn’t a tool that needs to be used every day, week or even month for that matter. This is an advanced feature that should be used with caution. Think of the Voltaire quote, made famous by the Spider-Man franchise, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If you accidentally remove good links, unnaturally offset the balance of your link profile or even remove internal links, you could essentially cripple your site’s ability of displaying in Google’s search engine.
With that being said, there are two instances that you may want to use this tool. The first is to proactively protect your site from unnatural links or possible negative SEO threats, and the second to use in reaction to search algorithms, manual penalties and for domains that have been deindexed. If you have been manually penalized, you will still have to file a reconsideration request after removing the links. Google will take a few days to a couple weeks when processing requests, since the links provided will all have to be re-crawled.
How to Use the Tool
If you manage multiple sites on the same profile, you will be asked to choose which site contains the links you are wanting to disavow. After choosing the profile, you will be shown a warning page that says:
“This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you only disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.”
Once you read through the warning and click Disavow Links, you will have a modal popup form that offers the same warning again, but also gives you the option of downloading your list of links to disavow.
Webmasters can disavow links on a page by page basis or by the entire domain. If you want to remove a link from a specific page, you just need to input that URL; however, if you want to disavow the entire domain, you must use the “domain:” function.
For example, if I wanted to disavow everything from example.com I would format it like this:
With large lists, you may experience the need to place comments within the file to know when you last updated the file, or to explain the purpose of removing the links. To do this, you can simply place a # sign, which will tell Google to ignore that line.
#Blog comment spam
#List last updated 10/16/2012
Once your list is properly formatted, save your file, click choose file, grab your file of bad links and upload it. Remember, DON’T put any links on this sheet unless you want them gone. Once a link has been removed, re-including it may reduce the quality of the link and keep it from weighing as heavily as it once did.
- Find pages that were affected during updates that involved links, specifically Penguin. To do this, you can use Webmaster Tools or Google Analytics. I would recommend Webmaster Tools, since you can see if a keyword phrase is being penalized and not just a page; however, either way can essentially show you major drops in traffic or keywords. If you are looking for drops in traffic due to Penguin updates, remember that Penguin dropped April 24, 2012, was updated May 25, 2012, refreshed June 7, 2012 and recently updated once more on October 5, 2012.
- Nofollowed links neither help or hurt your site; however, Google does look at the ratio of follow to no-follow links, so if it is natural for a site like yours to have a ton of nofollows, then don’t go crazy removing these if the only reason you’re removing them is because they are nofollow.
- Use this tool only if you are certain that the links are hurting your rankings, you may accidentally wipe links that are actually driving your rankings.
See Matt Cutts explain the disavow links tool here on their YouTube Webmaster channel.