If you know anything about SEO, then you know that links are the lifeblood of your search engine ranking. Based on the links that are pointing to your site, Google will decide if you’re an authority that deserves to be at the top of the rankings — or if you’re a wannabe that’s no better than the 60 million other sites that are competing with the same keyword.
Because links are such a well-known part of Google’s algorithm, they’re a huge target for spammers and less-than-savory competitors who simply want to knock the other guy down (instead of doing their own hard work to get ahead). Combine that dishonest attitude with the Penguin update — which placed a big emphasis on inbound links — and you’ve got a system that could have been ripe for the picking.
…Which is why Google just unveiled its Disavow Links tool. With it, you’ll be able to tell Google not to count certain inbound links when it determines where to rank your site. The tool is designed to counteract, as Google puts it, “spammy, artificial, low-quality links pointing to your site”.
How does it work?
All you have to do is upload a txt file with one URL per line. You can either put the precise URL that’s linking to you (like “www.example.com/page.html” or example.com/page.html), or you can request that links from an entire domain not be counted (by putting down “domian:www.example.com”).
You’ll get up to 2 MB of information to send in your document, which should be plenty. Then, once Google crawls your site again, the changes should go into effect.
That’s right… I said “should”.
Ultimately, it’s up to Google whether to actually ignore the links or not. In most cases, though, Google says it will abide by your wishes.
As with all other things Google, there are pros and cons to this tool.
First, you can’t help but wonder if you’re sending up a red flag to Google that says, “Hey! Look at me! I’ve got a ton of terrible links! Maybe you should take a closer look at me and find out why!” So far, Google hasn’t said whether it will be able to tell the difference between sites who truly have been victimized by dishonest competitors and spammers — and site owners who resorted to shady link building practices in the past and now want to try and wipe the slate clean.
The other potential disadvantage is that you might end up doing more harm than good. Google makes it clear that this tool is only for advanced webmasters. If you’re not exactly sure of what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t do anything. If you take out the wrong links, you’ll be able to get them back — but it will take a long time to do so.
And speaking of time, this entire process can be a lengthy one. Many websites will know to use this tool because they’ve gotten an “Unnatural Link Alert” from Google (although you don’t HAVE to get an alert in order to use this tool; simply log into your Webmaster Tools account to access it). Unfortunately, though, any alerts you get won’t list every single bad link that’s pointing to you. Instead, it will be up to you to go through your links one by one and figure out which ones you want to keep and which ones you want to disavow.
If, however, you’ve been bombarded with negative SEO, you may consider this time well-spent!
Bottom line — the Disavow Link tool is certainly a step in the right direction. Anytime Google gives site owners more control over their rankings, it’s a good thing. Just make sure you use it the right way!