Google disavow tool – Do you need it?

October 29, 2012 / Search Engine Optimization / By Kathy Alice

GoogleIt’s never boring in SEO land. Last week the SEOsphere was all abuzz with the October 16th release of the Google disavow links tool. This past summer I, like many other SEOs, have been quite busy doing “Penguin recoveries”. This name, although convenient, is actually misleading, most sites I’ve been helping aren’t recovering from Penguin itself, but rather from manual penalties imposed by Google. The difference? Penguin is an algorithmic change that that focuses on the quality of the backlinks to your site, and lowers your ranking if much of your backlink profile quality is low and spammy, while a manual penalty is an action taken by a human and usually accompanied by a “unnatural links warning” message in GWMT (google webmaster tools). With Penguin, if you clean up the problem, your site should recover in time, with a manual penalty you have to submit a reconsideration request to get your traffic back.

Regardless, in both cases you have to perform an audit of the site’s backlinks and try and get the spammy ones removed. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve seen:

  • Blog commenting spam: When a comment is made and a link is added to the comment that adds no value to the comment at all. When I start getting too much of these I set my discussion settings to moderate for one or more links.
  • Paid links: Often these appear as links in the footer of a site, but they also appear in sidebars as well. Per Google a paid link should be tagged with a nofollow tag – but there are plenty of sites out there that list links under “Our partners” or “Sponsored” but the tag is nowhere to be found.
  • Guest or Review Blog posts: With eight perfect anchor text links embedded in the body of the post – that crosses the line with Google. With guest posts look very carefully any embedded link not in the bio.
  • Spammy sites: After looking at thousands of sites, you just know when a site is spammy, even if the link looks somewhat reasonable, if the site is spammy the link needs to go. If the content makes no sense or is garbled that is a surefire clue. Or if the content basically says nothing and is completely non memorable that is another sign of a spammy site. Another spammy technique is having links embedded in the content that have nothing to do with the content.

However getting the link removed is easier said than done. Just finding the contact information for some of the sites can be tough – and you will likely not get a response from the webmaster. Some will respond and tell you they will take down the link for a price. The best we have done is to get 60% of the bad links removed and that was after repeated email requests, faxes and even phone calls. So given the difficulties of getting bad links removed, the clamor for a way to tell Google to disavow links started building, especially when Bing one upped Google and released a disavow tool in June.

Matt Cutts hinted a few months ago that such a tool was on it’s way, and here he is announcing it’s availability:

Despite the buzz and hype, the reality is that many web sites will never need this tool. If you have never bought paid links or done aggressive linkbuilding, a periodic link audit and removing a few of the spammier links is probably all you need to do to keep your site on Google’s good side. However if you get an unnatural links warning or think you have been a victim of negative SEO, it’s good to know you have an additional tool at your disposal to address the problem. Note however that Google still wants you to do the hard work of trying to get the links removed. It’s really a tool of last resort that those who have to submit reconsideration requests should use. Otherwise whether to use it will depend on your situation.

You can find the tool here by logging into Google Webmaster Tools and going to:

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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  1. I expanded the section on types of spammy links – it is definitely not a complete list but something to start with.

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