Speaking at Pubcon yesterday Matt Cutts announced the launch of the long awaited and widely anticipated disavow link tool within Google Webmaster Tools. Although they are late to the party [Bing got in there first], it is music to the ears of many webmasters and SEOs.
Ever since the launch of the initial Penguin algorithm update back in April 2012 many webmasters and SEOs have been on a furious and frantic mission to identify and remove rogue links which could potentially compromise the visibility of their websites within search. Google themselves recommended the removal of spammy links for Penguin recovery which inevitably led to a lot of controversy around potentially damaging negative SEO practices.
The identification of potentially malicious ‘unnatural’ links is obviously a problem which webmasters and SEOs face, this alone is no easy feat; but the removal of links is a different story! Even with the most intensive of back link audits there are no guarantees that contacting the webmaster of the rogue link will result in the link being removed. There are also those malevolent webmasters who have cottoned on to the importance of link removal and therefore began charging for link removal, adding to the expense and headache of unnatural link removal. This has been the challenge for those affected by Penguin so the news of the arrival of the Google disavow links tool is welcomed.
Sorry Google, Bing Beat you to it!
In June 2012 Bing were the first to announce their own disavow link tool, providing webmasters with the ability to effectively deny responsibility for ‘unnatural’ link or links which appear to come from spammy or low quality websites.
This was all well and good, but Bing weren’t publicly penalising sites for having bad links - so it was all pretty pointless. Opinion in the industry was generally that it was simply a PR stunt to show how quickly Bing could react and shame Google for not giving webmasters something similar and disperse all of the negative SEO nonsense once and for all.
6 Months Later – The Google Disavow Links Tool
Almost 6 months after the initial launch of Penguin, and 4 months behind Bing, Google finally announced the launch of the disavow link tool which can be found here - www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main.
During the unveiling of the disavow link tool at Pubcon, Matt advised a degree of caution, advising that webmasters fully understand the effects of misuse and ensure they are certain that the tool is required before proceeding. He also re-emphasised the importance of attempting to manually remove rogue links before using the disavow link tool (although I’m not sure why? Will the disavow tool act differently upon removal requests?).
Google have also stated that the effects of the disavow link tool will not be immediate, stating on the official Google Webmaster Central:
We need to recrawl and reindex the URLs you disavowed before your disavowals go into effect, which can take multiple weeks
Google will also reserve the right not to use the disavow requests if they believe there is reason for the submission not to be trusted, stating on Google Webmaster Central:
Google reserves the right to trust our own judgment for corner cases, for example - but we will typically use that indication from you when we assess links
Google also state that the use of the disavow link tool should also still be supported by the use of a reconsideration request if you’ve received notice of manual action on your site.
The Disavow Process
The process isn’t quite as simple as selecting a bunch of spammy links from a pre-defined list. You will need to provide Google with a specially formatted list of domains/URLs which you would like to disavow. Inevitably this means you’ll still need to perform a thorough back link audit in order to identify potentially unnatural links and create your disavow list. If you’re not familiar with performing back link audits I’d advise against trying to do it yourself - employ an SEO agency or an SEO expert to do this for you. Identifying and disavowing the wrong links could be damaging to your visibility within search so don’t run the risk!
The format of the document is pretty straight forward. You’ll need to provide a plain text file, no bigger than 2Mb, with one URL per line for individual URL exclusions, using the domain: command to exclude all links from a domain, and using the hash symbol for comments which Google will ignore, for example:
The steps of the disavow process are pretty simple, as follows…
Once you’ve logged into the disavow links tool you’ll be prompted to select your domain (unless you’re managing multiple domains you will probably only have one option)
You’ll then see a brief “are you sure you know what the hell you’re doing” message which you will need to confirm before you can proceed. At this stage if you’re not 100% sure, STOP IMMEDIATELY and contact an agency or any SEO expert. Disavowing links can potentially have a significant impact on the visibility of your website within search. If you accidently disavow the wrong links it could potentially jeopardise your visibility within search.
Once confirmed you’ll be prompted to upload your list of links to disavow.
The effectiveness of the disavow link tool remains to be seen but without doubt it comes as a blessing to many webmasters and SEOs looking to clean up their back link profiles and will hopefully help to simplify the link removal process. Whilst Google continue to advise the manual removal of links as a primary course of action, I suspect Google will receive an abundance of disavow requests over the next few days from SEOs and webmasters who have been unsuccessful in removing links manually.
More Info on the Tool
More information on the disavow link tool can be found on the Webmaster Tools Help page and of course on the official Google Webmaster Central post. You can also watch the video which Matt Cutts has prepared.