Google’s Disavow Tool: Is Google Doing More Harm Than Good?

Google has again pushed its fight against blackhat SEO to another level by introducing a new tool – Google’s Disavow Links tool – for webmasters!

This fight can actually be said to have started on April 24, 2012 when Google announced one of its major search engine algorithm changes in over 8 years – the Penguin update – which specifically targeted websites with poor quality links and “over-optimized” anchor text links!

Following the Penguin update many webmasters suddenly discovered that the links they have spent years and resources to build are now “poison” that negatively impacted their rankings! It was a shocking experience for many webmasters and site owners with many struggling frantically to remove the offending links.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in a post how a site owner contacted me requesting the removal of every link pointing to his site from my blog. Of course, a ‘professional’ SEO hired to build links to the site has been posting comments on this blog basically to build links. Unfortunately, this SEO had fallen foul of one of Penguin’s top rules – “over-optimized” anchor text links.

I was gracious enough to remove the links however, not every site owner who was faced with this problem was that lucky. In fact, this particular site owner informed me while we were in contact on this issue that most of the site’s he has contacted to remove such offending links were not as understanding as I had been.

This shows that removing offending links once they have been built, is not easy and it has been a bone in the neck for many webmasters and site owners ever since.

Google’s Disavow Links Tool to the Rescue!

The announcement of the disavow links tool by Google this past week is indeed a relief for webmasters faced with this problem.  it is now clear that site owners who were Penguin casualties now have a ‘voice’ to ‘inform’ Google about specific links and domains they want ignored.

The fact that Google has continued to use links as a ranking signal despite the abuse by SEOs and is continuing to work to sanitize the system, shows the importance they place on it:

“Links are one of the most well-known signals we use to order search results. By looking at the links between pages, we can get a sense of which pages are reputable and important, and thus more likely to be relevant to our users. This is the basis of PageRank, which is one of more than 200 signals we rely on to determine rankings. Since PageRank is so well-known, it’s also a target for spammers, and we fight linkspam constantly with algorithms and by taking manual action.”

Unfortunately, because of this importance that Google place on links and PageRank, linkspam has become a big problem so much that most of the algorithm changes are targeted at it.

It is not a wonder therefore that since the Disavow link tool, questions and fears have been expressed by SEOs and webmasters that this tool may be misused or abused by ill-intentioned SEOs.

Many believe that negative SEO could become an issue as SEOs with bad intentions may decide to build links from the same sources their competitors are using and then report such sources as bad links to effectively reduce the ‘link-juice’ of their competitors!

But are these fears real? Is Google’s Disavow Links tool something that will harm the SEO community or another plus from Google?

To answer these questions we may need to look at how the tool works.

How It Works

In a nutshell this is how the Disavow tool works:

1. If you are caught with linkspam, Google will notify you with a message in your Webmaster Tools about “unnatural links” pointing to your site. Most of these linkspam may come from paid links, link exchanges, or link schemes that violate Google’s quality guidelines. So, if you are using any of these sources to build back links, beware!

2. Whenever you receive such a message, Google expects that you manually remove these links by contacting the offending site owners.

3. If however, after contacting the offending sites you still could not remove the problematic links, (may be they are not cooperative) you can then visit the Disavow links page.

Google Disavow Links tool graphic

4. On the Google Disavow page you will be prompted to upload a file containing the links you want to disavow.

Upload links to Disavow links tool

What you need here is a plain text file with one URL per line.

Here’s a format provided by Google:

# Contacted owner of spamdomain1.com on 7/1/2012 to

# ask for link removal but got no response
domain:spamdomain1.com
# Owner of spamdomain2.com removed most links, but missed these
http://www.spamdomain2.com/contentA.html
http://www.spamdomain2.com/contentB.html
http://www.spamdomain2.com/contentC.html

In the above example, the pound sign (#) indicates comments and will be ignored by Google. The “domain:” keyword indicates you want to disavow links across a particular site (in this example, “spamdomain1.com”). You can also indicate individual pages you want to disavow.

Of course, Google was very clear that submitting your request does not mean those offending links will be immediately taken care off besides, you are advised to be careful in using the tool!

But Is There Really Any Problem In This?

Taking a look at how the Disavow Links tool work as shown above, should webmasters really fear its being misused?

After analyzing the Google Disavow links tool, I’m really surprised that many SEOs are already skeptical about its effectiveness in fighting the linkspam war. I think Google should be commended for once more trying to help rid the internet of any form of bad SEO.

Indeed, this may not be the solution since blackhat SEOs have always found a way around every tool that Google introduced. But for now let’s see how this will help those who were hit by the un-merciful Penguin!

Over to you: What do you think of the Google Disavow Links tool? Do you think it is a tool ready to be abused by SEOs or one that will help sanitize the SEO environment?

About Chadrack

Chadrack Irobogo is a web entrepreneur, blogger, business coach and author. He’s a vastly experienced online marketer and runs a digital marketing agency where he helps local businesses drive valuable online leads. On this blog he shares business strategies and proven marketing tactics that delivers tangible results for SMBs and enterprise bloggers.

View all posts by Chadrack →

19 Comments on “Google’s Disavow Tool: Is Google Doing More Harm Than Good?”

  1. Google Disavow links seems a very useful tool for webmasters that will help them get rid of Spammy links. In my opinion it will help to sanitize a website and help follow Google guidelines easily. It is definitely a solution for Webmasters who wanted to get their links removed but failed. Good news for webmasters. Thanks for updating me:)

    1. @Smith Warnes,

      It’s a pleasure to know that this post resonate with you. Indeed, Google is doing a great job despite the fact that many want to frustrate that good intentions. I’m sure that very soon, webmasters will know the power of this tool and then the web will be the better for it!

      Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation.

  2. Hey Chadrack

    I think that the Google Disavow links tool can only be a good thing.

    I’ve not had a problem of spam links but I can see how it could be an issue and this tool will certainly help.

    Some people are always going to try and find a dishonest way of using tools. It’s something I expect these days.

    Whatever Google does to try and clean things up, there’s always someone out there trying to beat the system.

    1. @Tim Bonner,

      I agree with totally. When I first learned of the tool and what others were writing about it, I just thought what is really in the minds of these people? I think Google actually did a great thing by creating this tool especially for those who were hit by the Penguin update. At least, with this not only these people but any other person who may be the target of negative SEO can use the tool to ignore those links.

      Thanks for the comment and it’s really a pleasure to see you around again!

  3. Hey Chadrack,

    I think also that this could be a good thing because although I’ve never had an issue with any spammy links I’m sure that there are some people who have done this on the recommendation of someone they trusted thinking that what they were doing was okay.

    I’ve seen that too many times and now they will have a chance to clean up their act so to speak.

    Since Google is behind this I would think that it’s a good thing since they are the ones penalizing you to begin with.

    Thanks for sharing this with us Chadrack and for offering your view as well.

    ~Adrienne

    1. @Adrienne,

      I totally agree with you there. Those who are hit by the recent Google updates are the ones that this tool is really for. Google of course made this clear in their official blog. Many of us will not need to use it.

      Like I mentioned in the post, many e-commerce sites who had been using SEOs to build backlinks discovered all their labors had turned out to be a boomerang ready to pull down their years of labor. After spending money to build those links they had to turn to other SEOs to help them remove the offending links – spending more money.

      But with this tool, what would have taken them days or weeks to do would now only take maybe hours. This is why I really believe Google should be commended.

      Thanks for the comment and your sharing the post.

  4. Hi Chadrack,
    I have to say I differ on this one. Disavow tool is just a way to waste the time of bloggers by getting them go around in circles.

    Heard of negative SEO?

    What do you do with the disavow tool when massive backlnks point to your site from sites with bad standing?

    Do you move from one link block to the next – disavowing? I think this is a very clumsy way of handling a complex problem.

    Google should really think out of the box. Really.

    1. @Yeremi Akpan,

      I quite understand your point here. But like I mentioned in the post, this issue of negative SEO can really be handled with this tool with ease. Remember, Google made it clear that you can ‘disavow’ a single link or a whole site. When such an issue arise therefore the simple way to go about it is to ‘disavow’ the whole offending site!

      Now, consider what the situation would have been if Google has not come up with this tool. Since you are concerned about negative SEO, so if this tool is not there and you got hit, what will you do? How long will it take you to take care of the situation?

      So, can you see why this tool, though it is not a solve-it solution, has its own good?

      Let’s us encourage Google for the good work it is doing and I’m sure we will see more good in the days to come.

      Thanks for the comment and it’s really a pleasure to see you around.

  5. We are all hoping that this tool can hugely make a difference so that spammers will be reduced and if possible be banned. It will help and protect marketers that are making use of the legit ways so that they will get rank on search engines.

  6. Hi Chadrack,

    I think this tool would be quite useful to remove unwanted and spammy links.

    Plus it’s giving additional options to webmaster to experiment with their link building techniques, I mean one can try to acquire low quality links and see its effect on their rankings. If it’s really hurting their ranking, then you can use this disavow tool to correct everything. 🙂

    I think it’s important to notice how soon Google take steps, once you submit your list of spammy links.

    1. @Aasma,

      That is really an ingenious way to use the tool! Frankly, I never thought of that but I must say one had to be careful because we really don’t know how Google will be using this tool. For example, Google may be using it to know more about your actions concerning SEO activities. A case in point here is the Google Analytics tool. Remember, apart from the analytics tool helping you with your stats, it also helps Google to know more about your sites!

      Thanks for the comment.

  7. Its difficult to say what’s going on at the moment. There is a lot of confusion and too many updates within a short period of time has made it even more confusing. I am not sure if disavow tool is going to work or not. But I suppose, this is the only tool left for those who do not have many choices.

    1. @Shalu Sharma,

      Yes, for now this tool is a hope for those hit the previous updates. But on the area of too many updates in a short period of time, one can only say that it appears Google is really in a hurry to correct the problem in hand. Too many ‘bad’ SEO is in the market and to correct the situation, these different updates are really necessary. In the past when Google was releasing these updates with years in between, SEOs were quick to uncover loopholes in each of the updates and then push in their own blackhat tactics giving Google a lot of headache. But with these updates pushed into the market in droves, many of them are now confused which I think is much better for all of us.

      Thanks for the comment.

  8. Since I have had some bad experiences with the last updates from Google, I don’t trust them anymore. After having some really bad experiences with Penguin and Panda, I feel sceptic with all their new tools etc..

    1. @Kamilla,

      Oh, too bad! That is really understandable. But do you think your experience was nothing to do with what you did? Do you think, Google was unfair to you?

      But, whatever your experience, I think this tool was specially designed for people like you who may have been hit genuinely or otherwise. You can use this tool to correct some of the bad links that may be responsible for your experience or have you tried it and there was no good results?

  9. Hi Chadrack!

    What I feels about Google is that they are pretty much serious for making their search results accurate for users, and I personally support them for this.

    If they are getting strict about low quality backlinks, they are also providing a google alternative on the other hand as well, which is Google+. You can share your thing on Google+ and always can make your circle bigger. 🙂

    Thanks,
    Joe

    1. @Joe Clark,

      You are just a few who agreed with me on this issue. I really think that Google is doing a good thing and must therefore be supported. For too long SEOs have bastardized the search engine optimization game but Google is really out now to ensure that its business does not die and in doing that, they are helping all of us.

      Thanks for the comment.

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