Webmasters and SEO professionals alike have been panicking for months over the issue of unwanted backlinks – ever since Google’s Penguin algorithm update threatened to penalise websites for ‘unnatural’ patterns of inbound links.
The update was aimed at sites that engage in spammy paid link campaigns, but raised concerns that companies could effectively remove their opponents from the search results, by littering the web with spammy links to their competitors.
Now the Disavow Tool aims to resolve the problem, and Google’s Matt Cutts has outlined the ways in which the tool is supposed to be used.
Who’s it for?
In principle, the Disavow Tool is for anyone whose ranking has been penalised due to unnatural patterns of backlinks – but Cutts stresses that this should generally only involve ‘power users’ and large corporations, and particularly only those who have ever deliberately engaged in off-page SEO campaigns.
So-called ‘mom and pop’ businesses, the American equivalent of small family businesses and individual webpreneurs, should not need to disavow links leading to their website.
How’s it work?
The tool is simple: create a text file with the URLs of the pages where the disavowed links can be found, and upload it to Google Webmaster Tools via the Disavow links page.
You can disavow links from entire domains using domain:example.com and add comments to your text file by preceding them with the hash symbol.
If you work as part of a team on the relevant website, you can also download the existing ‘disavow’ text file and edit it, allowing several people to work on disavowing the unwanted links to the site.
Should I use it?
Cutts makes pretty clear that webmasters should not be flocking to the Disavow Tool without having already taken reasonable steps to remedy their spammy backlinks.
You should have contacted any websites where you believe unnatural links point to your website, and asked for them to be removed.
However, here’s the problem with off-page SEO – you don’t always have direct control over those links, and the Disavow Tool exists to mop up whatever’s left after your best efforts to resolve the situation.
Generally speaking, you should probably have received an alert from Google to tell you that your search ranking has been affected by unnatural linking patterns, before you need to turn to the Disavow Tool.
Will it work?
As long as you get the notation right in your text file, you should see results after a few weeks – the time it takes for Google to re-crawl the listed sites and update its database.
Clearly, at present, there will be a rush of SEO professionals and webmasters using the tool in its first days after launch, so the delays could be greater because of that.
Just be very careful not to disavow any links that are actually helping your search ranking – Cutts again warns that ‘re-avowing’ could take even longer than disavowing, and urges webmasters to be careful not to shoot themselves in the foot.