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Google ‘Disavow’ tool aims to end the perils of bad links

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
17 October 2012

In a move which was almost inevitable after recent changes to the way Google treat ‘bad’ links, the search giant have now launched a new tool to allow webmasters to effectively ignore potentially bad links.

In an announcement made by their “king of spam” Matt Cutts, Google launched the ‘Disavow’ tool alongside a blog post which explains how to use the tool. In a nutshell, Google are now giving webmasters the option to stop links which they believe may be harming their site’s ranking from being counted against them.

As well as providing a useful backup for webmasters who have tried unsuccessfully to manually remove links which they believe (or have been told) are harming their rankings, the appearance of the tool would APPEAR to indicate the answer to a much-debated question in the SEO world: Namely, could you theoretically conduct ‘negative SEO‘ on a competitor to harm their rankings. Google have always sought to play-down the concept of negative SEO (for obvious reasons), but the very fact that they’ve launched this tool (unless of course it’s just a placebo to placate the panickers!!) would seem to point to it being a reality.

The process of using the tool is a fairly simple one. Here’s the official Google explanation:

If you’ve done as much as you can to remove the problematic links, and there are still some links you just can’t seem to get down, that’s a good time to visit our new Disavow links page. When you arrive, you’ll first select your site.

You’ll then be prompted to upload a file containing the links you want to disavow.

The format is straightforward. All you need is a plain text file with one URL per line. An excerpt of a valid file might look like the following:

# 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 this example, lines that begin with a pound sign (#) are considered comments and Google ignores them. The “domain:” keyword indicates that you’d like to disavow links from all pages on a particular site (in this case, “spamdomain1.com”). You can also request to disavow links on specific pages (in this case, three individual pages on spamdomain2.com).

Interestingly, Google’s example suggests a human COULD be reviewing these (hence the comments), despite the fact that they then explain the #comments will just be ignore.

In terms of a take-home message for webmasters, this is only something which should be used in rare circumstances. Your first port of call if you suspect you have bad links pointing to your site should still be to contact the webmaster yourself to request their removal. Google have suggested that people who have been notified of a penalty through webmaster tools (or who suspect that they have suffered a drop, post-Penguin update) are the main ones who should be considering this option.

One final point to note – the tool can apparently take “several weeks” to have an effect, so once again you need to think very carefully about the sites you are listing before posting the file – after all, one false move and you COULD be removing a site which is actually doing you good. Take heed!

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