If you’ve not been hiding under a rock for the last 24 hours you should know by now from the intense flurry of tweets, duplicated blog posts and debate that Google has brought out a new tool for Google Webmaster Tools called the ‘Link Disavow Tool’.
Webmasters and SEO’s alike have been waiting or for a better word screaming at Matt Cutts for this tool for months now ever since Bing brought out it’s version of the disavow tool. Finally… now we have it – a shiny new tool – what are you going to do with it? Use it? Do you really need to?
The Year of the SEO
2012 has been a pretty rocky year for SEO’s with numerous large updates and ranking algorithm changes, but that’s just how we roll. Way back in April Google started sending out messages to Google Webmasters Tools accounts to those sites that it considered had unnatural looking link profiles – basically this suggested that the site in question was either buying/selling links, using Blog networks or showing an extremely high percentage of exact match anchor text pointing inbound to the site.
The original message warned that if the links in questions were not removed then Google would have to force a penalty on the site, it suggested contacting the webmasters of these links and getting the links removed then submitting a re-inclusion request to get re-indexed.
This was a warning that something was coming…something probably quite big and destructive. Indeed it was – as the next fish slap in the face for SEO’s came in the form an update to the algorithm rather nonchalantly known as Penguin on April 24th 2012. This update targeted spammy looking links, de-valuing weak links and effectively giving sites a ranking penalty.
The reason I write all of the above is for context, during this time I was working client-side for an unnamed brand – no matter the reasons behind it we did in fact get one of the dreaded GWMT messages of unnatural linking (purely an agency fault!) The rankings did tank a month later and they tanked pretty hard. Most of the SEO community at the time was shouting to ‘do as Google says’ and remove links, agencies even popped up out of nowhere charging to remove links from people’s sites that got hit.
At the time I was extremely sceptical about doing the whole removal of links and re-include thing, my opinion around that time was that of:
“If Google are asking us to remove links from our ‘unnatural looking’ link profile and then tell them when we are done, well then aren’t we just admitting we’re guilty of [x] technique of link building even if we aren’t and giving them free information of the type of ‘spam’ networks they are looking for?”
However from the powers that be they did eventually follow a link removal strategy based on advice from ‘experts’, suffice to say I no longer work there and their rankings still haven’t improved after 6 months.
Why divulge all of the above?
In my opinion the new Disavow tool is simply the same kind of crowdsourcing tactic Google is employing to gather information about bad networks and spammy links except now it’s fully automated!
Feeding the Beast
Scepticism doesn’t really go down that well in this industry, however that’s just me I like to pose hard questions about something new or shiny and truly discover how it works. My scepticism of the GWMT link messages being some kind of secret ‘bad link’ retrieval information of course didn’t go down to well at the time while others, even reputed experts in the field, were spouting all kinds of information and advice about removing links and submitting re-inclusion requests to Google. I’m not saying removing links was the wrong thing to do, in fact it was probably the right thing to do in certain cases, however everybody and their gran seemed to be doing it after discovering they had been ‘penalised’ by Penguin.
Most believe that Google’s algorithm is super complicated and can easily detect all of the over-used and spammy techniques naughty SEO’s use to game rank, however I really don’t believe it is that complicated as most people make out. Simply put, the modern web is insanely difficult to crawl and identify natural links vs. spammy links. Don’t you find it strange that Google sent out the GWMT messages then a month or two later rolled out Penguin shafting many blog networks and tanking ranks? Hmmm… I wonder how many of those who received a GWMT message fed Google the information they needed for Penguin.
What’s black & white (or both), is easily scared, runs away at the first sign of danger and follows it’s peers jumping off high surfaces? Hmmmm I wonder why Matt called it Penguin?
“On the other hand it could be another tool in Google war chest against links – first they crawled a set of known link networks and killed them, then they randomly killed a lot of sites rankings causing widespread panic among site owners who tripped over themselves handing in re-inclusion requests outing a number of their networks. This obviously gave more data to Google.
Now the Disavow tool would be another way for site owners to say ” These links are bad”. They get fed in and Google has more data to burn more sites. ”
Probably one of the most impressive things I’ve seen written all day from one of the most well respected SEO’s in the field. Rishi really hit a point here in that the Disavow tool is no more than a tool to feed Google ‘bad link’ information to burn more sites in the next update. I was even extremely surprised to see Rand Fishkin bow in with the same ideology:
Iain Bartholomew from 360Innovate was also one of the first to write about the sceptical side of the Disavow Tool:
If only – you advise your clients – Google had a link revocation facility then everything would be fine. Alas! After receiving your list it didn’t take long for that cunning Penguin to discover that perhaps there were more skeletons in the closet than you cared to admit. Oh dear.
And one last one from a well known dark grey hat forum really amused me:
This is nothing more than a bulk snitching tool dressed up as a solution to a problem it doesn’t actually solve. Google will be using the data it collects from this tool to clean up the web, discount bad links and hand out penalties left, right & centre.
The problem is there are so many SEO’s that don’t really know what they are doing. They are not really sure what is wrong or why they have being penalised. It’s these kind of webmasters that will flock to the Disavow tool in the thousands reporting every link they ever bought or built to Google even when it’s not a low quality link.
But What about Negative SEO?
The naysayers will most likely bring up the topic of Negative SEO and how post-Penguin negative SEO can easily take down competitors, i don’t disagree that negative seo is an issue. However the Disavow tool, no matter how you use it is not going to protect you from numpties using automated tools such as SENuke and Xrumer.
I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from Gianluca:
The Disavow tool, in my opinion, is nothing more than an easy crowdsourced tactic from Google to get information on a mass scale about methods of linkbuilding, link tactics and networks and then use this information to clean up. Google’s interests don’t lie in the natural rankings of your site or about how much revenue you’ve lost due to ranking drops, they only care about how relevant their search terms are to it’s users – that is after all why they exist and if their search results weren’t relevant they couldn’t make any revenue from advertising.
I would suggest only using the Disavow tool in extreme situations where the only two options available to you are either a) Start again on a new domain or b) Admit to Google you tried to game the system and beg for forgiveness. It is no surprise that in Matt Cutt’s video he explains this tool should *only* be used by those in extreme situations that feel they have a penalty, this is most likely just a lure to gather the most spammy of link networks.