I’m afraid Google has done something dangerous – not irreparable, but dangerous nonetheless. On October 16, Google unveiled the new Google Disavow tool. Since (at least) last spring, webmasters and site owners have been fighting for and against the ability to disavow links. Now, the option is available. The danger? It’s so easy.
Why Was ‘Disavow’ Created?
Let’s start at the beginning: Google judges the importance of your website (i.e. where it ranks in the search engines) with PageRank, which draws from more than 200 signals to create a complex algorithm. (If you want to improve your website, you have to have a grasp on PageRank.) When disreputable websites contain links that point back to your website, it can give PageRank the wrong idea about you, thereby lowering your rank in the search engines.
Prior to Google Disavow, website owners had to contact these websites, and ask them to take down spammy links. If you’ve ever tried replying to a spam email to get your address removed, then you can guess how that process went for the website owners.
Sometimes, Google would slam good websites with penalties because of these spammy links. In those instances, you were (and still are) allowed to petition the case. Most of the time, Google has a pretty good sense of judgment, and they can look into the case, and determine that you are, in fact, a victim.
Okay, so this is where Disavow comes in…
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What ‘Disavow’ Does
Google decided that rather than go through this process of penalizing, petitioning, and clearing (not to mention all of the re-indexing and re-crawling), they could create Google Disavow. With Disavow, website owners can submit a plain text file that details specific links or even entire domains that they would like to disavow.
When the disavow file is submitted, Google will then kill these links that go back to your site. It’s supposed to improve your website, and at first blush, it sounds great, doesn’t it?
Why Disavow Is a Problem
Here’s why I’m not a fan of Disavow…
I am by no means a SEO expert. However, I know (and have read) just enough to be fairly confident that there are very few people who have a complete and total understanding of PageRank. I kind of doubt that you’re one of them. (But, if you want to start building your PageRank knowledge, I highly recommend this clever Infographic from ZippyCart!)
That being the case, removing links that point back to your website could have some pretty harmful unforeseen results. Sure, there might be one or two links that are obviously spam, and offer no value whatsoever. But, many of those “spam” websites that point back to you aren’t doing any harm at all. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and not go overboard with disavowing links to your website.
A Hypothetical Disavow Case
Let’s say, for example, that you have 2,000 links pointing back to your website. Maybe 1200 of those links are verifiable, rank-boosting links. Another 700 are rather dubious (spammy-looking, but not terribly detrimental). The other 100 are obviously spam.
While you might want to use Google Disavow to get rid of the 100 spam links, I would strongly advise you don’t touch those other 700 suspect links. By removing them, you could seriously alter your PageRank status.
While disavowing links doesn’t seem to be irreversible, it does take time. Google needs several weeks to re-index and re-crawl. This lost time spent low in the search engine ranks could end up doing your business a lot more damage than you care for.
If You Must Disavow…
Do so with caution. Also, I stand with Dr. Pete at SEOmoz, who recommends only blocking specific links, not entire domains. Expect to see this new tool go through several changes and rounds of feedback in the coming months. It will be interesting to see the way it affects PageRank in the future!
Will you be using Google Disavow?
Need more Google tips and tricks? Check out our archive of Google blog posts!