The birth of Google’s Penguin algorithm – designed to cut down on link spam – had one rather unfortunate side effect. No, I’m not talking about all the webmasters claiming they were unjustly penalized by the algorithm. Rather, I’m talking about a new, underhanded tactic being practiced by all the black hat search engine marketers.
It’s called Negative SEO. In lieu of properly optimizing their own site, certain individuals in the SEO community have taken to setting up link farms and spam sites designed exclusively to penalize their competitors. The idea is that their actions will ‘fool’ Google’s algorithms into thinking their target has engaged in manipulative link building techniques.
Thankfully, this is something Google itself anticipated, at least to some degree. As noted by SEO Moz, the company released something known as the Disavow Tool shortly after it refreshed the Penguin algorithm in 2012. This tool, explained Google Engineer Matt Cutts, would allow site owners to ask Google to disregard links that they felt adversely impacted their rankings.
According to Cutts, it’s also something that the vast majority of site owners probably won’t ever need to use – Google’s algorithms are evidently quite good at preventing bad links from hurting a site. What’s more, the disavow tool can actually be kind of dangerous. If you misuse it, you can actually end up hurting your rankings in the long run.
I should explain.
Don’t Use A Grenade Launcher To Weed Your Garden
See, here’s the thing a lot of people (especially first-timers) don’t understand about low-quality links: they aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The simple fact is that the vast majority of sites on the Internet are considered low (or at the very best, mediocre) quality by Google’s algorithms. What that means for you is that except in the most extreme cases, links from a low quality site could actually be improving your authority.
After all, every link is a vote of confidence, right?
Even in cases where you’re fairly certain a link is harmful to your site, you should be leery of using the disavow tool. There are a few reasons for this, chief of which is that Google generally expects you to get bad links removed the old fashioned way – that is, by contacting the webmaster who linked to your site and asking that they take it down. Only when it’s clear you’re being ignored should you resort to disavowing links, and even then, it’s something that should be done as a last resort.
Oh, and never disavow internal links. By doing so, you’re basically telling Google that your own pages are of low quality, and generally shouldn’t have any authority. There’s a good chance that’s going to send your PageRank straight into the toilet.
When SHOULD You Disavow?
Now that we’ve hammered home how you should only disavow links sparingly, let’s talk about when you should resort to using the disavow tool. It wouldn’t exist if there weren’t people who needed it, after all. So…how can you tell when it’s time to bust out the disavow tool?
If you’ve been manually penalized by Google, hit incredibly hard by Penguin, or received a bad link warning. That’s it. Those are the only situations in which the use of the disavow tool is justified.
The rest of the time, you should simply send a removal request, or ignore the bad links altogether. Remember, not all low-quality links are bad. Sometimes, they can actually help your site – and removing them is akin to shooting yourself in the foot.