Google Link Disavow Tool – What, When, Why?

by Alex Graves
See Dave Speak SMX London

google-disavow-linksAs one of the original testers of the Google disavow tool found in Webmaster Tools, we were able to see a website be lifted out of a Google enforced unnatural links penalty and start to show a claw back of search engine visibility following the news that the site had seen the penalisation revoked.

I previously wrote a post here on the blog which laid out the case study for all to see, with the excepting of naming the client, so that both website owners and SEO's were able to see that used correctly the tool would be able to aid them back into the search results and help them in their fight to see their sites recover from potentially fatal penalisation at the hands of the Google gods.

With the influx of blogposts that seem to be making their way onto the scene in recent weeks surrounding the expected release of the "new generation" of the Google Penguin update, I thought that it would be fitting to revisit the disavow tool and express a little more insight into how I see the tool needs to be used in order to see a positive use.

One of the biggest things that seems to come from the posts that I have read in the past seems to be that there is a huge expectation towards what the tool can actually do for your site, many believing that the new ‘bad link' exception tool would enter into the world with a ray of sunshine and a little theme song as it magically makes the ‘badness' disappear.

We know how the tool has been presented and how the prospect of being able to instruct Google which links to use and which ones to ignore looks to those of us that are having to work with websites that might have had slightly less clean techniques used in the past but this is real life, not a fairy tale and unfortunately although the disavow tool seems to have been built up to be the hero that many cried out for, nothing is as plain and simple as that.

So what does the link disavow tool really do?

The honest answer is that there is no clear cut definition towards what the tool does entirely, so although we know that the tool allows you to provide a list of URLs and domains to Google with the request that they consider them to be links that we don't want pointing into a site, the whole working of the tool is not as clear cut… I mean Google aren't about to tell us how they use the data that we feed to them are they?

What we do know about the tool is that this is not a way to be able to eliminate backlinks from being pointed into your site, unlike many seem to believe, the tool is not instructing the Google crawlers to ignore these links pointing into your site, instead you are simply asking Google to prevent equity flow being passed through the link… So consider it a tool to no follow some of the links that you have in your link profile.

Although placing a no follow attribute on a number of links that are pointing into your site may be enough to lift you out of an algorithmic penalisation in the earlier stages of Google Penguin, a manual penalty is more severe, there is no way of escaping the need to place the site in front of a Google reviewer if you want to see the site recover in any form of near future (because we already know that some manual penalties do have an expiry date).

Misconceptions are apparent that there are some users out there that believe the tool is there to have links overlooked but that isn't the case, nor can we find anywhere that Google may have given this feeling based on any comments that they have made, instead this is simply the speculation of others that seems to have spread like wild fire.

When should I use the link disavow tool?

One of the things that has come out surrounding the tool is that there is not one set purpose for making use of the tool and now that we are able to eliminate the prospect that the tool is actually going to remove the link from your backlink profile, we can give you a couple of examples of how and why you would use the tool.

Killing natural link equity pass – Google are constantly telling us that if you create good content, natural links will come and we know that these are not easy to come by thanks to the link sales market that seems to continue to dominate dark corners of the industry (we have even seen website owners asking for money to remove links!).

Although natural links are exactly the sort of links that you want to be able to obtain, not every website that links into your property will be considered to be a good link in your own opinion, so you would feel more comfortable having the equity pass being removed from the placement.

Cleaning up your profile without a penalty warning – There will be situations in this industry that you will have to work with a website that may have stepped over the line of what Google consider to be acceptable and that means that you could be faced with a hefty clean up of their backlink profile.

Although the use of the disavow tool does not have those links removed, you can strip the equity that those placements are passing to the website that you are working with, meaning that you can prevent the trigger factors that may potentially flag the site to Google as acting in a breaching manner.

Backlink penalisation clean up – Whether you admit it or not, there will be instances where you will have had to work with a website that has been handed one of the dreaded ‘Unnatural Links Warning' notices that drop into a Webmaster Tools account or will have at least spoken to someone who has.

Although the tool is not going to be enough to lift a manual penalty within a matter of days, it will help you to show that you understand that the penalty is about the links pointing into the site passing equity into your site, effectively helping you to manipulate the search ranking results.

We suggest that you make use of the disavow tool on all of the links that you deem need to be removed from the profile to be able to pass an manual reconsideration review by a Google employee but must stress that the work doesn't stop there, you need to make contact with the site owners and request for the link to be removed but make sure that you are only requesting the removal of paid links!

How long does the disavow list take to process?

There were many thoughts surrounding the timescale that it took for the disavow list to be processed following upload to the Webmaster Tools platform and even as a Beta tester of the tool we were kept in the dark surrounding the timescales that the process would take.

Although an exact timescale has not been shared, it seems that a recent Google Hangout video with John Mueller revealed that Google become aware of the list that you have submitted to them anywhere between 1 hour to a couple of days after your initial upload but during the same video, he also points out that there is no quick set button that anyone can press to speed up the process, instead the rate is determined by the speed at which Google are able to crawl the links that you have added to the list.

Do Google take a disavow list into consideration when I make a reconsideration request?

It was confirmed by John Mueller that when a website is placed into the reconsideration process, the person in charge of the review would take the link disavow list into consideration while making their decision towards whether you have done enough to persuade them that you have done enough to show that you have tried to undo the cause of the penalisation, however again it was stressed that the disavow list could not be fast tracked into action, so the decision would be based on the reviewers decision.

If I use the disavow list tool, do I have to submit a reconsideration request?

Another one of the misconceptions that seems to be creeping into the industry is that if you are going to make use of the disavow tool, you need to place your website in front of Google in order to show them that there is a list submitted, which is incorrect.

When asked about the disavow tool and when website owners should use it, Google's head of web spam team Matt Cutts said that you should only use the reconsideration process if you believe that your site has been subjected to manual action being taken against it.

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